The FIA’s badly-written rules leave Formula 1 looking stupid once again

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The rules made Schumacher's punishment inevitable - and excessively harsh
The rules made Schumacher's punishment inevitable - and excessively harsh

It’s not hard to see why so many people are screaming ‘foul’ over Michael Schumacher being stripped of sixth place in the Monaco Grand Prix.

At the end of a processional race Schumacher’s pass on Alonso was, at first glance, a smart of piece opportunism – not unlike the one pulled off on the last lap at Monaco five years ago.

But those feeling frustrated with today’s outcome should direct their frustration not at the FIA’s stewards, but the confusing and contradictory rules they have to enforce.

Why Schumacher got a penalty

Here’s the stewards’ explanation for Schumacher’s penalty:

The overtaking manoeuvre was in breach of Article 40.13 of the 2010 F1 Sporting Regulations, the Stewards decided to impose a drive through penalty but, as it occurred during the last five laps, 20 seconds will be added to the elapsed race time of car Nr 3.

And here’s the relevant part of the rules:

40.13: If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

The same rule was in effect last year (article 40.14 in the 2009 F1 Sporting Regulations).

What has changed since then is the creation of a safety car line – the point after which drivers may overtake when the race is re-started. Mercedes believed the race was being restarted at the safety car line.

How Mercedes got it wrong

Here’s Ross Brawn’s explanation for why Schumacher continued racing:

With regard to the penalty given to Michael, we believed that the track had gone green and the race was not finishing under a safety car when article 40.13 clearly would have applied.

The reason for the safety car had been removed, the FIA had announced ‘Safety Car in this lap’ early on lap 78 and the track had been declared clear by race control. This was further endorsed when the marshals showed green flags and lights after safety car line one. On previous occasions when it has been necessary to complete a race under a safety car, full course yellows are maintained, as in Melbourne 2009.

On the last lap, we therefore advised our drivers that they should race to the line and Michael made his move on Fernando for sixth place. We have appealed the decision of the stewards.
Ross Brawn

Brawn’s reasoning is persuasive but if his interpretation of the rules were correct we would have the strange situation where drivers were allowed to race from the safety car line to the finishing line. That scenario seems to be what article 40.13 was written to prevent.

It’s hardly surprising other teams were of the opinion that it would not be allowed. McLaren quite clearly told Lewis Hamilton:

Lewis this is the last lap of the race we?ll be finishing behind the safety car. No overtaking.
McLaren team radio

Hamilton saw Schumacher passing Alonso in his mirrors and registered his surprise:

I thought you said we couldn’t pass after safety car? Michael passed Fernando.
Lewis Hamilton

If cars are not supposed to be racing at this point one might reasonably ask why green flags were being waved. The regulations say:

As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the yellow flags and SC boards will be withdrawn and replaced by waved green flags with green lights at the Line. These will be displayed until the last car crosses the Line.

However the green flags visible when Schumacher passed Alonso were before the finishing line. This makes Mercedes’ confusion rather more understandable.

The penalty

The rules are clear when it comes to what sort of penalty the stewards can give:

16.3: The stewards may impose any one of three penalties on any driver involved in an Incident:
a) A drive-through penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane and re-join the race without stopping;
b) A ten second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop at his pit for at least ten seconds
and then re-join the race.
c) A drop of any number of grid positions at the driver?s next Event.

However, should either of the penalties under a) and b) above be imposed during the last five laps, or after the end of a race, Article 16.4b) below will not apply and 20 seconds will be added to the elapsed race time of the driver concerned in the case of a) above and 30 seconds in the case of b).

Having found Schumacher at fault, they couldn’t let him go unpunished. But, as with Lewis Hamilton at Spa in 2008, the time penalty is too harsh as it drops him behind people he wouldn’t have been behind if he hadn’t made the move.

Simply putting Schumacher back behind Alonso would have been a fair penalty, but the rules did not allow the stewards to do this.

The blame game

Schumacher’s penalty was excessive but it’s not the stewards who are at fault. Poorly-written rules are to blame.

The use of green flags made it unclear whether overtaking was allowed at the corner where Schumacher passed Alonso. It’s not hard to see how Mercedes could have thought the race was restarting.

And tight rules on penalties gave the stewards no option to give Schumacher a suitably mild penalty – such as docking him one position in the finishing order – for an infraction that was borne not out of malice but a misunderstanding.

A lot of comments have been made here criticising Damon Hill for the decision. Hill, a rival of Schumacher’s for many years, was serving as the drivers’ representative to the stewards.

It should be remembered that the decision to penalise Schumacher will not have been taken by Hill on his own. The other three stewards were Jose Abed, Paul Gutjahr and Christian Calmes.

Hill’s role this weekend was public knowledge and no-one he might conceivably have had prejudicial opinions for or against raised an objection. In an interview with the BBC before the race Hill freely acknowledged his former rivalry with Schumacher and said he would not allow it to sway his judgement.

Hill is too obvious and too easy a scapegoat. The rules are at fault, and not for the first time.

Like the Hamilton-Trulli incident at Melbourne last year, and Hamilton being stripped of his win at Spa in 2008, clearer rules could have prevented all these controversies.

2010 Monaco Grand Prix

Browse all 2010 Monaco Grand Prix articles

322 comments on “The FIA’s badly-written rules leave Formula 1 looking stupid once again”

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  1. what annoys me the most is that Webber’s incredible win is left behind all this madness about FIA’s own fault with those stupid rules that contradict each other…

    1. It’s not the first time. More than a few people would forget that Webber, not Button, won last year’s Brazilian GP. ;)

  2. Bad ruling. That was the only interesting thing in whole race, but it is quite understandable that anything interesting is forbidden in Monaco GP. Without the ‘safety car in this lap’ message, the overtaking would have been against the rules, but the race did not finish with the safety car.

    The rule _clearly_ states that “If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed…”. This clearly did not happen because the safety car was indeed called in, so no need to read rest of the rule. The flags confirm that this indeed happened.

  3. If alonso knew that overtaking was an option he would problebly been closer to hamilton and watching michael more in the mirrors.

    1. Most definately he would have been, but Alonso didn’t know. So why should Schumacher be punished for Alonso and Ferrari not knowing the rules? SC was called in with _separate_ announcement, so the race did not finish with the SC on.

      1. Ferrari told Alonso that he couldn’t overtake in the last lap so Alonso knew about it.

        It says Fernando Alonso:” When I saw Michael passed me I thought better some points he will lose”

        ”In the last lap the team told me it was forbidden to overtake on that lap, the safety car was going to retire, but symbolically, for the victors do not enter behind it”

        1. ”In the last lap the team told me it was forbidden to overtake on that lap, the safety car was going to retire, but symbolically, for the winners do not finish behind it”

  4. Rules are there to be interpreted and the stewards could have made up their minds in the way that would have defined this law. What they have now done is that if there is 2 miles between the pit in and the finish line the leader could just go to wards it at 1 mile an hour and the rest will just have to follow. This is not a good interpretation.

    This would seem to be what most of the racing world are thinking.

    I do believe that the interpretation taken was coloured by Michael and Brawns past audacious interpretation of the rules as well as Michaels ability to push/test the rules. And I do believe as much as Hill cannot be totally blamed he must carry some weight for the decision and that will be coloured by his and Michaels past.

    1. The race will finish `as normal`, so if a car does 1mph you can assume that it is retiring from the race an you can proceed as normal, funny enough thats what caught Lewis out last year in Aus, He had every right to proceed as normal.

      1. Nick Barnes
        16th May 2010, 23:28

        I think if we’ve learned anything today it’s that drivers and teams shouldn’t assume anything.

  5. Great article, Keith. But is it still posible to revert the penalty? I´ve read it´s not possible, since you can´t appeal it.
    I can´t believe how idiotic FOM, FIA and/or F1 really is: ok, let´s say the SC-period was still valid and cars weren´t allowed to overtake. Why was it so hard to keep the yellow flags and yellow lights on? It´s incredibly stupid to state that SC-period is still valid but show the drivers green lights and flags…

  6. Sorry but I think this article is a bit misleading in its representation of the rules …

    The part that states that the green flags will be shown is taken from the last part of para 4.11, which is ONLY relevant when the Safety Car period is FINISHED (and racing continues) …

    “40.11 When the clerk of the course decides it is safe to call in the safety car the message “SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP” will be displayed on the timing monitors and the car’s orange lights will be extinguished This will be the signal to the teams and drivers that it will be entering the pit lane at the end of that lap.

    As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the yellow flags and SC boards will be withdrawn and replaced by waved green flags with green lights at the Line. These will be displayed until the last car crosses the Line.”

    So, as the ‘Safety Car in this Lap’ message WAS sent by the FIA, this means that the CoC thought it safe to call in the safety car as per 4.11, therefore the green flags etc., and the only conclusion I can draw from this is that the safety car period was OVER. Therefore, overtaking allowed!

    Because, if the safety car period was still in effect until the end of the race, then although the safety car WOULD still have pulled into the pits (as per 4.13), rule 4.11 would NOT have been in effect, and therefore the green flags would NOT have been shown.

  7. In my opinion the FIA needs to get rid of the safety car line. What does it achieve anyway. So far this season the safety car line has resulted in confusion in 1/3 of all races. What’s wrong with just using the start / finish line?

  8. Mister Picky
    16th May 2010, 23:11

    Stupid rules? Maybe, but the rules are decidedly not at fault here. Race control can’t pull the safety car in, display green flags, then penalize anyone for overtaking. Not sure why this article is deflecting the blame to a rules issue, when it’s a race control issue.

    1. Nick Barnes
      16th May 2010, 23:15

      Sadly because race control appear to be washing their hands of the matter and the stewards are bound to make decisions based solely on the rule book.

  9. Roger Carballo AKA Architrion
    16th May 2010, 23:17

    FINAL POINT. If it would have been Lewis or Jenson who had been overtaken by Schu…. then all of you would be claiming for 40.13, as real as the earth moves around the sun. PERIOD.

    1. Nick Barnes
      16th May 2010, 23:31

      Some of us are capable of looking beyond team/individual colours.

      I apologise unreservedly for my original (and now moderated) reply to this comment. I rather stupidly rose to the bait.

      1. Roger Carballo AKA Architrion
        16th May 2010, 23:44

        Thanks…. Don’t worry. In my particular case I don’t look after the colours of any particular driver. But, anyway, look – read all those fanboys trying to prove that 40.13 doesn’t say what it says.

        I think the spirit of the rule is as neat as glass. If Safety Car is out on final lap, then, no more racing. Period. Why? I don’t know, and I don’t care. It is what it is, the same way engines are 8 cylinders and not 12 as I would like. That’s all.

  10. Why not just have the SC actually cross the start finish line (technically, the end of the last lap) and end all the confusion in the future? When the safety car peels off and the green flags wave, most driver’s will instinctively go into racing mode. If the SC stays out until the very end it would sure clear up this sort of mess in the future.

    1. Nick Barnes
      16th May 2010, 23:24

      I agree. Either it’s safe to race or it isn’t. If it’s not safe, then to remove the safety car from the picture is asking for trouble.

      I do like the comment other people have made that there should be a number of laps run sans safety car before the race can end.

  11. Rule 40.13 is quite clear;
    when the safety car is in and the lights go green there is no racing allowed until the end of the race.
    Hows that for ambiguity?

    1. Read the rule again. It does not say anything like that.

      In this case the SC was called out, so the race did not finish with SC, so that rule isn’t even interesting here.

    2. Nick Barnes
      16th May 2010, 23:35

      It’s self-fulfilling isn’t it?

      If no racing is allowed until the end of the race then surely that signals the end of the race (i.e. how can there be a race if nobody’s racing).

      So maybe it would be better off saying “When the safety car is in and the lights go green the race is deemed to have finished”. :-P

  12. As mentioned before,
    40.13 If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

    Was not valid here. If they want to avoid any racing in the last lap when there is a safety car driving during the last lap, just state that in the rules!

    40.13: if during the last lap the safety car is still anywhere on the track, the drivers should follow all rules as if the safety car is out until they pass the finish line. (even when the safety car drives into the pitlane, turns of its signals, yellow flag disappear end CS signs are removed)
    Race control will display message: ‘finishing race under safety car’

    How hard can it be (in a multi milion dollar business…)?

  13. I think this shows how Ross Brawn`s mind works at a million miles an hour, He spotted a way how He might be able to bend the rules to He`s advantage.You cant blame Him for trying!.

    1. Nick Barnes
      16th May 2010, 23:59

      I would be interested to know which rule you think he’s bending and why that rule applies in the first place.

      1. 40.13 and it was the last lap.

        1. Nick Barnes
          17th May 2010, 8:43

          Nope. Don’t get it. Rule 40.13 talks about the end of the race, not the last lap.

          1. You just know that months ago when Brawn was lying on a beach somewhere mulling over the rules in He`s mind He thought when is a safety car not a safety car mmmmmm when its entering the pits, but the rule does say the safety car will enter the pits an no overtaking. I think the Court of Appeal will dismiss the appeal because stewards decisions cant be appealed, but if the appeal were to be heard they would have to argue over the meaning of `race ends` and `race ending`. If people start bending obvious rules then when a rule is ammended it will contain so much legal jargon to cover the bases that no-one but a highly trained lawyer will be able to understand it.

  14. Altough it was a long time ago and in a different serie swith different restart rules I found this clip on Youtube showing a similar situation

    In the 1985 IndyCar race at Sanair the safety car pulled in on the last lap and Pancho Carter caught the man in front, race leader Johnny Rutherford, knapping and got round him at the last corner and crossed the line first. Now although the restart procedure was different and the were no green flags there was still controversy as to who won. Eventually, CART announced Rutherford had won and seeing the incident with Schumacher today it instantly reminde me of this. Personally I think Schumacher should keep the place beacause the drivers are meant to be able to know whats happening just through the flags (in case radios break etc.). Every one knows green means go and as it was displayed then that means the the race is live. Great to see Schumi is still sharp (and not far from controversy) just as people began to doubt him!

    1. Hadn’t seen that before, thanks for that Evan.

  15. The rules are simple, no overtaking, end of.

    Well, not really. You see, this is Formula 1. It’s governed by the FIA, who and so incompetent that they cannot write a rule without contradicting another one. And if they manage not to contradict another rule, they’ll mess it up another way.

    Look at today. Safety car line. To me, that says one you go past this line, go mad, overtake, do what you will. To the FIA, if its the last lap, all of a sudden that does nto count any longer.

    Also, green flags and green lights mean go racing. Well, not if you’re on the last lap and the safety car has pulled in.

    FIA contradicts their own rules, again. And these people govern motorsport?

    Dear me.

  16. MacademiaNut
    16th May 2010, 23:59

    According to:

    40.13: If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

    a race can never end under SC?

  17. Great article.

    I am ALO fan, so my opinion is biased. Nevertheless I found no fault of MSC, since the circumstances/rules were ambiguous.

    That said, if ALO got a ‘no overtaking permitted’ message, MSC did not do a nice move, only it seemed to be so, since ALO was not fighting for his position.

    It was unmotivated excitement what we got… I am biased, many of you too.

  18. Only in F1 does this happen.
    Green means the race continues in all major motor sports.
    If they are not to race back to the line then keep the damned yellow and safety car on the track.
    Even Martin Brundle said it.
    By taking the SC off and showing the green Webber won under green and did not finish under a SC condition in the record book.
    As far as I am concerned it was all about giving Webber a clean win, others went unpunished for other infractions as noted but MS gets hammered for racing smart when the rest of the world was dumbed down by the FIA.
    The farce that is F1 continues. Where the hell is Jean Todt now? Some change he has brought to the table.

    1. How is it racing smart when Alonso and all other drivers where told no overtaking? That’s a contradiction.

      I also disagree with keith that the rules don’t make sense or not easy to understand. If that’s the case Keith needs to explain why did no one else on the grid race for position? Oh that’s right, they where told not to.

      The drivers have driver meetings to talk about the updated rules one of which was the new rules about safety car line and this new rule would be included in that list. Team Principles have meetings too. If every other team understood this rule, you can’t overtake then simply Mercedes got it wrong.

      So what it has gone from Damon Hill to FIA now? these articles… This season so far up to this point the FIA have been doing a fantastic job, is it too hard to say under the rules the punishment is correct, that’s the facts here. Anything else is really subjective.

      1. “How is it racing smart when Alonso and all other drivers where told no overtaking?”
        – They were told no overtaking by their stupid teams.
        It’s not Schumacher’s or Mercedes’ fault others are stupid.

  19. Neil Tipton
    17th May 2010, 0:25

    Oh well, at least we now know that the F1 rules are at the very least acknowledging the fact that there is in fact very little passing in the normal course of events…

    40.13: If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

    1. Well said!

      1. But the race didn’t end while sc was employed as the SC goes in sign was given and green flags were given. As a lawyer i must give Schummi his place back. The stewards should give the alright as the rules didn’t give any other options.

        Were the rules in the spirit of the rules probaly not but rules are never in the spirit.

        Was the rule in the spirit of the race NO a race should NEVER end under SC conditions.

        So who is in fault here the stewards for giving a penaulty but FIA for the bloody bad rules making.

  20. The rule does not clearly define when it should apply:

    “40.13: If the race ENDS WHILST the safety car IS DEPLOYED it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking”

    Problem with this is that bringing the safety car ‘in’ makes it unclear what constitutes a safety car DEPLOYED WHILST the race ENDS.
    Is it:
    a) literally a safety car still ‘deployed on track’ when the race ends (e.g. behind leader but in front of others)

    b) a safety car that were it not for Rule 40.13, would still be deployed on track as the race ended because the ‘danger’ is not cleared (presumably, for safety, yellow flags still needed even after SC enters pits?)

    c) a safety car that has pulled off into the pits during the last lap because the ‘danger’ has cleared (yellow flags not needed for safety so use green) – but if there’s no SC on track and no danger – how is this a safety car deployed whilst the race ends?

    So, the rule does not itself clearly define when it should be used so one must rely on clear instructions from race control and/or the normal meaning of flags & SC notices, i.e. yellow = SC still ‘deployed’ as in Australia 09; green = SC no longer ‘deployed’.

    Also, if today’s ruling applies, it seems very inconsistent (& unsafe) to change the normal meaning of the SC yellow & green flags depending on what lap you’re on – drivers might not always be aware exactly what lap it is (if telemetry/radio down) so how do they know if the SC going in with green flags means danger cleared or danger still present but last lap?

    1. It’s an interesting point, I guess for rule 40.13 to work it must be considered by FIA that the safety car is deemed to be deloyed until each driver starts their next lap, regardless as to whether the safety car has physically left the track.

      I agree that the rule isn’t overlly clear. If I’m not mistaken I understand that the rules are written in French and then translated into English? Maybe in the translation the wording has got abit mixed up, making the rule more confusing than it really should be.

      However regardless of the interpretation of the rules, I think the rule and the safety car line are unnecessary and just add confusion. Is it such a bad thing for a race to finish under yellow?

    2. “40.13: If the race ENDS WHILST the safety car IS DEPLOYED it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking”

      You highlighted the correct keywords here.
      Deployed means ‘status of the SC is out’, Signs with SC are shown around the circuit, and yellow flags are used.

      Without this rule 14.13 the cars would:
      a) have to follow the SC into the pitlane or
      b) the SC has to drive over the finishline with the F1 cars following.

      Now they want it to look pretty, so even though the SC pulls into the pitlane, the F1 cars have to cross the finish line as if there is a SC driving still in front of them.

      But once race control says: SC in this lap, after crossing the SC-line the race is on again (also shown with the green flags).

      So all very clear, to apply 40.13 you just have to keep the status ‘SC OUT’ and all goes well…..

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