FIA must learn from Valencia shambles

Start, Valencia, 2010

There’s no reason to believe Ferrari’s claim that the European Grand Prix was somehow “manipulated”.

But considering the penalties that were handed out, particularly the nine drivers who were penalised after the race was finished, it’s clear there’s still room for improvement in how F1 races are refereed.

The FIA should start by bringing back the ‘pit lane closure’ rule and changing how drive-through penalties are applied.

The delay in handing out penalties

Inevitably, much attention has been paid to why Lewis Hamilton’s penalty came so late, as it had a crucial bearing on the race.

As well dealing with the aftermath of a potentially very serious crash in which the medical car was sent out, Hamilton’s infringement was just one of 12 incidents the stewards had to deal with, all of which occurred within a very short space of time.

Hamilton’s infringement was among the first to occur and he was the first to be handed a penalty. He was the only driver who received his penalty soon enough to serve it during the race:

Lap Incident Time decision was published
10 Hamilton overtakes safety car 15:07
9 Incident in pits involving H???lkenberg and Buemi 17:40
9 Incident in pits involving Petrov and Liuzzi 17:41
? Glock disobeys blue flags 17:43
9 Kubica exceeds safety car target lap time 18:09
9 Button exceeds safety car target lap time 18:10
9 Barrichello exceeds safety car target lap time 18:11
9 H???lkenberg exceeds safety car target lap time 18:12
9 Buemi exceeds safety car target lap time 18:12
9 Sutil exceeds safety car target lap time 18:13
9 Liuzzi exceeds safety car target lap time 18:14
9 Petrov exceeds safety car target lap time 18:15
9 de la Rosa exceeds safety car target lap time 18:16

The clearest proof of Hamilton’s infraction was the helicopter shot of him crossing the second safety car line. That video was apparently not available to the stewards immediately.

In the meantime they had to rely on timing information which was also sketchy, as Tony Dodgins points out in Autosport (sub. req.):

Depending on where the timing transponders are placed on a car ?ǣ for instance if one was at the back and the other at the front, you can have a situation where one car that appears to be ahead of another one actually records the same time. So, when it’s that tight, installation positions have to be checked, times and distances noted and calculations made.

This explains why the stewards took so long but does not excuse it.

In the build-up to the race BBC viewers were shown details of the Global Positioning System-based control centre the stewards have access to, allowing them to see where every car is on the track at any given time.

With access to that kind of computing power, it should not take 48 30 minutes (see comment) to decide which of two cars crossed a line first.

This is far from the first time the stewards have been criticised for taking too long to reach a decision. At Indianapolis in 2004 it took them until lap 59 to disqualify Juan Pablo Montoya for an infraction that took place before the race even started.

Unnecessarily complicated rules

The five second penalties given to nine drivers for “failing to stay above the minimum time set by the FIA ECU when the Safety Car was deployed” stem from regulations which are outdated and should be replaced.

Drivers are required to stick to minimum times to prevent them rushing to the pits too quickly after a safety car deployment, as they may be passing the scene of an accident.

This rule was introduced to replace a rule which closed the pits during safety car deployments. This pit lane closure rule was removed because some drivers had to make pit stops during a closure to avoid running out of fuel.

That is no longer a concern as refuelling has been banned. Therefore the FIA should drop the unnecessarily complicated rules requiring drivers to stick to minimum lap times, and go back to closing the pits until after the safety car period, perhaps with an exception for damaged cars that need to come in.

Read more: Ten drivers get penalties, Alonso and Rosberg gain extra points

Consistent penalties

The five-second penalties

The FIA has published little to no information about the five-second penalties.

We don’t know what target times the drivers were set – they may have been completely unrealistic. And we don’t know how much each driver failed to meet them by.

Therefore, we have no way of knowing if the penalties were fair, or too harsh, or too lenient.

What we do know is that a five-second penalty is not one of those defined under the Sporting Regulations:

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).
2010 FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations

Lewis Hamilton and Timo Glock both got penalties under these rules. So where does the five second penalty the other drivers got come from?

It’s possible the stewards were using the powers given to them by articles 152 and 153 of the International Sporting Code, although they did not refer to it:

152: Any breach of this Code or the Appendices thereto, of the national rules or their appendices, or of any Supplementary Regulations committed by any organiser, official, competitor, driver, or other person or organisation may be penalised or fined.

Penalties or fines may be inflicted by the stewards of the meeting and ASNs as indicated in the following articles. […]

153: Penalties may be inflicted as follows in order of increasing severity:

?? reprimand (blame);
?? fines;
?? time penalty;
?? exclusion;
?? suspension;
?? disqualification.

Time penalty means a penalty expressed in minutes and/or seconds.
FIA International Sporting Code

It seems likely the stewards decided to give the drivers a lenient penalty because their infractions were only minor. Jenson Button, one of the drivers penalised, said after the race that he had no opportunity to slow down any more and avoid a penalty:

There was no room to lift off or hit the brakes, so to be honest I can?t really see why I was called to the stewards.
Jenson Button

However if stewards are able to give post-race time penalties of less than 20 seconds, it’s a pity they didn’t use that to give Michael Schumacher a less severe penalty for breaking a rule the FIA admitted was unclear.

Hamilton’s penalty

The highly unusual circumstances surrounding Hamilton’s penalty have been explained in detail in these earlier articles:

Comparing Hamilton’s drive-through penalty on Sunday with Alonso’s at Shanghai for jumping the start highlights the inconsistencies in using drive-through penalties. Because of the varying lengths of the pit lanes Hamilton’s penalty cost him 12.7s at Valencia, Alonso’s in Shanghai cost him 21s.

Add in the difference in the delay in handing out the penalties – Alonso got his much earlier because he happened to commit his infraction before the eyes of the race director – and the reasons for the perceived difference in severity of the penalties become clear.

None of this justifies Ferrari’s claim the race was “manipulated”. But it’s clear the rules could be improved.

There is a simple and fair solution to the drive-through penalties problem: Replace them with stop-go penalties, and vary the duration a driver is stopped from race to race to even out the differences in pit lane length.

Should Hamilton have received a more severe penalty? As Will Buxton points out when he overtook the safety car in a GP2 race four years ago (albeit in rather different circumstances) he was disqualified.

But GP2 rarely sets a precedent for F1. In 2008 Bruno Senna was handed a penalty for an unsafe release in the pits two weeks after Ferrari’s Felipe Massa escaped a penalty for exactly the same thing.

According to Mark Hughes, “the precedent for [overtaking the safety car] is a drive-through.” I’ve been racking my brains trying to recall when that precedent was set but with no joy. If anyone knows, please post it in the comments.

It could be argued that, by the time race control came to give Hamilton his penalty they should have realised how limited the effect of a drive-through would be and given him a harsher penalty accordingly – such as a stop-go penalty.

But I fear that altering penalties to suit the circumstances would only leave the stewards open to even more damaging claims of inconsistency – and increase the burden on them even further. What is needed is clear and consistent penalties delivered in a timely fashion.

A shambles, not a scandal

This is the latest in a series of F1 races spoiled by a controversy over penalties. While some people have been quick to claim that certain rulings always favour one driver or team, it’s clear this isn’t the case.

To Valencia ’10 we can add Alonso’s penalty at Monza in ’06, Hamilton’s a Spa in ’08, Schumacher’s at Monaco earlier this year and others.

FIA president Jean Todt has shown a commitment to improving the standards of stewarding in F1. Bringing in former drivers as advisers appears to have helped tone down some of the excessively severe penalties we saw in previous years.

And only last week the Sporting Regulations were clarified to remove the grey areas highlighted by Schumacher at Monaco and Hamilton in Canada. But further progress needs to be made.

The connection between what infringement gets what penalty is too often unclear. And far too little information explaining penalties is published, despite earlier promises to supply more detailed explanations.

Although the stewards show a commendable commitment to using all the information at their disposal to get decisions right, little heed is paid to delivering decisions in a timely fashion.

If the FIA fails to learn from these lessons we will continue to see race results being altered after the chequered flag – something the governing body should take every reasonable step to avoid.

2010 European Grand Prix

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203 comments on FIA must learn from Valencia shambles

  1. Chris said on 29th June 2010, 14:01

    Thanks for the analysis Keith

    Whatever your view on this

    Mine is that the punishment is the punishment which lewis hurt it is unlucky that Ferrari lost out but that is bad just bad luck.

    Do people remember last year in Germany when Webber was given a Drive Through after an unsafe release but he still won the race? Is that fair probably not but he served the punishment and we just move on.

    And when we offer over the course of the years there are plenty of times when diffrent teams have been harsly punished and got away with things and it tends to balance out.

    If you belive in Karma you could say Lewis getting away with this is in return for his rediculous penality in Spa 08.

    On another point has anyone seen this;

    He can talk!!!!

  2. Daniel said on 29th June 2010, 14:09

    I was under the impression that the International Sporting Code laid down the form that penalties could take in the Sporting Regulations.

    The Sporting Code itself isn’t supposed to be used as a guide for issuing penalties, but for setting them in the Sporting Regulations. Using the Code in this way is highly irregular.

  3. Senna4ever said on 29th June 2010, 14:09

    Excellent points made here and far less emotional supporter nonsense.

    1. Alonso hates Hamilton there is not question about that.
    2. As the video shows Hamilton passed the SC, yet at the moment it happened, who actually saw it? We had to REPLAY and go slow motion to ACTUALLY SEE how close it was.
    3. The action was on Mark Webber at the time of his horific crash, and we all thank the lucky stars for him being alright, just HOW would the SC have been deployed whilst he was still flying?? Must have been a super dispatch unit in a matter of split seconds, because that was how long (or short) it took for the RBR to come to a halt against the tyre barrier. THe action followed MW undoing and throwing his steering wheel one side (seems all drivers like to do that) and then promptly getting OUT of the RBR wreck. All this in less than a minute. mmmmm WHo deployed the safety car and when ????

    Alonso’s whinning and crying over spilt milk is not going to hand him any championships, so perhaps Massa should shake off his Hungaroring accident and really give the Spaniard some stick …. Race Alonso, race !!!

    • RaulZ said on 1st July 2010, 10:24

      Don’t worry. Alonso will race and I’m sure he’ll also win. But today, the thing is the rules, the cheat, and complain. Nobody will complain about english no-goal next year. Today is the time to speak about it and try not to repeat.

  4. Superb post, Keith. Congrats!

  5. TBone said on 29th June 2010, 14:29

    What a shambles. And all because Alonso is acting like a spoilt child.

    They should close the pit lane and allow all cars to pass the safety car until the leader is behind it.

    As for penalties, ridiculous how even today the stewards can ruin the races, especially with no right of appeal and with no explanation behind them.

    We can’t change the length of pit lanes and having a different length stop/go would only add to the time in pit lane – why don’t they just adjuist the pit lane speeds for drive throughs in each race so the same time is spent in the pit lane at each circuit?

    • Skett said on 29th June 2010, 16:10

      The problem with allowing them to go passed until the leader reaches the sc is that the cars are still going at speed for longer. Maybe get them to line up as they are supposed to now but then sort it out once the mess has been sorted?

  6. Chris Goldsmith said on 29th June 2010, 14:33

    The pitlane rules regarding the safety car are needlessly complicated. When the safety car is deployed it should be instant yellow flags around the whole circuit, and the pitlane closed. The SC should be deployed immediately, and the drivers all informed of the delta time for the sector. Once the hazard has been cleared, lapped cars should be able to overtake, and the safety car should move through the field to pick up the leaders. Once all the cars are in order of position behind the safety car, then it can be brought in to allow the cars a rolling restart.

    The problem is that in F1 there’s far too much brinksmanship, and in situations like safety cars where there’s a possibility of gaining an advantage, individuals have to make marginal calls very quickly. Sometimes these are the wrong decisions. Alonso absolutely has a point – he was running well up the order, then the safety car came out and because of brinksmanship by other teams, he and his teammate lost out badly. There shouldn’t be a sitatuon where a safety car can ruin someone’s race, it just totally ruins the fairness of the competition. But despite this, their moaning really needs to be checked because this happens almost every time there’s a safety car these days – sometimes people lose out. This time it was them. But it’s no greater scandal than if it’s a williams or a force india that gets demoted. there’s nothing special about Ferrari that should mean that rules which can hinder other people should never hinder them. It’s just a bit of unfortunate irony that it’s another hamilton/alonso incident.

  7. Paul A said on 29th June 2010, 14:35

    Good article, well balanced – thanks.

    One small point (and I am *not* apologizing for Alonso): as far as I can see the “manipulation” is a translation from Spanish to English – or just possibly used by Alonso in what is not his native language. The word “manipular” in Spanish has more of an idea of “artificially changed” than “fraudulently changed” (although it can be used to suggest dishonesty just as in English.)

    In this light, I – and many others – would agree that the results of the stewards’ “discretion” and timing can clearly be judged as artificial given all the facts in your article and elsewhere. Scandalous maybe, but not fraudulent.

    • Horacio said on 29th June 2010, 15:47

      Paul, I am so very sorry, but I am also a native Spanish speaker and I can’t see the differences you mention. When we use the verb “manipular” to the outcome of something (a presidential election, a football match, a F1 race) we mean that the result was “intentionally” changed. And that was exactly what Alonso meant.

      • Paul A said on 30th June 2010, 13:16

        Horacio, I agree – my only point being that there is possibly/probably less notion of *fraud* in Spanish than in English.
        Of course the stewards “intentionally” wished to penalize drivers and change the results. Their “intent” with Hamilton was blown by applying the minimum penalty and delaying so much that there was in fact no penalty at all (2nd place to 2nd place; I’m not going to get into whether Hamilton could possibly have overtaken Vettel if he had been closer.) With the “five seconds” rulings I am sure that the stewards intentionally tried to change the results as little as possible.

  8. In your article you mention the GPS system shown on the BBC before the race. You also state that it should have helped in this situation. The BBC mentioned though that it was accurate to 1 metre. The gap between LH and the SC at the 2nd safety car line was about this if not less therefore is even this accurate enough to hand out the penalty?

  9. michael said on 29th June 2010, 14:41

    F1 can’t go to the US style of pit lane closed until all are behind the safety car as it disadvantages the second car of each team. All the US series have individual pit boxes so no stacking is required. In F1 the second car would either have to queue or go around again. Either way you lose out massively or should that be Massaly?

    • Patrickl said on 29th June 2010, 18:15

      Indeed that too. Other than that it disadvantages EVERYBODY who needs to make a pitstop.

      It’s simply a bad idea to close the pitlane.

      The drivers have been dealing with delta laptimes on many occasions. This is the first time something goes wrong.

      Insanity to go back to the worst safety car rules we have had in decades, just to solve a problem that’s not even a problem.

      It’s worth looking out why things went wrong with the delta times this time though. As Button said, he was in the last corner before the pitlane entry and he couldn’t brake there or he would have gone off. Perhaps other drivers suffered similar problems.

  10. As already mentioned, at best GPS is only accurate to a meter or so, good for a general view of the cars on track, not good enough for decisions like this.

    The helicopter footage by itself is still not enough. Timings and positions to three decimal places are referenced from the onboard transponder location. Even if the SLS edges ahead of the McLaren, if the F1 transponder is in the nosebox, and the SC transponder was in the boot, then by rule it could be behind.
    (Apparently that all needed to be checked, hence some of the delay. Next time it’ll be quicker).

    The suggestion that cars don’t need to refuel, therefore drop the minimum time is questionable. Cars still need new nosecones or tyres, especially after an accident, you don’t want (damaged) cars racing full bananas back to the pits when the track is by definition in an unsafe state.

    They do need to apply better resolution on the inlap timing, and there needs to be some damping function, you can’t have cars penalised becuase the SC light came on when they were 50m from the pitlane. If it happens again, they will all jam on the anchors, now you have two accidents to deal with.

    With no refuelling you *could* close the pitlane till the SC has established order, but that would likely create just as many inequalities or ‘manipulations’ as the present schemes. Especially cars trapped in their box as the grid streams past.
    … I am also very much against the whole grid piling into cramped pitlanes and boxes en masse, that is asking for trouble. It’ll end in tears one day. Drivers have carbon fibre, mechanics have nothing.

    By its very nature, the act of sending any Safety Car onto the track will create some sort of disruption, it is absolutley inevitable, it is unavoidable. Whatever alternate system is suggested in these comment pages, there will be a readily imagined list of scenarios that would prove unfair to someone.

    I dunno, if there is something that can be easily improved or made more robust, then no reason not to do it, but be aware it’ll still end up doing-in someone’s race through no fault, or still end-up arbitrarily advantaging someone-else that got lucky.

    The mature adult response is to take it on the chin, realise these things will probably even out over a long enough timescale … and definitley not to show all your key championship rivals, how fragile and easily destabilised your equilibrium is.

  11. DaveW said on 29th June 2010, 15:02

    Well written and reasoned. But something’s missing. You’ve addressed this in a reply but the missing ingridient in your reforms remains to change the rule requiing the SC to come out as soon as possible, rather than waiting for the leader. The argument that it increases safety, or that in needs to escort the medical car, is not convincing. The SC deploying mid pack does nothing to slow down or make safe the paths of the cars it comes out behind. The medical car does not need an escort any more than the SC does—it has plenty of flashing lights to do the job. With the whole circuit flagged, drivers have to slow down at risk of penalty just as they do in other series. In fact, knowing that it must pick up the leader, and the the pits are closed, takes away much incentive to speed on a dangerous track. So there is no benefit whatsoever to having the SC not wait to pick up the leader; and the downside is creating a situation where drivers ahead of the SC get a windfall; or you have to give a draconian penalty for passing the SC becuase the potential gain is so great. Further, in light of what happened here, teams will likely advise drivers basically to “race back to the flag” to beat the SC onto the track, which will be both very rational and very dangerous. This change will be complemented by closing the pits until the leader is picked up.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th June 2010, 15:23

      Perhaps, but if the pit lane’s closed as I suggested it wouldn’t matter anyway, the field can just form up behind the safety car.

      • Oliver said on 29th June 2010, 17:33

        If the pit lane is closed would Heikki get a penalty for having to pit for repairs? Assuming he could continue that is.

        • MacademiaNut said on 29th June 2010, 19:17

          Great point. If a car is marginally damaged (say broken front wing with piece hanging) and if the pit lane is closed, is the car expected to drive around behind the safety car? What if a tire is punctured? What if a tire is missing? I think it just gets too messy to close the pit lane.

          • Alex Bkk said on 30th June 2010, 12:13

            In that case there could be an exception. I’d say that is something that stewards “on the ball” could figure out in a moment.

  12. SiY said on 29th June 2010, 15:08

    I’ve just noticed something very interesting: Schumacher was the only man in the train of 10 cars from Kubica backwards who didn’t pit at the end of lap 9, and he was the only one of them not penalised for breaching the delta time. Chandok was the sole other car to pit that lap, but he was a long way back – behind Webber at the time of the crash – and therefore hadn’t even entered the final sector of the lap when the safety car was called.

    Surely this points to some kind of systematic problem in the way the delta was calculated or applied for cars entering the pits?

    Great article Keith, I particularly agree about closing the pitlane and doing away with the delta system. Regarding the length of penalty, the stewards are empowered to apply any kind of penalty they see fit. In BTCC there is often a time penalty of exactly the right length to drop a transgressor behind their victim in the results; in fact haven’t they done this in the past in GP2? A shame such discretion wasn’t used after Monaco. As with Melbourne 2009 (Hamilton’s (second) pass of Trulli behind the safety car), not to mention Germany 2009 and Singapore 2008, faster clarification by race control would be a big improvement.

  13. macahan said on 29th June 2010, 15:23

    Just make it simple. Close pit during SC since there is no refuling.

    Further until your behind the SC pit speedlimiter is engaged which needs to be done with in 5sec or even automatically upon SC notice. Failure to do so means 10sec stop and go penalty.

  14. JFromAus said on 29th June 2010, 15:23

    I know it’s off topic in regards to what happened in valencia, but if race control had that much difficulty dealing with and sorting out who had breached which rules and designating a punishment for them during this race…how can we expect them to monitor and police the rear wing stalling over-take boost that is to be in place next year in situations where drivers/teams claim another driver/team used it at the wrong time etc???

  15. John said on 29th June 2010, 15:25

    Can anyone tell me – were the stewards looking into Hamilton’s infraction *before* Alonso got on the radio? I get the impression not, and that is why he is so mad (and if so, justifiably I reckon).


    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th June 2010, 16:07

      The stewards’ report only says they were alerted to it by the race director. Whether he only picked up on it because Ferrari reported it I don’t know. But there’s a good chance the safety car driver would have seen it and reported it.

      • RaulZ said on 1st July 2010, 11:10

        Some informations say that RedBull was who first informed the race director about hamilton’s ‘mistake’.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 1st July 2010, 11:48

          So the real “cheats” were Red Bull, being happy to see any real competition from Lewis – drive throug – and Alonso – stuck behind the SC – eliminated!
          But Ferrari were almost as quick.

          Only logically, what team would let a competitor get away with something if they can profit from having them punished.

        • RaulZ said on 1st July 2010, 12:14

          No, no, RedBull didn’t cheat. They just were lucky and didn’t get stuck behind de SC. The problem is that they saw how Hamilton cheated and inform race control because the leader championship was in there.

          Redbull didn’t used the press to complain but they where the real aggrieved with decisions on sundays because in other case they were leading the championship.

          Everybody could speak about Italian and Spanish manners but the fact is that there has been a lot of mistakes of everykind and the real beneficiary was mclaren, who now is leading both championships.

          Well, there’s a lot of championship ahead. We hope things get balanced in future.

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