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. Brian Baum said on 29th June 2010, 15:38

    So what’s with the five second penalties? Schumacher was given a 20 second penalty for his pass of Alonso because (we were told) it was the ONLY choice the stewards had. The five second penalty was a joke because it was clear it would not change most of the final results and so wasn’t actually a penalty. It stinks.

  2. Horacio said on 29th June 2010, 15:40

    Keith, probably the best article I’ve read after the aweful GP. Most excellent text, congratulations.
    In all honesty, it seems to me that somehow Alonso crossed a line when he suggested that the result was “manipulated”. We all know already Alonso’s habit of blaming others for his faults or bad luck or whatever, and lately Luca de Montezemolo seemed to board the same wagon with vitriolic opinions about everything. But I do not remember a pilot acussing a race as being manipulated.
    Yes, some people will say that it was the heat of the moment, and this and that, but IMO that was a very serious acussation.
    I said in another post that I felt sick listening to Alonso asking on the radio for someone to go have a chat with Charlie, as if for Ferrari is that easy to have someone punished. And the guy on the radio saying that it was “very unfair”. After that I turned the TV off and went to play football with my children.
    The whole episode was a mess, but to say that is was a manipulated race is some serious stuff.

  3. rok said on 29th June 2010, 15:41

    Good article to the point where you compare Hamiltons 08 Spa with Alonso’s Monza… where Alonso had nothing to do with blocking Massa, Hamilton was clearly cuting the track and therefore gaining unfair advatage against Raikkonen. If Lewis drove correctly in the last chicane he would never overtook Kimi on the start/finish streight…

    • Phil said on 29th June 2010, 16:33

      Yes he would have, get over it he was all over him.

      • rok said on 29th June 2010, 18:28

        Not even in dreams would be Hamilton close enough… And being all over him has got nothing to do with that, unless you dont understand the point

        • Phil said on 29th June 2010, 19:38

          Whatever, he would have passed him within a corner or two, he was much faster at that point. Kimi forced him to cut chicane, it was that or take both cars out.

          • BBT said on 29th June 2010, 20:56

            Yes, it was seconds per sector, there is no way Hamilton would of been behind after a few more 100m

  4. Oliver said on 29th June 2010, 16:20

    Well all I see here are lots of incidents occurring almost simultaneously, I assume the stewards have to take the time to look into them one after the other while still keeping their eyes open for other incidents that might occur as the race is still ongoing.

    An option might be to just handle it the way traffic offences are done. It doesn’t matter if you ran over a cat, if you park illegally you get a ticket. In this case a penalty. So we have a situation where if a a car bumped you from behind to overtake the safety car you still get a penalty. That way stewards don’t have to waste time investigating anything.

    But in real life, people still have access to courts to redress errors in fines and accusations. This is also the reason why the stewards investigates every incident. Two cars are released at the same time, one slips over a banana peel and doesn’t make it out as fast, they run side by side. To the eyes of the viewers, one car was released late, but in the eyes of the stewards they were released together. But investigating, prevents a harsh punishment for an minor on non transgression.

    There is no guarantee stewards will always meet up with appropriate punishments withing a certain time, as accidents don’t have much consideration for stewards deliberations. In the space of one minute over 11 different events occurred, luckily not so severe, however there exists the possibility that we may face serious events occurring within a short time of each other, and having different levels of severity. As such the stewards will have to prioritize.
    If a driver threw his steering wheel at another driver, at high speed, then it that driver gets the black flag immediately irrespective of if driver knocked out driver jumped the start like 2mins earlier. Although you could also argue that, if he had done a drive through or something, he would not have been there to receive a gift of a steering wheel.

    We want the results to stand as they are when the race runs its course. But for the sake of fairness we must also allow for stewards to take time to review such incidents and acquire sufficient materials to enable them achieve this. Or we risk having a case like football were we all see the ball bouncing inside the goal post but the referee over rules it, leaving us with a case of fact versus interpretation haunting us till the day we let go of this planet.

  5. Palle said on 29th June 2010, 16:24

    Solution to some of the SC problem:
    The SC could be “avoided” by making the leading driver the SC? He could get the job of driving as a SC, when instructed by flag posts and pits to do so. Maybe via a SC speed limiter button, like the Pit lane speed limiter. If the pits are also closed while the SC is “deployed” in this way, the only negative effect for the race is that the race is “neutralized”, but this is a classic effect of the SC deployment.
    The transition into SC should be made visible for the other Pilots by a blinking taillight other than the one used in rain, and You maybe need additional signaling when the SC deployment period is ending.
    Of course they need to have this system on all competing cars, so therefore difficult to implement before next year.

    Re “Manipulation”. In the definition of the word it is not negative and You cannot “not manipulate” when interacting. But of course You can do so in a negative or a positive way. A SC period will always affect the result, but so will a puncture, a problem for a car during a pitstop, a rainshower etc. The only way of totally avoiding a SC to manipulate the race, is to ban the safety car, and run the risk of further collisions around the place of the accident, which will then also affect the end result.

    • Rob said on 29th June 2010, 16:40

      Unfortunately making the leader the safety car has been shown to not eliminate controversy and problems – Button in China was accused of driving dangerously after the safety car pulled in because Rosberg wasn’t paying attention as he slowed for the final hairpin. Immediately afterwards drivers and armchair pundits were shouting that he should have been disqualified until video and telemetry showed that Button made no erratic moves.

  6. Prisoner Monkeys said on 29th June 2010, 16:31

    So where does the five second penalty the other drivers got come from?

    This year, there seems to be an attitude within the stewards of not handing out penalties that affect the race outcome too much unless it’s a situation – like Schumacher in Monaco – where conflicting interpretations of the rules demand the stewards pass judgement. Giving twenty-five second penalties to those nine drivers would have promoted Kobayashi to third, Alonso to fourth and Massa to somewhere around sixth or seventh. To do that would have caused a riot (well, maybe not from the Spanish fans). It would have rendered the entire race completely pointless because of an obscure rule (I believe Button’s defence for his fast time was that he was the first car to be within range of the pits when the safety car was deployed, and so he had techncailly been racing for 90% of the lap), and that’s obviously something to be avoided. The stewards were put into a no-win situation: if they had have penalised the drivers twenty-five seconds each, there would have been an uproar about it. But if they hadn’t have awarded penalites to those nine, people would be questioning why they penalised Hamilton in the first place.

    The problem seems to be that the stewards exist in the first place, but to have a race without them would be anarchy. If they took twenty minutes to pass judgment on Hamilton’s situation, there was probably a good reason for it. Even if they had the footage the instant it happened, they could very well have spent the next twenty minutes arguing about it – because when was the last time someone passed the safety car? More, when was the last time someone passed the safety car right on the line at the exit to pit lane?

    But the biggest problem here is Ferrari. This sitiuation has been made a hundred times worse by them publicy decrying the FIA and the stewards. They should have gone to the Powers That Be and asked “Okay guys, what happened here and what can we do about it?” instead of getting on their sopabox and going to DEFCON 1 with “The FIA don’t know what they’re doing because we didn’t win the race! Everything you hold dear about this sport is in jeopary because of thei actions! Rise up! Rise up! Fight the power; make it known that you, like we, have no confidence in their ability to do their jobs!” Ferrari’s over-zealouness to see (what they believe to be) justice delivered had just blown everything out of proportion. Again.

    • ADeadLink said on 29th June 2010, 16:33

      Excellent point PM. There’s even more irony in that seeing as I read some comments from Domenicali saying that his rivals shouldn’t be talking to the media about the “so called testing infraction”.

    • Alex Bkk said on 30th June 2010, 12:32

      @ Prisoner Monkeys

      “If they took twenty minutes to pass judgment on Hamilton’s situation, there was probably a good reason for it. Even if they had the footage the instant it happened, they could very well have spent the next twenty minutes arguing about it”

      It was mentioned earlier that one steward with assistants could make the decisions faster. The delay could very well be too many cooks in the kitchen. It may sound a bit autocratic but I think it would work.

      As far as Ferrari bringing the sport in to disrepute, I think that’s a bit silly considering that last season FOTA were talking a breakaway series and no too long before that Max was dressing like a NAZI and banging hookers. I guess my point is that it’s joke to have a go at Ferrari for losing their tempers and going over the top considering the recent history of F1.

      I always enjoy your comments. Keep them coming.

  7. Ichtyes said on 29th June 2010, 16:32

    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.

    But that doesn’t solve anything really. Imagine if Hamilton had been given a 10-second stop-and-go, but had been another 10 seconds up the road than when he went into the pits; we’d be back to Square 1. Hamilton may have been a certain time ahead in this race, but who’s to say that in a repeat scenario a driver won’t simply be a stop-and-go amount of time ahead of the driver behind him?

    The simplest solution is to let it be known that a 20-second penalty will be given after the race, and it’s up to the driver to make up the deficit. Of course, cleaning up the safety car rules in the first place (wave through everyone but the leader) would prevent this ever happening again, but a simple time penalty for other infringements would solve the “problem” of different pit-lane sizes (and don’t forget, the pit-lane speed limit was lower in Valencia, which off-set the “advantage” somewhat)

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th June 2010, 16:42

      who’s to say that in a repeat scenario a driver won’t simply be a stop-and-go amount of time ahead of the driver behind him?

      We’re dealing with more than one problem here. To completely stop that kind of thing happening again we need the stewards turning decisions like this around in less than three quarters of an hour.

      I think giving a post-race time penalty would not necessarily solve the problem you identify and it would have the added drawback of meaning yet more fiddling with the result after the race has finished, which really needs to be avoided.

  8. Daniel said on 29th June 2010, 16:33

    I don’t think they should use context, it’s a recipe for bias and inconsistency to say the least.

    The only context judgement that should be made is whether a driver broke the rules on purpose. If they did the punishment should be harsher. Otherwise you go with a penalty mandated for a specific offence. Breaking a regulation is a driving error (if not deliberate), a driving error costs you time, how much time is mandated by the rules. That’s the way it should be.

  9. Brian Baum said on 29th June 2010, 16:34

    I disagree. The ultimate outcome of these decisions are: if you break the rules there will not be a meaningful penalty. Hamilton broke the rules but was able to wait out the decision and suffered no penalty. Ferrari followed the rules and essentially received no points. Except for the small teams, the five seconds added to the times of the cars speeding behind the safety car did nothing to adjust the final results – so again no penalty. A couple races ago Schumacher lost his place and points because he was given a 20 second penalty – the ONLY decision the stewards could give. Why the inequity? Like I said, it stinks. Keith what say you on the five seconds?

  10. Nitin Patel said on 29th June 2010, 16:36

    I remember back a few years ago when I had to go online after watching the race to see what the final order was after all the penalties were handed out. I have fallen out of the habit of doing that over the past couple years…it was a strange feeling going back to that!

  11. Adrian said on 29th June 2010, 16:44

    What I don’t understand is why this high-tech sport can’t come up with a system that meant that for the drivers in Button and Kubica’s situation, it couldn’t use GPS to work out where they were on the track and work out a time for the remainder of that sector…I mean, come on, it can’t be as hard as programming a CFD simulation of an F1 car now can it!!

  12. “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.”

    I think that opens a whole new can of worms… How ‘damaged’ does a car need to be in order to pit for fresh rubber? Hamilton’s car was damaged, but he was able to drive it for 9 laps. Mclaren took advantage of the situation and with Lewis ahead of the SC he was able to change his front wing and still emerge in 2nd.

    I agree that the decision could have easily been made sooner, and Fernando’s frustration is justified in that sense, but Ferrari have simply gone too far. Think of how many times they have benefitted from dodgy steward calls. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Ferrari and Fernando need to get over it and come back stronger at Silverstone.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th June 2010, 16:49

      I think there are lots of ways you could minimise those problems. For example, if a car pits under the safety car it cannot count as its mandatory tyre change. Or it is required to re-join the back of the field.

    • sumedh said on 29th June 2010, 17:54

      What can be done is to ban tyre changes during a pit-stop made under safety car. Allow changing front wing, anything else, but don’t touch the tyres.

      This way, in the current case, Hamilton can chose to pit and have his end-plate changed but cannot change his tyres. Thus, he will have to come back again

      • Bleu said on 29th June 2010, 18:28

        But what if car pitting has a puncture? In this case I would think that tyre compound should not be changed, or if driver has only used both compounds, only replacing damaged tyre is allowed.

  13. edinfreak said on 29th June 2010, 17:00

    According to PF (questionable source ??), Ferrari outburst angers FIA officials:

    http://www.planetf1.com/news/18227/6236857/Ferrari-outburst-angers-FIA-officials-

    hmmm … Just wonder will FIA do anything about it?

  14. Ferrari has gotten more leniency from the FIA and more calls to their benefit than all the other teams in F1 combined. Unsafe releases, the 2008 spa race, etc etc… the list goes on.

    One time something doesn’t go their way and they’re crying like a bunch of little bitches. Tough **** it’s racing.

  15. antonyob said on 29th June 2010, 17:01

    “with the exception of damaged cars that need to come in”

    hmm i wonder what Lewis would’ve made of that…? broken end plate, is that damage? no? then what if he “feared” supension damage.

    Face facts contentious issues will never go, they are the lifeblood of sport and of blogs for that matter.

    You cannot simplify rules by adding to them.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th June 2010, 17:08

      They managed well enough in 2005 when drivers weren’t allowed to change tyres except when they had damaged ones.

      Far from adding to them, getting rid of the complicated regulations on safety car lap time deltas would probably make the rule book shorter…

      • Oliver said on 29th June 2010, 17:44

        But a driver cant drive around for too long with a severely damaged car with pieces hanging our falling out. If he is close to the pits surely he must pit for repairs assuming his car is still salvageable.

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