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. sumedh said on 29th June 2010, 17:48

    Amazing article!! great work Keith.

    I agree with the “A shambles, not a scandal” part of the article. The governing of Formula One by the FIA is still better than what it was under Max Mosley. Most of the decisions taken by stewards this year have still been good.

    Hamilton’s stunt was an opportunistic one at Canada. Not illegal, just naughty. So, was Michael’s move at Monaco.

    All FIA has to do is tighten up some of the rules and more importantly IMPROVE the SPEED of stewarding.

    Pit-lane closure would be an excellent rule now.

  2. Nitpicker said on 29th June 2010, 18:00

    Another well written article Keith, you are spot on. Is the FIA interested in having a Journalist Steward at future races?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th June 2010, 22:05

      Let me be the first to say, it’s easy to be wise after the event. I think the stewards have a difficult job.

      • RaulZ said on 1st July 2010, 11:36

        If someone pays 400 euro to see the race, maybe he wants that stewards were more proffessional. It has no sense that so much technology were managed by only one person that in fact is a bottle neck of decisions.

  3. Patrickl said on 29th June 2010, 18:10

    There is nothing wrong with the safety car rules. These rules are the best we have had in decades. Stop messing with things on a whim and/or a crying Ferrari.

    The safety car and medical car rushed to the scene of the accidents seconds after the accident happened. They could not wait for Ferrari to pass first, because Webber or Kovalainen could have been severely hurt.

    Closing the pitlane when there is a safety car is an appalling idea. The current rules are much better and far less likely to unduly disadvantage anyone.

    When the pitlane closes all the drivers bunch up and the people who worked hard to get ahead (and need to stop because of this) end up all the way to the back.

    That would mean that everybody who started in the top 10 (on supersofts) would end up behind the cars starting on the harder compound.

    So in this case, closing the pitlane would disadvantage at least ten drivers instead of the two that it actually did catch out.

    That Hamilton’s punishment took a while to sort out shows how marginal the call was anyway. If the safety car couldn;t call it and Hamilton thought he was ahead also, it’s no surprise it took them a whle to figure out the penalty.

    In the end it took them 19 minutes. Is that really such a long time to absolutely certain that you don’t punish an innocent driver?

    I do feel that Hamilton should be forced to study the rules though. If he had know right away about the second safety car line he would never have had that penalty.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th June 2010, 22:09

      That would mean that everybody who started in the top 10 (on supersofts) would end up behind the cars starting on the harder compound.

      But, in your example, those starting outside the top ten would also need to make a pit stop, so why would it matter.

      Besides which, with field spread after the safety car went back in the front runners would quickly have enough time to make their pit stop without losing ground to their rivals.

      In the end it took them 19 minutes.

      No, it took them 48.

      • Patrickl said on 30th June 2010, 10:21

        Well, I knew the top 10 (everybody in Q3) started on supersofts. So that’s why I say that “at least” that group would have suffered.

        Everybody who started on the supersofts would have lost out terribly from a pitlane closure. All the drivers on the harder tyres would have passed them.

        There is simply no need to just let people lose the gap that they built up just because you think the delta time rule is too difficult. Especially since you decide that it’s too difficult when it’s give a problem for the very first time in man many safty car situations.

        “No, it took them 48.”
        The incident occurred on 14:19 and Hamilton came in for his penalty on 14:53. They gave the penalty a few laps earlier, say 3 minutes before that. So at worst it took them 31 minutes. Assuming that race control immediately reported the incident to the stewards. Which of course they didn’t.

        Obviously race was control busy with the crash, cleanup and safty car itself. They would have reported the incident to the stewards only after that safety car came in. Which took about 10 to 15 minutes also.

        Sorry Keith, you usually have pretty good thoughts about what is best for F1, but in this case (and with the “medals”) you are simply wrong ;)

  4. djdaveyp said on 29th June 2010, 18:21

    I agree with your article Keith, but there have been decisions in the past that have been far more controversial.

    I’d like to point out the number of times Ferrari have somehow changed a “car x under investigation” to a “the incident involving car x will be investigated after the race” they are the worst team for manipulating the rules and when the rules go against them it’s a massive “scandal”.

    IMHO they need to pull their heads out of their bottoms and realise that they are not above the rest of the team. There is no A and B formula.

    Fernando Alonso didn’t lose out much with his jump start in China did he? And how he can complain about people benefitting from cheating after singapore 2008 is rediculous.

    I know I am biased as a LH and JB fan, but this is just my ten pence.

    • RaulZ said on 1st July 2010, 11:55

      Well, you can remember as well how in the past, with Ferrari’s benefits, mclaren complained and the local press blamed the FIA.

      Ferrari complained in 2008 about singapur, and williams did it aswell. Don’t think everybody is so gentleman not to complain when something unfair occurs.

      Fernando in China lost the race that he could win. He didn’t complain then. There wasn’t why.

      I don’t understand why people don’t support to complain when something is not right. Even being just bad luck, Brawn has complained aswell about shumi being stopped at the red light after pitstop.

      People must complain when life is not just. Otherwise, what is bad or wrong will go on bad or wrong.

  5. East Londoner said on 29th June 2010, 18:27

    Don’t bring back the rule of the pitlane being closed when the SC is out, as the drivers which need to come in desperatly for new tyres will get unfairly punished.

  6. W-K (@w-k) said on 29th June 2010, 18:51

    Has anybody seen or heard any comments from Fillipe about the Alonso/Ferrari accusations. Seem to remember that on the last truly fixed race Alonso won and Fillipe possibly lost the WDC.

  7. djdaveyp said on 29th June 2010, 18:56

    After reading some other comments I have an idea as to how they can make it completely fair. When the “safety” conditions happen the drivers have to hit a speed limiter by the next flag point. This would be a predetermined faster speed so they don’t lose tyre pressures etc. Then in the accident or incident area they have to use the pit limiter between certain flag points. This would mean that they won’t get bunched up or lose or gain time as everyone is in the same boat, and they could pit freely without fear of the racing to the pits etc.

    • W-K (@w-k) said on 29th June 2010, 19:08

      The advantage of bunching, is that it gives the marshalls about two minutes per lap when there are no cars coming past.

      We all saw the brave/foolish* marshall that removed the bottle.
      *delete as you see it.

  8. Luiti said on 29th June 2010, 18:58

    One thing is clear…. overtaking the safety car is a very good decision with the current rules.
    A drive trhough may take 15 to 20 seconds depending on the circuit…. Hamilton reached the pits 27 seconds before Alonso! even if he had been punished in a few laps, it would have been worhty… he would have won 12 seconds!

    I think that not allowing tyre changes during the first lap of the SC would avoid these things….
    The SC is unfair by definition…. joining all the cars is not fair…. but at least the first lap of the SC would be a calm period (it’s suposed to be so, isn’t it?)

  9. AlonsoWDC said on 29th June 2010, 19:29

    I had no idea that the pit lane remains open when the SC is deployed.

    Why?

    That is the most unfair thing ever.

    • Patrickl said on 29th June 2010, 20:07

      The people who have built up a lead so they can switch their tyres don’t think it’s unfair.

    • One of those non-apology apologies,

      “… it is all too easy to adopt a tone and say things that can be interpreted wrongly…”

      Oh, I see, so it’s our fault.

      Either way, pretty clear the word has come down from Paris, that enough is enough.

  10. CJD said on 29th June 2010, 19:48

    What am I missing?
    In the past I have seen the safety car come out and dawdle until he picked up the leader. Everyone else trundles past him at delta speed. At Valencia the safety car was more interested in leading the senior doctors in the medical car to take an early look at Mark and then we saw him dawdle waiting for Vettel, pick him up and lead the snake in correct order until release.
    Clearly it is not possible to lead the snake in race order unless cars pass the safety car. That is not un-lapping which is quite a different manoeuvre.
    All this takes a lot of careful work at race control, checking the transponder signals to ensure that everyone is where they should be.
    For some reason the 3rd and 4th placed men did not move on as they should have done and would have been ahead of the leader if they had not pitted for tyres.
    The driver of the safety car was in the best position to call in an overtake but did not do so because it was not relevant, he merely saw the 2nd placed man scurrying by to keep position in the snake and provided that he did not exceeed delta, where lay the crime?
    However, hysteria is infectious and maybe everyone has bought a plot. Are we safe in allowing hysterical drivers to take part in races?

  11. F1Yankee said on 29th June 2010, 20:00

    i think there should be 2 safety cars deployed at a time, and no delta times set. 3 are used at le mans due to the track length. if the primary sc lives on pit road, the secondary sc/med car can be on the back half of the track (even monaco can accommodate a parked car maybe at portier).

    i think the advantage would be simplifying the rules and execution of the proceedure, while quickly establishing control over the entire track. beating the sc to the line, like sunday, would be irrelevant. before the track is green, stack the cars behind the primary sc in order of current position. oh, and no passing before the finish line.

  12. f10 said on 29th June 2010, 20:12

    result on valencia is suck…not fair at all…fia handle the sutuation badly….lewis said the panalty was fair….i donoo how he came out with that….every knew he slow down then took off…hold both ferrari at the back of the safety car…every one know he did that on purpose..y fia cant see that im just curious…….

  13. Steve K said on 29th June 2010, 20:25

    Why does F1 have all of these problems with rules and NASCAR and Indycar don’t? I follow all three very closely and F1 is by far the most dysfuntional yet suposedly the mist high tech. I will be enjoying Watkins Glen and Daytona this weekend in HD.

  14. racedaemon said on 29th June 2010, 20:59

    I think the perceived “value” of safety cars is at fault for all this inconsistency in the rules. On one hand the safety car is used for, well, safety, as it’s only purpose should be. But on the other hand it is viewed as a spectacular reshuffle in what some consider a boring sport.

    If the rules where made only for safety i don’t see how with all the electronics in F1 they can’t make a system, controlled by the stewards, that after a warning to the driver slows the car (like the pit lane limiter) to the speed of the safety car and maintains the same distance between cars.

    Heck, with such a system they could even eliminate safety cars.

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