The Stewards - Under Investigation

 

(My interpretation of this season's decisions made by the Stewards)

As every race weekend goes by it appears that more and more Formula 1 fans are discussing, agreeing with or disputing the decisions made by the race stewards. The aim of this article is to look into some of those decisions (controversial or not) that have seen such varying opinions amongst drivers, fans and stewards. For many years, but especially this year, we've fans wanting just one simple thing; consistency. Are we getting that in 2012? Let's see.

Michael Schumacher

I've picked out five different types of incident that I think need looking at and discussing, the first of which refers to Michael Schumacher. This had undoubtedly been the best season the seven-time World Champion has enjoyed since his return to the sport in 2010, but on two occasions now this season we've seen some very amateurish mistakes.

The first of these came at Barcelona where he drove into the back of Bruno Senna's Williams heading into the first corner. The two were on different strategies and at the time of the incident Michael had much fresher tyres and was visibly quicker. Senna understandably didn't want to give his place up easily and fought hard for several laps to fend off the German, but unfortunately heading down the main straight and into the first corner the two collided. Schumacher was running right up the rear wing of the Williams ahead and clearly misjudged how early Senna had to brake (given the lack of life left in his tyres) to make the first corner. Schumacher as a result went straight into the back of Senna and caused both to retire from the race. Furthermore, the stewards decided that Michael was worthy of a 5-place grid drop for the incident, something that would cost him pole in the next race at Monaco.

Just this past weekend in Singapore we saw a very similar incident, again involving Michael. This time the unfortunate party in the incident was Jean-Eric Vergne. One thing especially to note from the incident was Vergne's reaction, something a lot of racing drivers around the world could look at and learn from. Instead of being irate, he simply spoke to Michael and the two patted each other on the back; great to see from the youngest and oldest drivers on the grid. Anyway, following the incident the stewards decided to give Michael a 10-place grid drop for the next race in Japan. Now as this was the second time this season this type of incident has occurred, I think Michael can have no complaints about the penalty given to him. In my opinion this shows consistency from the stewards. They're punishing a driver for causing accidents/retirements of other drivers and making sure that it is applicable to a certain driver. Had it been a driver who hadn't already had a similar incident this year then I think a 5-place grid drop would have sufficed.

4 wheels off the circuit

We've seen this happen on both occasions, both affecting Red Bull cars. The first of which refers back to Hockenheim and the great battle between Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel. Towards the end of the race Vettel was clearly quicker, but only made the pass happen by overtaking Button whilst off the actual circuit. 4 wheels were over the white line and he overtook another car, something which simply isn't allowed. Now had Vettel just given the place back straight away (and then used his superior pace to overtake on the next lap) I'm sure there would have been nothing really made of the matter, but because he didn't the stewards awarded him a 20-second time penalty after the race, demoting him from 2nd to 5th. Many fans felt the penalty was harsh, but it is in the rules and they had very little choice as the incident was so clear cut.

The very same thing happened in Singapore between Mark Webber and Kamui Kobayashi. The Australian Red Bull driver was clearly quicker than his Japanese counterpart, but only made the move stick when again having 4 wheels over the white line. At the time not a lot was made of it (I think Martin Brundle did raise the point and said he shouldn't have done it) and it took till a fair while after the race for the decision to be made that Webber too would be given a 20-second time penalty. Again for me, this was the correct decision. Not only is it in the rules, but they also set a precedent earlier in the year with Vettel, so to see them remain consistent in their application of penalties was pleasing to see (obviously not for Red Bull fans though).

Romain Grosjean's race ban

When the news initially broke that Lotus driver Romain Grosjean had been given a one race ban I was shocked. Not shocked that he'd actually been banned, because after all it was an extremely dangerous moment, but because it was the first race ban we'd seen given to a driver since Michael Schumacher way back in 1994. When you watch back the footage from that first corner crash you can only wince, take a deep breath and be glad that everyone involved came out unscathed. Every time it was shown you just thought what a great job Formula 1 (and in particular the outstanding contribution from Professor Sid Watkins) has done in ensuring driver safety.

The race ban was universally accepted and justified. I think what the stewards really wanted to do here, as much as punishing Grosjean, was to send out a message to the whole of the Formula 1 paddock that this standard of driving would not be accepted. No fan does (or at least should) want to see cars and drivers crash, especially in such a terrifying way, and by imposing this ban upon the young Frenchman it will hopefully remind everyone of the dangers involved. If a similar incident to the one in Spa occurs again this season, will we see further race bans handed out? That we can only speculate on, and of course hope it never has to happen. A one race ban wasn't the only option available to the stewards, but it was the right one. Grosjean and other drivers will hopefully learn from this and become more aware of his and their surroundings and competitors in the future.

Pastor Maldonado

I've written on many an occasion about Pastor Maldonado this season, so I'm going to try and keep this short. Yes, he has been involved in far too many incidents and yes, some of them have been his fault. He's remarkably had 33 grid drops this season (although some of those are gearbox related) which simply isn't good and shouldn't be happening. He's clearly very quick, especially around street circuits, but he just needs to control that speed and aggressive racing nature at times.

One thing I don't like though is the abuse and comments he's had thrown at him this season. The incidents with Hamilton and Perez at Valencia and Silverstone respectively were, in my opinion, not entirely his fault. Yes he played his part, but the other drivers involved could have done more to avoid the incident. Now I accept that he's been in too many incidents this season, and maybe some kind of further punishment should have been handed out. If they imposed a race ban on Grosjean based on driving standards, then why not also impose one on Maldonado for repeated offences? In my opinion, and maybe the stewards too, none of the incidents involving the Venezuelan have been anywhere close to as dangerous as the one at Spa. Since Spa there has been a noticeable change in Pastor's driving and races. He's had two clean races, driven extremely well (despite not scoring) and showed that he is worthy of a Formula 1 drive. Is this because of the media and fans spotlight on him, or because of Grosjean's ban?

To be investigated after the race..

One thing that has frustrated me this season is the number of incidents that 'will be investigated after the race'. I understand that some incidents, like the one involving Vettel and Button at the restart in Singapore need to be investigated after the race, as the stewards will need to speak to both drivers.

But then we have incidents like the one we saw at Spa involving the unsafe release of Heikki Kovalainen in the pit lane. As soon as the incident was shown on TV I was thinking 'drive-through', only to then see a message pop up on the screen saying that the incident 'will be investigated after the race'. It was so clear cut and could have been dealt with straight away, yet the stewards wanted to wait until the race was over to impose the penalty. The real problem is that it leaves the fans wondering whether what they've just seen is going to be the final result or not, sometimes for up to several hours after the race has concluded. Such obvious incidents should be dealt with during the race and not after.

All we want as fans is consistency, and on the whole I think that's what the stewards have given us this season. Of course everyone is going to have an opinion and won't always agree with what the stewards decide, but that's the beauty of it I guess. The appointment of an ex-driver is a good move and has certainly improved the decision making, but could it be improved further? Each race we seem to have a different ex-driver, but why not just make it the same one each time? Why not appoint a permanent ex-driver to be at every race? It'd mean that the ex-driver would know exactly what had happened at each race this season, including each driver and team and could then base their decisions off that. Would it help? Would it make the decisions that bit more consistent? Let me know by commenting below!

Top Drivers

 
Driver Points
Hamilton 252
Rosberg 211
Vettel 203
Raikkonen 107
Bottas 101
Massa 97
 

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