FIA muddy the waters over ‘unsafe release’

Untitled (Recovered)

In the wake of a pit lane camera man being hit by a wheel from Mark Webber’s Red Bull, the FIA introduced harsh penalties in 2014 for what constitute the unsafe release of a car.

A newly-inserted Article 23.12 c of the 2014 Sporting Regulation states that “if a car is deemed to have been released in an unsafe condition during a race the driver concerned will receive a ten grid place penalty at the driver’s next Event. However, if any car released in an unsafe condition is able to resume the race a penalty under Article 16.3(c) will also be imposed on the driver concerned.”

Any driver whose team had been have allowed the car to leave the pit box in an unsafe manner was to receive a 10 place grid penalty at the next race.

A number of drivers were punished during last season and at times feelings ran high over the matter.

Sebastian Vettel described the penalties as being “like going to prison for stealing a chocolate bar. “It’s too harsh for the drivers,” he added, “it’s more for the team. There’s not much you can do as a driver but it is what it is.”

Kevin Magnussen observed, “Of course we are a team and we should be penalised somehow together but I think it’s good if it doesn’t just go to the drivers.”

After being disqualified from his 2nd place podium in Australia last year, Daniel Riciardo was hit hard in Malaysia too. He was on course to finish fourth behind team mate Sebastian Vettel when during a pits top, the team failed to secure one of his wheels.

He was wheeled back and retired from the race. Given that Ricciardo would have been awarded a stop and go penalty, the team deemed it not worth risking the engine as Daniel would fail to score points.

Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez was penalised for an unsafe release during the Austrian Grand Prix both with a five second stop and go penalty and a 10 place grid drop for the following race.

Guitierrez was particularly aggrieved. “I think it’s too harsh because in our case, the wheel didn’t even go off the car. I felt it straight away and I stopped and it was quite safe what we did and we reacted well to the problem.

“You’re already losing time by coming back for a five second stop-and go, and then you’re ten places behind for the following race. It’s way too much”.

In the season opening race yesterday, Kimi Raikkonen pulled his Ferrari off the circuit at Turn 4 due to a problem with his left rear wheel. The Finn asked on the radio, “did you leave the wheel loose?” “Unfortunately the wheel was not tight,” his engineer replied, “I’m sorry, Kimi”.

Ferrari were investigated for an unsafe release because they let Raikkonen leave the pit lane with a wheel not properly attached to the car.

Kimi later revealed: “We had an issue and the wheel didn’t go fully as it should, so it came loose.”

Yet to many people’s surprise, Ferrari and Kimi avoided a penalty from the stewards. Their statement read: “The team explained that the system used to monitor the pit stops gave no indication that the car was in an unsafe condition when released and the team caused the driver to stop the car immediately the problem was apparent from the driver and telemetry.

“The team had paid close attention to the telemetry after the actions of the team members involved in the pit stop and further that the FIA Technical Delegate accepted the car was not in an unsafe condition when released the stewards took no further action.”

The car was clearly unsafe in so much as Ferrari told Raikkonen to stop.

So what’s changed? Given that the definition of an unsafe release appears to be unaltered and Raikkonen – unlike both Ricciardo and Guitierrez – had left the pit lane and accelerated up to speed. We can only presume that were a Guitierrez kind of incident to happen this year, there would be no penalty because the car would be stopped by either the driver or the team  “immediately the problem was apparent”.

TJ13 has long campaigned for a representative of the stewards to be made available to explain their decisions to the media. It would be useful for the commentators and fans of the sport to understand – what is now deemed as an unsafe release.

26 responses to “FIA muddy the waters over ‘unsafe release’

  1. Sorry to say, but research on this article is very poor, the FIA indeed referred to article 23.12 (c) in it’s decision not to impose a penalty on RAI, but I think they looked at the 2015 version of the Sporting Regulations rather than the 2014 version of the Sporting Regulations as referred to in this article, and under the new 2015 version of the regulations there is a lot more room for interpretation…

    • You’re both right about this.

      BDP – Thanks for clarifying that the 2015 regs are significantly different.

      In particular, now the penalty for an unsafe release is now a 10 second stop and go.

      If the penalty is applied after the race, then 30 seconds will be added to the elapsed time.

      Either of those two penalties doesn’t make sense if the car quits the race (because of the unsafe release, or not).

      TJ13 – Given these vastly different penalties for 2015 unsafe releases, the Stewards report still doesn’t make sense as you’ve well pointed out here.

      Will this new reasoning of what is unsafe release apply from now on? That is to say, if a team stops the car before the wheel leaves the vehicle, then no penalty will be applied?

      If a wheel does leave a vehicle, is that unsafe?

      If a competitor looses a wheel, and stops, the penalties either can’t be applied, or have no effect (take your pick).

      Very different from 2014… But glad they changed it.

    • What additional leeway has been regulated?

      There has been no change to the definition of an ‘unsafe release’ in article 23:12 a,b,c and d of the Sporting regulations. Primarily because there isn’t one.

      And by the way a 10 place grid drop can still apply under 23:12 b

      The argument the article puts forward does not refer to any change in punishment because it attempts to examine where is the point of breach? The point of breach is unclear and can only be judged upon the precedents of previous transgressions

      This decision appears to fly in the face of previous similar scenarios.

      Which again would be fine, had the FIA or the stewards explained what constitutes the change in their view on unsafe releases.

      • You say it yourself, ‘can’ still apply, but no automatic application anymore, makes a big difference in how the regulations actually work.

        • You are still missing the point. It can still apply for specified circumstances. But even though this specifically did not attract the 10 place grid penalty of 23:12 b based upon previous precedent it was a breach.

          • You use the wrong provision and i miss the point?:-) Your pre-assumption seems to be that an unsafe release (whatever it means) should trigger the 10 place grid penalty, that was seemingly the case in the past although also the past provision that you are basing your argumentation on contained the word ‘deemed’ which is always an opening to discretionary decisionmaking meaning no automatic application. The rule of precedent is only valid for situations that do not require/imply an interpretation, and this was/is not such a rule.

          • I simply said there was a breach based on previous precedent/interpretation. 10 place penalties can be given for other track sessions during the weekend – but not the race – according to the new regulations which I am well aware of.

            I did not say there was a penalty due under the new provisions 23:12 b – merely pointed out 10 place grid penalties had not been completely abolished.

            The point was simple and others understood my intention, simply there was inconsistency in the interpretation considering no new definition of unsafe release has been stated – and that given this new interpretation previous breaches would now not be worthy of a penalty – particularly if the car had not retired.

      • “And by the way a 10 place grid drop can still apply under 23:12 b”

        23.12 b applies only for practice sessions.

        The penalty for unsafe release during a practice session is, “stewards may drop the driver such number of grid positions as they consider appropriate.”

        23.12 c is for unsafe release in a race. Penalty is a stop and go for 10 seconds.

      • You’ve not presented good reasons for the stewards to have a rep meet with the media.

        It is true, as you say, that “unsafe release” is not well defined in the regs.

        It’s noteworthy that no teams complained about the lack of penalty to Ferrari for leaving the pits with a loose wheel. Perhaps they were not surprised because the Race Director and Stewards have already informed the teams how unsafe releases will be enforced.

        In any case, we, the F1 spectators, do not know that information.

        The simple solution would be for the FIA to inform the media and spectators of the new practicing definition of “unsafe release”. Problem solved!

        Race steward debriefings would be unhealthy for this sport. F1 spectators want to see racing. We don’t want to watch adjudication debriefings. Steward debriefs may appeal to an obtuse subset of F1 spectators, but it would be unattractive to the majority of us F1 fans, and would cast an unattractive hue of legal proceedings over each and every race meeting while taking away focus from the technology, speed, and talents which provide the thrill of F1.

        • The reason for the stewards explaining certain decisions is simple. In the case of subjective judgements eg ‘unsafe release’ which is not defined in the regulations previously or in this years versions – only that it is in ‘the stewards opinion’. That opinion should be consistent in for purposes of fairness and to avoid favouritism.

          There is no additional latitude in the 2015 regulations for ‘unsafe release’ because it was and is defined by the stewards opinion alone.

          Stewards explaining decisions post race would not detract from the racing and there are plenty of sports where the referee/judges/stewards are allowed latitude but decisions are explained – and this does not lead to endless legal claims – some of those sports are far more wealthy than Formula One.

          Now we have a situation where clearly the video footage shows a problem with the Ferrari pit stop, Ferrari in effect deny this, the stewards have accepted that and therefore the assumption can be made that they have either not done their investigation properly or turned a blind eye.

          • The FIA informed us how “unsafe releases” were to be enforced last year (after the incident of the guy getting thumped by the loose wheel).

            Yes, they should inform us spectators of the change for 2015 in enforcement of “unsafe release”.

            The FIA have been fairly candid in the past. They’re actions indicate they’ll likely continue to be fairly candid.

            Stewards have been fairly consistent in their enforcements in the past. We know they have some processes in place to help their rotating Stewards enforce the regs in a consistent manner.

            Not seeing a problem here except that we only need to understand how “unsafe release” will be informed in 2015. That answer will likely be simple, straightforward, and probably known soon (before the next GP, I’d hope). It’s not that important, though.

  2. I’m a big fan of RAI and our Italian friends but do you think the outcome would have been different if it had happened to a different team?

  3. To many people’s surprise ? Why – just look at the team concerned, then it all becomes clear.

  4. Ferrari International Assistance reenacted?

    Marchionne explicitly stated that he chose Marlboro Man because Arrivabene was chumming up with Bernard, and (I vaguely recall) was more versed in the politics of F1…

      • Not to forget that Little Jean is head of FIA, and was part of Ferrari when FIA was branded Ferrari International Assistance. Little Jean clearly has no qualms about the regulator displaying favoritism to one team.

        I recall at one GP last year (Austin?) Alonso needed mechanics assistance even after the deadline (2min prior to parade lap, or similar). The mechanics stayed in place, the rulebook was very clear on the penalty, but this being Ferrari, Alonso and the FIA, the actual penalty he got was incredibly tame.

        I recall the helpful Sky team were thoroughly puzzled…

  5. “The team explained that the system used to monitor the pit stops gave no indication that the car was in an unsafe condition when released and the team caused the driver to stop the car *immediately the problem was apparent* from the driver and telemetry.”

    Scarlet BS. You can clearly see in the video footage that on the unsafe-release pitstop the mechanic never raised the hand to indicate that all was OK (as pointed out by the helpful Sky team), and that the mechanic desperately waved their hand to show that something was wrong. Ferrari instead of stopping Raikkonen right away, allowed him (fully knowing that it was unsafe!) to get up to speed and leave the pits and enter the live track… Surely this was worth a penalty…

  6. I believe that with thinking like has obviously been demonstrated here, to net no penalty, it shouldn’t be too long before we see recovery machinery operating trackside whilst the cars scream by under waved yellows…….Just like in to good old days of 2014 and prior….

  7. The specific issue that Ferrari had was that although the wheel nut had been tightened to the correct torque and the relevant indication had been passed to the system, the wheel rim was loose on the hub because the nut was cross threaded. The mechanic noticed as the car moved and raised his arm in warning, but the system had already signalled completion – OK to go.

    There was no probability that the wheel would come off in the short term – the nut was solidly tightened. Additionally this year there is a requirement for a safety mechanism that, when a wheel nut is not properly tightened, must prevent the wheel coming off the hub.

    Not much more Ferrari could have done!

      • He would have had to complete a lap at a slow pace, during which the locating lugs on the hub would have been so damaged that it would not be possible to seat another wheel successfully. So I suspect they wanted to preserved the car!

  8. What I have a problem with is the stewards apportioning blame toapportioning a system and not those monitoring the system. In the previous penalised instances, the driver left the pit after being directed to, which was no different from Kimi.
    Kimi had got onto the race track and speed unlike either Guiterrez or Ricciardo who I believe both stopped in the pit lane.

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