Mark Webber may be remembered for many different reasons. His comment following a win at the British Grand Prix, “Not bad for a number two driver” will arouse memories of allegations that Red Bull treated with a second class ticket, whilst Sebastian Vettel was being provided with champagne and oysters and a seat up front.
The Aussie driver also suffered on at least two occasions with a dodgy pit stop service where the wheels of his not so rampaging red bull car were fitted inappropriately.
The FIA came down on this mal-practice threatening punitive fines, which saw Williams suffer twice in two consecutive weekends during the 2013 campaign. Yet 60,000 Euro’s for the second offence was deemed a drop in the ocean, particularly when a certain Venezuelan driver could blow a quarter of a million currency units in front wings alone, during the course of a relatively quiet F1 race weekend.
The result? 10 place grid penalties were regulated for teams and drivers who failed to properly attach one of the fundamental components which defines a car as a car.
In society over time there are swings between popular liberalism and a more conservative outlook over the ethics of how participant’s behaviour is measured. And as in life, in Formula One came the liberal cries – ‘too harsh,’ and ‘it’s not the drivers fault’ – which behind the diamond studded doors in the Place de Concorde clearly had an effect.
Last time out during the F1 weekend in Bahrain, there was an instance in Free Practice Two which raised eyebrows amongst connoisseurs of all things regulatory.
Sebastian Vettel blasted out of the pits, and found himself sharing the same piece of asphalt as one of F1’s less circumspect pilots – Sergio Perez. A luxuriant Maranello Red front wing was crunched on the Force India’s rear wheel, and the media immediately judged the matter on the basis of “give a dog a bad name”.
The F1 stewards’ initial call for an investigation was also issued from the hypothesis that the Mexican was at fault. They finally ruled, “As no driver was determined to be wholly or predominantly to blame the Stewards decide that no further action should be taken.”
Sebastian Vettel in fact shouldered the responsibility for the matter, making his way down to the Force India garage to proffer his heartfelt apologies. All was calm, and the spectre of a Schumacher/Coulthard style punch up was never on the cards.
However, a sharp eyed ex-Formula One driver who was commentating for TV on the session, noticed that Vettel’s car appeared to what appeared to be a “wobbly front right wheel.” The implication was the incident was in actuality caused by this faulty fitted component, which hampered Vettel’s ability to brake and avoid the flying Perez.
The fallout from this relatively inconspicuous matter is now becoming clear since as Charlie Whiting laid out to a recent meeting of the F1 team principals. Force India’s Andy Stevenson questioned the stewards handling of the matter, observing a wheel improperly fitted is dangerous not just when it flies through the air and collides with a humble FOM camera man.
An improperly fitted wheel is clearly dangerous from the perspective that it compromises the finely tuned braking capabilities of an F1 car, something ex-HRT drivers will affirm to be less than ideal.
It appears that stewards have thus far this year treated such incidents in Free Practice sessions with less severity than during a race.
Had Ferrari’s indiscretion taken place in the heat of a Sunday afternoon battle, Vettel would have incurred at least a time penalty. If a wheel becomes disconnected, this is an automatic 10 place grid penalty for the next outing.
From the Spanish GP, the voices of conservatism in F1 are in the ascendancy once again. Loose wheels will now be treated similarly whether in practice, qualifying or race conditions.
Time penalties and grid drops are back on the table and the appropriate response has been laid out for a driver to mitigate his position.
If a driver realises he has a badly fitted wheel, he must follow the example of Kimi Raikkonen at the 2015 Australian GP. The car must be immediately safely parked and await recovery, or the stewards will be roused from their slumbers. Should the attention of this auspicious group be raised, then invariably a penalty will be issued to the driver despite it being no particular fault of his.
#TEAM. We win together – we are punished together – whilst the spirit of being ‘Webbered’ lives on.