Loose Wheel infringements in the spotlight once more


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.

39 responses to “Loose Wheel infringements in the spotlight once more

  1. Sadly, I I couldn’t find a regulation or penalty dealing with ill-fitted tires. Does anyone remember a team receiving a race penalty because of a tire-fitting transgression during practice?

    • Small point, but it’s the wheel that is fitted to the car, not the tyre/ tire…
      Just sayin’

      • Doesn’t need “sayin'” – it’s implied.

        I’m still curious as to how ruining another team’s practice session doesn’t result in a penalty.

        • Without wanting to provoke an argument, I beg to disagree. There’s a world of difference between a wheel (plus tyre) parting company from the car – due either to not having been fitted properly or accident – and a tyre parting company from the wheel, whether from bad fitting or a puncture.

          Again, just sayin’… My opinion only, of course

          • “Again, just sayin’… My opinion only, of course.”

            Just put in that full stop that you missed at the end there. 😉

    • You’re correct, and that is a problem that has angered the Judge in the past. The regulation in question is 23.12 a) “It is the responsibility of the competitor to release his car from his garage or pit stop position only when it is safe to do so.”

      That is it! 23.12 b says the stewards may punish the team by dropping the luckless driver “…such number of grid positions as they consider appropriate.”

      So ridiculous! While errant wheels can be very dangerous, it’s a team failure. It would be wiser to fine the hell out of the team, take points from their constructors championship. The individual drivers have very little to do with these issues, yet they are subjected to the penalty to the detriment of the spectators.

      • The penalty of 23.12b (“…such number of grid positions as they consider appropriate.”) applies to any practice session.

        For the race, 23.12c specifies punishing the hapless driver “…a ten grid place penalty at the driver’s next Event,” or if they can continue then a time penalty during the race.

        Which is wrong, since the hapless driver has already been punished for the error of his team (either out of the race, or had to limp back to the pits). That is why the penalty should be hard against the team instead.

      • And building a tank large enough to give the wec cars enough for a six hour sprint race is impossible. And for a 24 hours le mans race would be even worse. So wec needs it. F1 doesn’t. ..

    • Refueling equipment is very expensive, and then we get torn hoses trundling along with cars, Massa style (Singapore 2008, one of the most memorable botched pit stops in history):

        • Easy to say when you’re using all things spec. In F1 we have an open formula, and teams work hard at how else they can screw up the equipment for the next race… 😉 Whitmarsh’s memorable pitstops spring to mind: supremely quick, incredibly unreliable…

          • Plenty of spec parts in F1, ECU for example.
            Gravity fed, rate limited equipment ala Indy solves that problem entirely. And would be bonus for more fuel efficient teams, putting pressure on manufacturers as well as opening potential strategic pathways for struggling teams.

            Tho I thought Macca pitstops more a Sam Michael special…

      • I have to agree on the refuelling, led to a why try when we can just do it in the pits approach…I would take it further though and ban tyre changing as well …fed up of drivers doing their ‘overtaking’ in the pits, I’d rather outbraking to undercutting any day of the week. I’m sure developing proper tyres that can perform and last the distance would be more appropriate for tyre companies anyway – I’m sure Michelin would approve (btw I don’t blame Pirelli for doing what they were asked to do, just can’t see their ability to make 20 lap tyres helping to promote their brands technical quality )

  2. “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.”

    Whoa, Judge! Loose wheels had happened at least twice this year, once for Kimi in Melbourne, and another time for a Toro Rosso (Maximilian?) in Bahrain. I was shocked and that on neither occasion were the Scuderias penalized in any form. Impatiently waiting for this to happen to Perez or Maldonado, and then we’ll know for sure if that had been a Ferrari International Assistance re-enacted, or a genuine change in enforcement.

    • It was Sainz in Bahrain…

      Maximillian makes sure his crew puts apply new tyres correctly.

  3. 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”……

    What a load of crock! If the wheel is not fitted properly it shouldn’t matter if they stop and park the car safely.

    They’ve got radios, so a simple ‘stop the car, the wheel is not fitted properly’ should suffice. The moment they leave the pitlane and enter the track, it’s an automatical penalty.

    • “The moment they leave the pitlane and enter the track, it’s an automatical penalty.”

      My thoughts exactly. Only the pitlane is a sufficiently controlled confinement. The moment they’re out on track, it doesn’t matter if they park it at T1 (Raikkonen in Austrlia) or in the middle of the lap (Sainz in Bahrain).

  4. We have all been “Webbered” at least once in our careers – how Mark handled it all as calmly as he did (in public) was always amazing.

  5. Horrible news!

    1) If the safety mechanism retains the improperly attached wheel, the penalty shouldn’t be the same, as if the wheel came loose. So very wrong!

    2) Punishing a driver for the team’s error is wrong. The punishment should be against the team instead. (Perhaps fines scaled to severity of incident, or dock constructors points for injuries, etc.)

    3) The penalties are way out of scale. People getting clobbered by a loose wheel is horrible, but that is not what is happening due to engineered solutions (tethers, retaining systems, etc).

    • Adam, thing is, it has happened with a cameraman getting hit by a tire from Weber’s car. (2013).

      It’s also odd that Vettel didn’t get roundly flogged for immediately blaming Perez.

    • “Punishing a driver for the team’s error is wrong. The punishment should be against the team instead.”

      Exactly. Both drivers should be punished for any given team incident. THIS will teach teams to properly attach wheels.

      • Novel approach landroni, but if loose tire/wheels flying around pits or courses are to be taken seriously, this could be an excellent penalty.

        A thought: since there are “two sides” to garages, why should one side be punished for the other’s transgression? What about penalizing the team (monetarily, at least) and the driver from the offending crew (since the driver is the team’s and crew’s on-track representative)?

        • “A thought: since there are “two sides” to garages, why should one side be punished for the other’s transgression?”

          Whichever side of the garage, ultimately it’s the team who makes a safety error, and puts bystanders and other drivers to risk. If we are to punish the team, then we may as well make it hurt. Put 5 or 10 sec stop and go to both drivers for any such team incident, and teams will start taking things seriously. Lose as a team, win as a team ‘ey say?

          “What about penalizing the team (monetarily, at least) and the driver from the offending crew”

          This is more or less what is currently (supposed to be) happening, no? The driver gets a stop-go 10sec, or should get it anyways, and the team loses places on track.

          But I don’t think is incentive enough for the team, and the 10sec penalty makes it as if it were the driver who were punished instead of the team. That’s why I’m proposing maybe lowering the penalty to 5sec, but slap it to both drivers. This way the weight is on team punishment, and it’s something that hurts and they’ll do all to avoid screwing an entire GP weekend with both cars. For instance, 2 screwed pitstops for 1 driver (unsafe release, loose wheel, etc.) will impact the team by penalizing both drivers, and teams would suddenly care much more about properly attaching wheels to their #2, the likes of Raikkonen or Webber…

          As for monetary penalties for the teams, these are usually ridiculously small and provide no incentive whatsoever. Unless you make it really interesting and place $0.5m fines for any such individual incident, so that Little Jean can have a proper croissant in the morning, teams will just sneer and move on…

          • landroni – thanks for going further with your initial comment in response to my reply. I’d love to hear an official response to a proposal like yours.

      • No, punish the team but not the driver.

        The team holds primary responsibility for securing the wheels. The fault in recent loose wheels have all been due to the team and not the driver, (design errors, equipment failure, pit personnel performance failures).

        That is why minor offenses should whack the team’s budget, and larger offenses could whack the constructors points (minus one point for errant wheel amongst people, etc).

        • Well that would suggest the driver is separate from the team. Does the team not get rewarded when the driver performs well and wins the race? So why should he be exempt from a team penalty?

          • The driver is part of the team, and that is why the penalty should be against the whole team.

            The error of a loose wheel is almost always a team failure. The team designs the wheel attachment system, the tools to remove the wheel, and reattach another wheel. The team orchestrates the process and flow of removing and replacing a wheel during a pitstop using the tools and personnel.

            Because these failures are very much failure of the team in one of the components of the operation to secure a wheel to the car, it is proper for the team to be punished directly versus focusing on a single member of said team (the driver) who had very little to do with the design of the tools, the design of the wheel attachment system, the orchestration and processes of the personnel in the pit-stop.

            The current system is overkill, and punishes the wrong entity, (the driver instead of the team).

        • @Vortex Motio
          “punish the team but not the driver.”
          I hear you’re saying. The team makes a cockup, they’re fully responsible for that, and they’re the ones who should be punished. Punish the team, don’t punish the driver.

          Yet I can’t help but feel that the team punishment vs driver punishment is a misguided debate. When a team makes a cock-up, it’s the driver who invariably pays the price. Think Massa with Ferrari’s spectacularly botched pitstop in Singapore 2008, or Hamilton with McLaren’s legendary botched pitstops from 2012. And vice-versa: when a driver gets punished, the team does so too automatically (think Pastor and Lotus).

          So let’s talk incentives. Current incentives clearly don’t dissuade teams from botching pitstops. Now the offended driver gets time penalty this GP and/or grid drops next GP. This sparks all these debates that penalty is too harsh on driver (but again, this is misguided debate as team gets punished by the same token).

          As you propose, we could resort to financial penalties. But these don’t seem to work very well. Either they’re too small, and too unimportant for teams and they just sneer and move on with botching pitstops. Or they could be really big, say $0.5m or $1m per incident. But such big punishments wouldn’t be very judicious in the current context. For big teams these would still be a minor inconvenience, at best. For small teams, they could well find themselves in the position of choosing whether to pay creditor banks, the FIA fines, or the costs to hop on the grid for the subsequent GP. So pay fine, or go bankrupt seems like a stretch to me.

          So how do you punish teams, but still make it hurt? We could use WCC points deductions, but they’re too removed from the actual incident/race to be an effective deterrent. And how would this deter Manor or McLaren, for instance?

          So what I would propose is to make the team really hurt in the very race that the incident happens. Remove the ridiculous 10 grid penalties for next GP, as it doesn’t deter anyone nor their dog. But do screw up the current race for the team in question. THIS will focus minds. Make the penalty automatic: unsafe release, loose wheel, etc. and both drivers get slapped with a 5sec or 10 sec stop-go penalty. If one is already out of the race (think Kimi), so be it, but the team gets a genuine punishment by screwing the race of both their cars. This is NOT a driver punishment, but a team punishment. The team botches safety, so they get their race screwed in turn.

          With all the heart that teams pour into actual races and during a weekend, this I have no doubt will make mechanics think twice before botching a pitstop, and teams will start taking seriously the tradeoff between a couple of tenths gains in a pitstop vs the possibility of getting the race screwed for both their cars and assured losing multiple final standings positions…

          • Rest assured that mechanics do not botch pit stops on purpose. Because time is of the essence and they are operating close to the level of human ability, mistakes will happen things will go wrong. Those changing tyres etc are likely under immense pressure from team management to shave tenths and on a global stage to boot.

            The easy way to solve that problem is to limit people over the wall. Period. Then the relative time would increase, decreasing likelihood of mistake. The odd tenth not mattering, teams would focus development on reliable method of attaching new wheels because cost of something going wrong would weigh heavier in balance than a half a tenth gained with new wheel nut design, say.

          • @mattpt55
            “Rest assured that mechanics do not botch pit stops on purpose.”
            Definitely agree with ye. What I meant was more that with properly designed penalties, team management will think twice before putting their crew under too much pressure. And THEN team management will take the safety aspect seriously.

            I think though that this year’s move on ensuring that the technology locks the wheels and doesn’t allow them to fly is a pretty shrewd move. And I suspect it is this reason that has helped the Scuderias avoid any penalties whatsoever, and that this largely explains the change in stewarding norms… If only the FIA informed us all of this…

          • I very much appreciate this response, landroni.

            There are a couple of fallacies that I see here.

            Fallacy #1) The driver shouldn’t be punished.
            You may say, ‘Wait! I thought that is what VM is arguing!’

            Let’s turn the whole punishment issue upside down with a libertine example to illustrate:
            If the FIA didn’t punish loose wheels (which was a prior practice) what is the result?
            Answer – If a wheel isn’t secure, either the car is out of the race, (a la Kimi at Australia), or perhaps the driver can hobble the car slowly round back to the pits. If the latter, the car loses massive amounts of time, and positions.

            F1 is both an extremely competitive sport, and also a business. A primary reward for finishing a grand prix ahead of ones competitors is the monetary rewards in the drivers and constructors championships.

            So a loose wheel is extremely painful to the hapless driver. The team has erred and the driver pays a huge price in losing one of only 19 attempts to score maximum points for himself and the team.

            Fallacy #2) Penalties against the team won’t work

            As mentioned above, a loose wheel in a race hurts the driver severely, essentially costing him 1 of 19 opportunities to score points.

            The team loses 1 of 38 opportunities to score points, so the pain is big, but not as severe but only half of what it is for the driver.

            Furthermore, the incentive to risk a wheel being insecure is very strong. A team will spend large amounts of their budget to gain a tenth or two of a second laptime per race. So reducing their pit-stop time by a half second or more is well worth the spend of some time and money. Hence the evolution of wheel attachment systems, tools, and pit-stop choreography.

            But remember the overall goal is maximize the race finishing position to improve the team’s standing in the WCC.

            So that enables two tools available to the FIA to hurt the teams if necessary:
            * Money – (A primary teams tool to improve race pace)
            * WCC Points – (The teams primary goal)

            Obviously, a money fine of $500 won’t work. So it needs to be an appropriate, proportional amount to be effective.

            However, my view is perhaps more libertine. Why penalize at all, when the team and driver have already been severely penalized since they’ve thrown away an opportunity to score points?

            Let’s look at the purpose of this ‘safe release’ regulation. The primary goal is to prevent a team from being so haphazard that they’re injuring people and/or other teams with their errant loose wheels.

            What if the penalties were only applied if improperly attached wheel affects someone else?

            In the case of Kimi’s car at Australia, the wheel stayed attached to the car, the car didn’t hit or hamper another competitor, so no penalty.

            In the case of Seb’s wobbly wheel in a practice session, it prevented the driver from being unable to prevent a collision. The collision harmed a competitor, so an appropriate penalty should be applied, (one could argue a six figure fine is appropriate).

          • @Vortex Motio

            “Why penalize at all, when the team and driver have already been severely penalized since they’ve thrown away an opportunity to score points?”

            Because current penalties, natural or imposed, are clearly not enough to get us rid of unsafe releases in the teams’ quest for those elusive additional couple of tenths. If *safety* really is our concern, tighter enforcement and penalties are in order.

            “What if the penalties were only applied if improperly attached wheel affects someone else?”

            I disagree. It’s like saying: we know his brakes don’t work, even when he hits them hard, but we’ll still send him trundle around for a lap or two and we’ll hope he doesn’t hit something or someone. That doesn’t fly. It’s like saying Caterham tape scotching the suspension is fine, unless Caterham hits a red truck from behind…

            If our concern is indeed safety, the we must ensure that unsafe cars do not leave the pits. If the team knows the car is unsafe (e.g. Kimi’s mechanic desperately waving the hand in Melbourne trying to signal that his work wasn’t done), the team must be penalized (hard) for putting an unsafe projectile in everyone’s way. If they stop the driver before leaving the pits, it’s OK, I guess, and no penalty need be handed out. But even if the team realizes only later on that in their rush they fitted that wheel unsafely (Sainz in Bahrain), then the team must be penalized above and beyond the natural penalty (loss of finishing position) and be given something else that hurts, if we are to deter such incidents happening in the future (assuming that the latter is what we want).

            Given the frequency of such incidents, current enforcement is patently insufficient. This said, I hear your arguments. Let the argument rumble on!

  6. You picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel
    with four knackered wheel nuts
    and points in the field
    I’ve had some bad times
    Lived through some sad times
    But this time takes ice cream to heal
    You picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel
    Lament of an unknown Finnish citizen, 2015

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