Who’d be a steward? Can’t do right for doing wrong (as my mother would have said). Not me thanks,even if I were qualified for the job, which I’m not. I think the stewarding job after this F1 GP in Austria this weekend may have been the hardest to date.
Why? Because of Canada, that’s why. If you recall (how can you forget) Ferrari and Vettel were ‘robbed’ (ouch) of their first win of the season by having a five second penalty imposed which relegated Vettel (Ferrari) to P2 and elevated Hamilton (Mercedes) to P1. The reason for this penalty was due to the rigid application of a rule which penalises drivers who go off track and don’t re-enter the track in a safe manner, and so gain an unfair and lasting advantage by doing so.
All very well. BUT was it appropriate to apply the strict letter of the law in this case? Vettel did not go off onto a wide run off area, regain control of his car and THEN re-enter the track in an unsafe manner (in which case the penalty would have been right and proper): instead he went off track onto a small grass verge, lost grip, re-entered the track and THEN regained control of his car (in my totally biast opinion).
Well, controversially, the stewards thought it was appropriate to award the penalty, and, not surprisingly, all hell broke loose on the internet and across social media platforms. Everyone who had one, expressed their opinion on the matter. Drivers, TV commentators, pundits and F1 fans alike (even Mercedes supporters) generally felt it was ‘inappropriate’ (i.e. unfair). But it was applied anyway.
Move forward two races (conveniently ignoring the dreadful ‘race’ in France) to Austria. The Red Bull Circuit. The Orange Army. And Max Verstappen: the newer, more rounded, mature, less angry, Version 2. Qualifying in P2 and having probably the worst start of his career, (when he could have done with the best) Verstappen looked as if he was not in for the best race of his career (WRONG).
Well, cutting a long and exciting story short, he battled his way back to the front of the pack, and regained his original starting position of P2. It was at this point that the ‘solids’ hit the fan. A couple of laps of wheel to wheel racing with Leclerc who had so far driven a faultless race, ended with a couple of bumper car bumps and Leclerc off the track, with Verstappen taking the lead. Was he pushed? Did Verstappen leave him enough room? Should Leclerc have yielded the corner earlier? Call in the stewards. (God help them!!).
The F1 world held its breath and expressed its opinion, and there were many, as to who did what, whose fault it was, whether a penalty should/not be applied, as the stewards deliberated. Boy, did they deliberate. For HOURS they deliberated. Meanwhile, ‘fake’ statements about the outcome were released, fans were outraged (and then not), as they realised the statements were not official.
Finally, (several hours after the awards ceremony had finished and ‘most’ people had gone home) the stewards delivered their verdict: No further action necessary – the result stands.
Well, I for one was relieved. Not because Red Bull got their first win of the season, but because common sense had prevailed and the ridiculous judgment from Canada (applying the strict letter of the law) had NOT set a precedent.
BUT how are the Ferrari fans feeling today? Have they been shafted twice? Once applying the rule which worked against them and once not applying the rule which also worked against them. Should the penalty from Canada be revoked? We can but speculate.
Either way, the rules need to be looked at as do the allocation of stewards (and their funding – but that’s a whole new article).
Who’d be a steward?
Canada Vettel – the irony of Vettel’s penalty in Canada was that the rigid interpretation the stewards used was what the drivers / teams have for the past 3 or 4 years been demanding. The drivers were by far the most vocal about drivers cutting a corner, then rejoining the race and maintaining track position by positioning their car so those behind had to slow to avoid an accident. Tarmac or grass – it didn’t matter.
Verstappen / Leclerc – 20 or 25 years ago Leclerc would have backed off or he would have ended up in a sand / grave trap. Today you don’t back off as you know there is 5 miles of tarmac runoff. To add more drama to the incident the aggrieved driver whines over the radio that he was driven off the track and sometimes claims the other driver was trying to kill him.
While both incidents are different, the common component of both are drivers know that in most instances and certainly at almost all purpose built circuits, there are no immediate consequences for leaving the track. At first glance the rules are viewed as the problem, the reality however is the FIA’s preoccupation with removing any bit of risk. Put back sand / gravel traps and almost all of these types of penalties will disappear.
Good points. I have to go to work now so don’t have much time. One thing springs to mind though about re-intoducing sand/gravel. It would penalise drivers who are pushed off track by aggressive drivers wishing to gain advantage?
While I’m sure there are instances from 20 or 25 years ago of drivers being forced off the track and into a sand / gravel trap, I can’t think of many – maybe Senna / Prost. But the rules were clear then that the driver who had lost track position was required to give way. Right now a driver who has been overtaken at a corner doesn’t usually back off, knowing that he’ll just go onto a tarmac run off, even when he has clearly lost the position, as he can claim he was forced off the track. That’s what Leclerc did.
Thanks for the info but it still doesn’t alter the fact that if we had gravel/sand run off areas, a driver who is forced off track by an aggressive driver is still disadvantaged?