Following the controversy in Abu Dhabi at the end of the 2021 season, where the F1 director Michael Massi was vilified by Mercedes for ‘unfair’ decisions which allegedly cost Lewis Hamilton a championship, the FIA moved to point two race directors for 2022. New FIA president Ben Sulayem has even suggested he is considering appointing a third to operate in rotation to add the the pool of experience.
Yet Mercedes’ George Russell believes this is the wrong approach. When asked by motorsport.com what he thought of the new rotating race director policy the British driver retorted, “I agree we need to stick to one race director.”
The replacements for Massi are Niels Wittich who began the season in the role and he has now been joined by Eduardo Freitas. He had World Endurance Championship responsibilities so is a more recent addition to the FIA F1 race weekend management team.
There have been a number of criticisms that this season there is an increased lack of consistency from the FIA race control, which consists of 2 stewards, a driver stewards and the race director.
The race director predominantly watches proceedings and refers potential infringement issues to the stewards to examine. Yet the problem is the stewards vary from week to week and are often grace and favour appointments to FIA officials. Even the driver steward appointment raises eyebrows from time to time. This week we have Tom Christianson, who whilst being the most successful driver in the history of Le Mans his experience is not steeped in open wheel racing.
At Silverstone there were a number of questionable decisions where the stewards allowed off track overtakes by Sergio Perez on LeClerc and defending from Max Verstappen against Mich Schumacher which at times appeared to be in breach of this seasons rule where ‘space must be given’.
“From my understanding, the rules changed at the beginning of this year, so once cars were next to each other, you had to leave the space,” said Schumacher. “This was not the case [at Silverstone],” the young German driver told reporters in Austria.
“So [it is] something to talk about and [we will] see what the approaches were from the stewards and race direction to keep it the way it was.
“I knew he wasn’t going to leave the space but I was clear on the rule changes at the beginning of the year and the consequences of it.
“The fact there were no consequences for it means that the rules have changed again. If it happens vice versa, it should be okay.
“It happened a few times in that race, I saw. With Checo and Lewis, and Lewis and Charles at the beginning of the race, so something to again have clarity on and see what is allowed and what is not.”
George Russell believes the inconsistency is in line with a TJ13 narrative we’ve pursued for some years. The stewards should be professional and even if there are two teams to cover the now extended F1 calendar, 6 permanent stewards will make more consistent decisions than the week in week out changes we see at present.
“We need to have a bit more consistency with the stewarding. We come to the following event and often the steward at the previous event isn’t there. So there’s no accountability, no explanations of decisions”, observed the young Mercedes driver.
“We ask questions and it’s difficult to get a straightforward answer because almost a bit blame is being put onto someone else who isn’t there.
“So it’s tricky. Everyone has their own interpretations.”
There was an explosive confrontation with the FIA race management team on Friday in Austria. The drivers are mandated to attend this briefing and so heated were tempers that Sebastian Vettel stormed out receiving a subsequent suspended 25,000 euro fine.
Sergio Perez was given a 9 place grid drop penalty because his quickest time in Q2 had exceeded track limits. Yet the stewards failed to observe this at the time, so Perez continued in Q3 using up engine hours and tyres unnecessarily.
Race director Neils Wittich appears to have a stricter interpretation of regulations than his cohort, attempting to enforce regulations regarding regarding drivers’ undergarments, jewellery and piercings from a safety perspective.
7 driver’s were called to the stewards following the conclusion of the sprint race for allegedly using pit radio on the second formation lap. The race officials eventually deciding no action was necessary and a procedural irregularity was to blame. Had they decided to penalise the driver’s the grid would look very different from the one formed by the provisional ‘Sprint’ result.
Russell admits F1 race management is “by no means an easy job,” but again called for for the greater consistency in the decision-making.
“Over the course of the year, a number of drivers have commented on that,” stated the director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association.
“I think when you have one race director, things can generally be more consistent.”
Russell has been outspoken on a number of issues given his role at the GPDA but whether the grace and favour system of appointing F1 stewards as a reward for their service to the association can be overturned appears unlikely at present.