Are The Stewards Ruining Formula One?

Are The Stewards Ruining Formula One?

If 2008 will be remembered for anything, it will be the ruthless decisions made by the stewards of the races. I don’t have hard numbers, but it would appear that this season has seen an uncharacteristic high number of fine and penalties imposed on drivers and teams. Misdemeanour’s range from being late to official meetings (morning briefings etc) to driving the wrong way up the track during a practice session. But are the punishments helping or hindering the overall spectacle?

Of course, it was Jarno Trulli who opted to drive back up the track during the first practice session at Singapore following a spin and the desire to get into the pitlane without having to complete another lap. For driving the wrong way around the race track, Trulli’s €10k fine was more than acceptable, even though the rules to allow his actions for extreme circumstances. But when it comes to race-day, it seems the stewards are flexing their muscles a little too much, in my opinion.

The incident on the penultimate lap of the Belgian Grand Prix still divides people the world over, and the fact that McLaren tried to appeal it in front of the International Court lets you know where they stood on the issue. For cutting the chicane and gaining an advantage without totally rescinding that advantage, Hamilton received a post-race drive-thru, which meant 25s was added to his complete race time. The result left McLaren without the win, and Ferrari suddenly with.

In Singapore, Felipe Massa was given a drive-thru for an unsafe release from a pitstop after the lighting system employed by the Scuderia let them down. Or to put it more accurately, the team member controlling the system let them down. Although Massa was relatively innocent in the infringement – he just goes when he’s told – the penalty was handed to Massa and therefore his team. In this case, a penalty is expected as Ferrari were being unnecessarily unsafe, but surely the punishment of waiting at the end of the pitlane for what seemed like an eternity was enough?

And then earlier today in Fuji, three drivers received penalties that have once again divided opinion the world over, and potentially ruined what could have been a great race at the front of the pack. Lewis Hamilton received a drive-thru for pushing Raikkonen off the track.

The penalty was given despite it happening at the start of the race while going into the first corner, and despite the fact that Ralf Schumacher (just to name one of many drivers) had committed the very same sin more times than I can remember without penalty.

Of course, the move by the McLaren driver was impetuous and immature, but at least he was racing, at least he was trying. Last season Hamilton’s startline antics were being compared to the most ruthless man to start a race in recent history, Michael Schumacher. Yet whenever Hamilton pushed then-team mate Fernando Alonso hard at the start or vice-versa, the stewards obviously overlooked it. In Belgium ’07, the pair had a fantastic ding-dong at the start which saw Hamilton get pushed right over the apron as Alonso gave his team mate no room. Was Alonso penalised? No, of course he wasn’t, it was superb racing.

Felipe Massa was then penalised at Fuji for having an avoidable accident with Lewis Hamilton. The Briton just about squeezed himself in front of the Ferrari, but Massa then went off, and upon his return to the track clouted the McLaren and sent Hamilton into a spin. Massa was given a drive-thru penalty for his offence.

And finally, after the completion of the race, Sebastien Bourdais was reprimanded for exiting the pitlane and driving the only line that was surely available to him. Massa was coming down the racetrack, Bourdais could do nothing but enter the first corner on the inside, and Massa it seemed just kept coming across until the pair collided and the Brazilian spun.

For his offence, as it happened just prior to the end of the race (apparently 13 laps isn’t enough time to make a decision), Bourdais was given a post-race drive-thru, which meant 25s was added to his total race time. For the second time in as many races, the result has been changed after the celebrations, and the change could prove critical in the outcome of the drivers championship, as Massa was promoted up the points order.

So, are the stewards ruining races by being trigger-happy with penalties?

At the Italian Grand Prix which followed Belgium, the drivers were clearly responding to the issue raised by the Hamilton/Raikkonen incident and every time a driver may have received an advantage for cutting corners, they were very careful to rescind all advantage before attacking again. In fact, one driver handed back a place seemingly unnecessarily.

Of course, cutting corners shouldn’t be allowed, but when drivers are forced to get out of the throttle and be overly polite to one another, it kinda takes the thrill out of racing a little. The obvioius solution is to build barriers around the inside of corners to prevent drivers from skipping them, but the safety-police will no doubt have something to say about that.

And the Bourdais incident is just unfathomable. I do not understand what the Frenchman was supposed to do. From the angle of the video we have seen, and admittedly without all the information the teams and stewards have, it should have been Massa who received a penalty over that incident before Bourdais! And of course, it was just a racing incident, so really, no penalty is justified in my mind. It was a case of wrong-place-wrong-time.

It is my belief that the stewards are currently hacking Formula One to pieces with silly little penalties that take away all that is good about motor racing. When drivers are being unnecessarily dangerous, then fine, hand them a penalty. But when it is just good racing or simple racing incidents, why can’t the stewards just keep out of it? They are turning the sport not only into a joke, but a dumbed-down version of what was once an awesome spectacle of bravery and skill. The stewards a politicising Formula One where it isn’t necessary, I don’t blame people when they say can no longer stand to watch it.

The stewards need overhauling as soon as possible. Not before the next season, but before the next race. Otherwise, I fear the 2008 championships will be decided in the courthouse and not on the racetrack. And that just isn’t racing.


  • It is my belief that the stewards are currently hacking Formula One to pieces with silly little penalties that take away all that is good about motor racing.

    I agree completely. The rules are unclear, their implementation is inconsistent, and the near-anonymous stewards never bother even to explain their decisions. It’s a disgraceful way to run an international sport.

  • Their decisions are becoming more and more ridiculous all the time.

    Lewis outbraked himself at the start as countless drivers have done in the past. The fact Kimi chose to follow him off the track rather than brake and let him shoot past is not Lewis’s fault but he gets a drive through.

    Massa drives into Lewis spinning him. That is a lot more serious than anything Lewis (or the many others who made contact with other drivers) but gets the same penalty.

    David Coulthard’s car was broken as the result of contact at the start but the incident was not even investigated.

    Bourdais. Well that penalty was just too ridiculous to even merit a comment. Massa caused the collision and gets promoted up the finishing order for it.

  • The key thing that seems to be emerging is that rules seem to get set in the drivers briefing before the race and we don’t know what’s been talked about.

    It would be great if either the rules were so clear that you didn’t need a driver briefing or if we knew what they had talked about. It would be very interesting.

  • I totally agree with you that they are taking the p!ss with their enforcement of the rules at the moment but…

    On the one hand we complain when we pour over the rules and find something they haven’t done and say “oi why haven’t you stopped them that was totally out of line it says so in the rules” and on the other hand we complain that they are enforcing the rules too vigorously.

    We can’t really have it both ways.

    I would prefer the rules to be so clear as to be no question. For example, you must move backwards by 100 meters before attempting a second pass after cutting a chicane so the FIA have to prove that he only moved backwards 98 meters if they need to penalise.

    We are in a half way house right now that doesn’t help anyone: teams, drivers, commentators or fans. It’s a shambles!

  • the answer is YESSSS, stewards and politicians are ruining F1.

    Its become more about business, politics, bias and grudge, than sport,

    I am losing interest in F1 and disspointed and disgusted.

    It all startet since senna’s time and got worst after his death!!!?? (which is still an unanswered question for me).

    drivers in some teams who got benefited always from stewards decisions or lack of decisions (like shummy!!, kimi07, massa,…), and drivers who’s always been biased against and picked on, like montoya!!? and now lewis

  • well I think that in Fuji there should have been zero penalties. Hamilton should get some serious talking from Mr. Dennis for his silly hot headed driving when all he needs is keep withing safe distance Massa and nothing else.

    Massa vs Hamilton – pure racing incident in my eyes.

    however, the stewards clearly did not want to face the outcry of McLaren and Hamilton fans 🙂 and so they came up with a package deal, penalized both …

    Bourdais plain silly. From the angle TV screens showed us it is a bit difficult to say who was where first. I would say they both drove like they forgot their eyes at home. In any case, racing incident where inevstigation perhaps may take a place, but penaly, why on earth …

    I am not buying those Ferrari International Assitance claims, I simply don’t. But I do agree with Ollie here that stewards, without clear rules and guidelines, are over reacting ruining the races …

    P.S. Do I see correclty that you are suggesting that Massa perhaps should not have been penalized in Singapore with driver thropugh 🙂 ? Wow, you are walking thin ice here 🙂

  • I agree with Milos, in that I don’t think there should have been any penalties handed out.

    But my question is this:

    Isn’t there, as of a few years back, a rule that ANY incident (e.g. the Bourdais thing) must be investigated and penalized by the stewards?

    Sort of like if there’s an accident, the cops have to give out a ticket to someone, anyone (that’s how it is in The States anyway).

  • Forgetting the contact between Massa and Hamilton for a moment, Massa had all four wheels over the white line cutting the chicane, and that’s the REAL problem. Right?

  • P.S. Do I see correclty that you are suggesting that Massa perhaps should not have been penalized in Singapore with driver thropugh

    Not quite, although my language is a bit dodgy there! I believe the team deserved punishment for releasing Massa into the path of another car. As I said, it was to be expected:

    In this case, a penalty is expected as Ferrari were being unnecessarily unsafe, but surely the punishment of waiting at the end of the pitlane for what seemed like an eternity was enough?

    But Massa’s race was ruined when he had to sit at the end of the pitlane and wait for his team to come down and remove the hose. Therefore, with his race ruined, why give him a drive-thru. Instead, given the incidents of the the past, a race suspension would have been more appropriate (as in, mess up one more time and you’ll be in a whole heap of trouble).

    Tony, never heard of that one. Often, the stewards will not even bother to investigate unless someone complains. In the past the stewards/FIA have also investigated, but the result has been “a racing accident, no blame worth giving” or words to that effect.

  • The stewards are spoiling F1 because they’re wrong, and they should go some way to redeem themselves and admit it.

    Bourdais is completely innocent. Could the stewards explain what else he could have done? It’s a joke, and it’s bringing the sport into disrepute.

    Also, there was no contact between Hamilton and Raikkonen. If you look at the playback, you’ll see Lewis’s team-mate actually gets closer to Kimi and keeps him off the track.

    Why is the net result of their decisions in favour of Ferrari? A championship win supported by the stewards is a hollow victory indeed.

    Get rid of these amateurs, put some professionals including ex-drivers in their place and save F1.

  • SeaBass got the royal shaft on this one. How anyone could claim that he was in the wrong is beyond my comprehension. As is Lewis’ penalty for his actions in Turn 1. It was in my mind just good, solid, go for it racing.

  • Hamilton’s penalty was marginal, but I feel that the stewards were wise to give a penalty. Although there has never been a penalty given for first-corner shoving off the track, Lewis’ entire approach to that corner was needlessly dangerous. It’s the three zillion times the stewards haven’t intervened in such cases and perhaps should have done that complicates things.

    Massa was skating on extremely thin ice. I counted him break regulations four times (though I admit the avoidable collision with Hamilton was only avoidable because he’d already parted company with the track). If anyone breaks four regulations in three separate incidents and only gets one drive-through penalty for it, they can consider themselves more than a little lucky.

    Bourdais was simply the victim of an inattentive Massa and some even less attentive stewards.

    For this, the stewards should give themselves a penalty. 100 lines of “I must judge races in a fair and equitable manner according to the regulations set out by the FIA” should do it.

  • Indeed the stewards are blemishing the sport, and in the process have left their finger prints all over this season’s championship. It will always be remembered with these incidents in mind, and if Massa wins the title they will come to mind even more.

    In terms of the pit land incident in Singapore, I would say that Ferrari as a team should be punished, perhaps with a fine. I don’t think Massa did anything wrong in that one, as he was just reacting to what he saw in front of him.

    Gusto- Very good and I completely agree, but I normally phrase it as the “Ferrari Insurance Agency” 🙂

  • Someone asked how Ferrari could be responsible for the decisions being made by the race stewards. Alan Donnelly is the official representative of the President of the FIA at Formula One Grand Prix. He is also the founder and current Executive Chairman of Sovereign Strategy, a strategic planning and corporate advisory business. Among Sovereign Strategy’s clients is the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile and Formula One Management Ltd. As late as June 2007, the companies website listed Ferrari as one of their clients. ( Sovereign Strategy has 20 major clients listed on its website, including the governments of Kuwait and Luxembourg. Yet Mr Donnelly sits weekend after weekend at each and everyone of the F1 Grand Prix meetings “overseeing” the amateur race stewards. In 2008 it is not known if Ferrari have released Sovereign Strategy from their employ. Given the sheer number and weight of the decisions against Ferrari’s position, especially in the face of the inexplicable Bourdais penalty, one can hardly not wonder if Mr Donnelly is having a biased hand in the stewards decisions this year, or not wonder if he is still being paid by Ferrari. The question has to be asked: Are Ferrari buying this years title?

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