Aggressive driving or nanny state…you can’t have it both ways

As the Italian Grand Prix ramps up this weekend, the drivers were on hand for Thursday’s press conference including the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Of course the discussion was centered on the incident at Spa two weeks ago—how could it not?

True to form, the press not only grilled the duo on their view of the Mercedes announcement that harmony in the tribe had been reached but they managed to also rope other drivers into the debate on whether Rosberg’s collision with Hamilton was penalty-worthy.

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel felt much the same as the “it’s only a racing incident” crowd felt saying:

“I don’t think you take off your front wing on purpose, it is difficult to time and see where your front endplate is to give a puncture to the other guy,” Vettel said.

“Fernando [Alonso] ran into the back of me at Turn 1 [La Source] at the end of the race and I was lucky to not get a puncture, that is racing.

“I am very happy that there was no action [against Rosberg], it was a racing incident.

“Maybe I am not talented enough to time it perfectly right to puncture somebody and it’s something I need to learn, but you will get it wrong more often than you get it right.

“It was funny to see the team decided to take some decisions in terms of a penalty.”

While Sebastian considers it odd that the team would seek some sort of internal punishment for Rosberg, I have compared how Mercedes and Red Bull managed intra-team collisions and found the latter much more evenhanded and temperature-cooling.

That’s isn’t the main issue I want to discuss, however, as McLaren driver Jenson Button also weighed in on the matter and it made me consider the announced relaxation of the race steward penalties we were seeing at the beginning of the year. Button said:

“They were never going to penalise him anyway, because as we all discussed about four races ago, we needed to be more lenient on drivers because we wanted more aggressive racing,” said Jenson.

“If it had happened four races ago, I’m sure Nico would have got penalised because that sort of incident always got penalised.

“But these days, in the last few races, it has been viewed that more aggressive racing is better for the sport, so you let things go a little bit more.

“We all pushed for more aggressive racing, and I’m sure you [the media] all wanted the same thing. You can’t have it both ways.”

So there you have it. Jenson feels that if they had not changed the perceived nanny state F1 was becoming, Nico would have been penalized. This brings up a good question for those who feel strongly that Nico should have had a penalty:

Can you have it both ways? Drivers and fans were asking for less oppressive stewarding and more dynamic racing. Now that Lewis has been on the receiving end of that aggressive racing, would we rather have more aggressive stewarding?

Are the two mutually exclusive or is there a common ground that says Alonso’s tap of Vettel is not a penalty but Nico’s is? Is it because you have a giant cross-reference chart that says a driver higher in the points gets special treatment when a driver lower in the points doesn’t? If you favor less steward restriction and more aggressive driving but you feel Nico should be penalized, what criteria would you use to determine such actions if you were the steward for a day?

I’m not the right guy to ask because I saw the incident as simply a “racing incident” and very much agree with Vettel but for those who are outraged by the lack of a penalty for such a move yet endorse more aggressive racing, what metric would you use to justify a penalty or not given the circumstances?

You will, no doubt, have Hamilton detractors suggest that any altercation involving Lewis in which he comes out on the losing side of the incident, then that’s penalty worthy but if he should be in an incident and come out better off, then that’s not a penalty.

I would guess that Hamilton fans would suggest that a guy realistically fighting for the title shouldn’t simply be clouted without some sort of penalty due to the gravity of the points situation and potential loss of a title over an incident that the other driver caused and is in the points lead. Senna vs. Prost for example.

Either way, it would be interesting to know how you would score the race and what you would use as a measuring stick for penalty-worthiness actions given the desire for fewer penalties and more aggressive driving to “spice up the show”.


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