Op-Ed: Why Ferrari is right on Valencia issue

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There has been a lot said about the safety car (SC) incident in Valencia and none more trenchant than Ferrari. Emotions ran high immediately after the race and with good reason. Some drivers benefitted from the FIA’s management of the SC period while others suffered. The conventional theory is, “well that’s racing and Ferrari have had their share of benefits from the FIA over the years”. I’m not subscribing to that theory although Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso has since apologized for his diatribe and accusations.

The relevancy game is a slippery slope of dashing accountability for the safety of past occasions in which you are attempting to softly bed the error you are covering for. It relieves you of any forthright sense of fairness in that your caustic bias can expose itself in the penumbra of relevancy which often gives the illusion that your bias is not a bias at all but rather a logical conclusion as past offenses by the complainant render the current offense ineffectual due to this perceived precedent of hindsight-fairness reaping one’s comeuppance —in effect, a retroactive punishment for an offense that lives in perpetuity and positions any future appeals irrelevant as the complainant possesses former offenses that may or may not have been punished.

That’s all well and good but if I’m honest, it’s pure crap. If you want to stop offenses and not continue to participate in the knock-on effect, then you must stand for fairness irrespective of the participants to ensure that the regulations are just and fairness applies to all participants. Like the law, it has to apply to everyone or it not law at all.

Here is where the relevancy argument comes in, “but Ferrari have been above the FIA law for years and the red rule has been screwing other teams for decades”. See how that works? Sounds plausible doesn’t it? Sounds like we should at least allow Ferrari to get screwed by bad officiating for at least a decade before we start raising an eyebrow just to rend the team for all the glory years of favoritism.

Many may say yes to that notion but if F1 is to remain credible (if it ever was in the first place), you have to stop the knock-on effect. You have to demand fairness for all teams and this means McLaren too! While outraged at the Spygate incident, I was equally astonished at the treatment of McLaren by the FIA. It was outrageous and insulting and the team should never have faced such and outlandish penalty. Remember, I am a Ferrari fan.

Regulating a sport is no easy task and let’s not get off on a tangent here. The FIA did the best it could at the time of the penalty. I have read that some pundits have suggested that the FIA’s race director Charlie Whiting was very concerned over the Webber accident and it just took time to focus on that first and then assemble all the evidence that showed McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton indeed was adrift of the rules.

Honestly? That’s a fair explanation. It probably did take time but herein lies the issue. How can the FIA improve it’s in-race regulatory commitments for timely, effective and fair execution? That’s really what is at play here. It’s not Hamilton’s fault that he got confused (his words, not mine, via the BBC 5 Live podcast) and fell afoul of the regulations. He thought he was doing the right thing and I don’t blame him for it nor do I blame McLaren. It is what it is. I don’t blame Ferrari either as it was a beat down by the FIA for following the rules and while Italian tempers flared, would or did we really expect anything less from one of the most storied and passionate teams in F1? That’s what makes them Ferrari…like it or not.

A precedent has been set with the paltry 5-second penalty as well. It seems that ignoring the minimum-time-to-pits can actually be advantageous because many will gain far more than 5 seconds for doing so. That’s dangerous and something Ferrari is referring to in their diatribe over the last few days.

The SC periods, in-race infractions and penalties due them are all at play. F1 happens at the speed of life at 200 mph and it is no easy task to assemble some local motoring club members with a former F1 driver and expect them to render judgment with any kind of efficacy in a timely manner. The FIA needs a seasoned team of experts who are stewards at every race. They can be rotated yearly but the training, program, technology and communication system all need an overhaul.

An established stewarding system would ensure more effective regulatory oversight with a timely process. It would be important, very important, to ensure impartiality from these permanent stewards and that would take some serious character-defining interviews to be sure. It would also mandate a better system of accessibility for the teams.

I would consider a team of Race Stewards that were monitoring two or three teams each during the race with communication with these teams and one chief steward to coordinate the communication between Race Stewards. A complaint from the Lotus Race Steward about the Ferrari team could be relayed to the Chief Steward who in turn discusses the issue with the Race Steward monitoring the Ferrari team to work the issue out and the three of them would discuss the incident, review the video and listen to team radio as well as real-time rebuttals from the teams to render an immediate judgement.

Perhaps this is nonsensical or sophomoric in nature and I apologize, I’m just a stupid fan but it seems more realistic to me than the current system. Just my humble opinion but I, without help from the relevancy argument, am trying to put a stop to the knock-on effect of perpetual blame and delayed punishment through moral ambiguity of tempered angst in the form of personal bias.

In the past, passing the SC has warranted a black flag. Th penalties available to Stewards has traditionally been a grid position penalty for the next race or a 20-30 second penalty to be assessed at the end of the current race (drive-through etc). Where a 5-second penalty came from I will never know but I am sure the FIA regulation (the French version) must have something of such ambiguity that it could almost be argued it specifically says a 5-second penalty is to be assessed. Such is the Mosley-esque regulations as written.
No one wants a race to be decided three hours after the race. No one wants Ferrari to continue to get away with murder while poor McLaren must fight twice as hard just to compete with the evil empire that is the Italian Ferrari. Spare me. Ferrari has it right. Times have changed in F1, in case you hadn’t noticed, and Ferrari no longer the golden child it once was. It has been at odds with the FIA for well over a year and Jean Todt had no love lost when he left Ferrari. One need look no further than body language when he was around Luca Di Montezemolo to see that.

In order to solve this issue, we have to stop blaming Ferrari for all of F1’s ills as they “did it in the past” and stop using the Red Rule as an excuse for McLaren’s misfortune. It is a changing F1 and I believe Jean Todt will hammer Ferrari just as quick as he will Williams, Lotus or McLaren. I don’t think Todt and FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone will see eye-to-eye quite like former president Max Mosley did with Ecclestone.

If you don’t want Ferrari to “get away” with it in the future, I suggest you need to agree with them now and get the FIA to fix the system so that it is fair and easily applicable to all the teams moving forward…yes, even Ferrari. I’m happy for McLaren’s success in Valencia and applaud their efforts. I also think the best way to help the process is to not hide your head in the sand and call Ferrari babies for complaining about a bad call and worse result.

In closing, here is another thought. Don’t do anything or change one regulation. This happens from time-to-time and that’s racing. Quit making a big deal of it. When the SC comes out, some people win and some people lose. Ferrari lost on Sunday but it could easily be McLaren the next time. Sound feasible? I’m okay with that if you will just stop using relevancy to justify it and calling Ferrari names because the day this happens to McLaren, we’re going to hear about it from Lewis, Jenson and Martin…if we’re really lucky, Ron may chime in. On that day, I don’t want to hear a peep from any of you. I jest of course.

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