Across the spectrum of human reason, emotion and revelation, we could argue that all of us would have varying degrees of intersection on certain issues. Take a Formula 1 penalty for example. Two weeks ago, Sebastian Vettel was given a 5s penalty for locking up into a turn and hitting Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas impacting the Finn’s race.
Fast forward two week and Sebastian’s teammate, Kimi Raikkonen does the same thing but he is given a 10s penalty for his efforts—which he admitted was his fault, just as Sebastian did two weeks ago. Some felt Vettel’s penalty was not enough given the impact he had on Valtteri’s race and other thought it wasn’t an incident worthy of a penalty. Some feel that Kimi’s penalty was too much, given it was 5s for the same infraction just two weeks ago.
When you factor in bias and the gravity of the persons involved and the impact of the incident, you start to diverge even more with your fellow human…of at least you certainly can. In many cases, due to biases and other factors, an incident can be a parallax and depending on where you view the incident from, it may look slightly different.
For Kimi’s 10s penalty, FIA race director, Charlie Whiting, had very little insight:
“I’m not the stewards, I can only think they have felt it was a little more serious than what Sebastian did in France,” said Whiting.
“I can’t really comment as I don’t know the thought process that went on there, but I do know there was widespread criticism of the leniency of the penalty given in France. So maybe that affected them.”
Chief concern here is that the criticism of the Vettel penalty may have played a role in Raikkonen’s penalty as an amends or desire to avoid being criticized for their decision. This results in a discussion over the lack of consistency in the penalties but Mercedes boss, Toto Wolff, disagrees and says there is consistency due to the options given for each infraction based upon precedent:
“I think there is consistency on the penalties,” said Mercedes’ team principal. “They are what they are and there’s a certain arsenal of penalties the stewards have available – a five-second penalty, a 10-second penalty or a drive-through and then they look at the precedents.
“What we need to discuss among all of us is if certain incidents occur and they have a massive outcome in terms of what’s happening maybe around the race win and what the consequences would be, that’s a different story.
“On the penalty itself, they are like the rulebook says. So it is what it is.”
The idea of punishing outcomes of incidents rather than the actual action has become very popular since the French Grand Prix but it is not a new topic in F1. It’s been kicked around for some time now. Mario Andretti bemoaned the Vettel penalty because of the impact it had on a driver battling for a championship. Others felt that Vettel still finishing ahead of Bottas was wrong and therefore the punishment should be based on the outcome to ensure that Vettel had a worse race than Bottas. Was Kimi’s penalty more because it was Lewis Hamilton who was the victim at his home race and in his battle for the title? What if Bottas would have hit Vettel in France, would Valtteri get 5s or 10s?
The FIA penalties available are for infractions that have been defined by the sporting regulations and to advance that even further and divine outcome-based penalties is a bridge too far. With all respect to Toto, this is the kind of thinking I advise my daughters to stay away from in large part because of my opening sentence.
Who would define all the permutations of an outcome for every penalty in the FIA rule book? Who decides the varying levels of bad outcomes and based upon what criteria? Was Valtteri’s race hurt by Vettel’s action? Yes. How badly was it hurt? Did it hurt his championship title aspiration? Oh, he’s not considered a title contender? By who’s measure? Certainly not Valtteri’s.
Was Lewis Hamilton’s championship bid damaged by Kimi’s actions? Yes. How bad? Was the 10s penalty ok because Kimi finished behind Lewis? He may not have been had they pitted Lewis for fresh tires but as it was, they left him out and he managed to stay ahead such was his pace. What if Lewis would have retired the car, then what penalty should have been given to Kimi even after serving the 10s penalty? Another 10s penalty, loss of points, hand Kimi’s finishing position to Lewis? Where is the end of this parsing of outcomes? How bad is bad and how outcome-correct is good?
Opening the F1 penalty system to outcome-based penalties is not a good move but neither are varying levels of punitive action for the same infraction if you’re looking for consistency. I have argued for some time that F1 isn’t suffering because of its lack of outcome-based penalties but the consistency of their application. I’ve argued for a permanent stewarding team but that flies in the face of the chotchkies that the FIA hand out to local motoring club dignitaries for their financial support and votes.
What we have is a stewarding team that Whiting says was potentially swayed by the criticism over the lack of severity for Vettel’s penalty in France. To right that wrong, perhaps they increased the penalty for Raikkonen. Is that fair? Kimi got a harsher penalty because the stewards didn’t want to lose face or face the blowback? That’s a relatively thin base to stand upon is it not? If Wolff is right, then the most recent precedent was Vettel’s 5s penalty, not a 10s penalty for an opening lap incident.
Like I said, we all have varying degrees of intersectionality on any one issue and we might argue that our sense of right and wrong differ because of that. That’s a difficult issue in F1 right now that is exacerbated by the lack of consistency driven by precedent. If we now think we are ready to tackle all the externalities of an incident that determine their outcome and make prompt penalty decisions on those presuppositions, then I really am concerned about F1’s ability to govern itself.
Hat Tip: Sky Sports F1