There is certainly a lingering murmur over the steward’s review of Max Verstappen’s pass on Charles Leclerc at the Austrian Grand Prix. The possibility of a penalty was met with serious derision from fans as they waited for the 3-hour delay in announcing the verdict. The lack of a penalty has been met with equal head-scratching vitriol as fans use words like precedent, past penalties, Vettel-in-Canada and other couch pilot logistics on who did what to whom.
I was reading a nice piece over at Autosport by Matt, Scott and Jonathan. In that article, FIA race director Michael Masi, who inherited the role from the shock passing of Charlie Whiting ahead of this season’s opening race, says that they are trying to reduce the amount of penalties they issue.
“Even with incidents and bits and pieces in practice, we’re very much trying to do our best that silly, menial things – as much as they are – that maybe two or three years ago would have earned a penalty, these days don’t have an impact or as much of an impact,” said Masi.
“I hate people going back a number of years, because the rulebook’s evolved, the manner in which they’ve been interpreted has evolved with everyone being involved in that discussion.
“When we start talking about precedent and incidents occurring three years ago, what may have been a breach then because of the way it’s been interpreted has evolved and may have become lessened in some ways.
“It’s a balancing act.”
He’s right in that the regulations have changed over the years and to that point, Jonathan Noble also had a piece at Motorsport in which new McLaren boss Andreas Seidl suggested that the teams and drivers can’t get too upset because these are the regulations they have asked for and over time they have been adding more and more. A sort of “them’s the rules” kind of position. He said:
“For me it is a bit like the tyre discussions,” said Seidl, reflecting on the similarities between driver conduct rules and recent talks to revert F1’s tyre construction back to what it was in 2018.
“The rules we have in place are the result of team bosses and drivers asking for these rules. So this is why I think we have to accept we have these rules now. We have to trust the stewards that they make the right decision.”
To that point, Masi says that is what they have and that’s what they are doing:
“But at the end of the day, from a regulatory side we’ve got a rulebook and a set of rules to apply.
“There’s various other process and discussions to go through if they [the rules] change, and when they change, and how they change.
“But that’s part of our role in ensuring those rules are applied.”
This was one of the points we discussed on our Austrian GP review podcast, the rules are there and the drivers know the rules and if they are going to call a penalty on Vettel, then they need to call it on Verstappen so the consistency is there for the fans as well as the drivers.
We’ve also spoken a lot in the past about the consistency issue but also the notion that you penalize the intent or actual action, not the outcome. Whether it removes a victory from a driver or not, that isn’t the point. Whether there are a lot of Dutch fans or not, that isn’t the point.
On the flip side of the argument, we discussed the notion of good, hard racing and how there are too many rules that ultimately neuter the racing and leave F1 in a position of teams litigating their race results for the slightest on-track action that made them feel put upon.
Wide run-off areas have also been blamed for these kinds of penalties in fan and driver discussions. If they didn’t have these big of a run-off areas, they wouldn’t keep their boot in it on the outside etc.
There has been an argument that drivers should have much more input into the racing code of ethics during race weekends and there is certainly merit to that but Seidl believes the the FIA and F1 need to simply make the best decisions for F1 and leave the teams out of the negotiations.
“My opinion, and it is also for the regulations, technical, financial and sporting which are being developed at the moment, it should be a consultative approach that teams get asked for their feedback,” he explained. “But there should be a strong authority from the FIA and from F1 to go the way that they think is the right one.”
Herein lies the issue, for me anyway. The FIA have continually acquiesced to the teams since 2009. For ten years the FIA have continued to add regulations that hem good racing in and attempt to accommodate driver concerns, team concerns and their own agenda of safety. Fair enough but the process has advanced unabated into a litigious, regulatory complexity that has galvanized the entire nature of F1.
On any given race weekend, every small action on track that a driver doesn’t like is immediately radioed to the team asking for the FIA to review. Every team lodges a litany of complaints and “you probably ought to look at that incident because it may have broken the rules” kinds of suggestions.
There is a fine line and to be honest, we’ve been concerned about this for at least six years if not more. We’ve explained on our podcasts and offered our opinions about it in our editorials. FIA president Jean Todt is now in his third term as FIA president and 2021 is the end of his term. It is also the year the new regulations are set to be activated and in my opinion it is time for Jean to go. The FIA needs less bureaucracy and more focus on making F1 the best product it can be.
The unraveling of the WEC and lack of growth for WRC as well as the waning interest in F1 have all taken a back seat to road safety, sustainability and Formula E. It is odd as F1 is one of, if not the, biggest revenue generator for the FIA.
I said years ago, when fans were elated with the thought of an FIA without Max Mosley or an F1 without Bernie Ecclestone…be careful what you wish for. I said years ago, when fans were telling Red Bull that F1 didn’t need them because we have Mercedes…be careful what you wish for.
I am not sure what will take place in 2021 but something has to give and that’s if F1 fans can stand to watch Mercedes pummel the field in 2020 with more penalties aplenty.