Why Grosjean ban is right…and wrong…and typical

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The race stewards at the Belgian Grand Prix handed out a one-race suspension and 50,000 Euro fine to Romain Grosjean for his part in causing the first-turn incident that saw both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton retired from the race as well as Sergio Perez. The Frenchman accepted the penalty and rumors suggest that third-driver, Jerome D’Ambrosio, may make his debut in Italy for Lotus F1.

The FIA released the stewards decision:

Offence
Breach of Article 16.1(d) and Article 20.4 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations and Article 2(e) of
Chapter IV Appendix L of the FIA International Sporting Code.
Decision
A one Event suspension and a fine of € 50,000 in accordance with Article 18.1 of the FIA Formula One
Sporting Regulations.
Reason
The Stewards regard this incident as an extremely serious breach of the regulations which had the
potential to cause injury to others. It eliminated leading championship contenders from the Race. The
Stewards note the team conceded the action of the driver was an extremely serious mistake and an
error of judgement. Neither the team nor the driver made any submission in mitigation of penalty.

I’ve read many screeds on this decision from Twitter to blogs to news outlets and it became clear to me that the biggest issue is consistency. No surprise there as this has been a crucible Formula One has faced for years now. I mentioned similar incidents such as Vitantonio Liuzzi’s at Monza in 2011 where he did a similar move which resulted in the retirement of Nico Rosberg and Vitaly Petrov.

 

Liuzzi was handed a 5-pace grid penalty for his part in the incident but the key here is that neither Rosberg nor Petrov were key factors in the championship title in 2011 so many suggest that this is the reason for the Ban Grosjean received versus the 5-pace penalty Liuzzi received. Is it?  I’ve read emotional rants suggesting that the FIA places more value on human life if you are leading the championship, to rants about Grosjean getting a ban because it was a Ferrari involved. It’s all relatively emotional and at the end of the day, so is stewarding a race.

What we’ve seen, even since adding a former driver to the steward panel at each race, is a lack of consistency in the penalties meted out. Each driver, like each fan, views incidents from their own parallax and that’s how the world of Formula 1 is governed. It’s been that way for decades and while many feel that a ban is too strong of a penalty, others feel it is just right…including Eliseo Salazar who was the guest driver on the steward’s panel at Spa. The emotional aspect of it is clear, it is always present and it could be said that it is a danger to F1.

On the other side of hte coin, the FIA values each life the same regardless of championship standings and it is terse to suggest otherwise. What could be said is that F1 wants to protect it’s championship structure and revenue opportunity and reckless drivers flying through the grid from the back is not in the interest of anyone. Liuzzi, Maldonado, Grosjean etc. The stewards agreed that enough is enough and a lesson must be sent to Grosjean…don’t forget that he has had an incident in 7 of the first 12 races of 2012. I know Maldonado is everyone’s favorite punching bag right now but Romain has a lot to answer for.

Team boss Eric Bouliier even suggested this “time out” would be good for Grosjean as he needs to learn. People could be hurt and cars are expensive in F1 so his patience is much needed, not his inability to hit the brakes, check up, or have race-vision and seek the long run, not the 1st lap victory move.

This decision is certainly championship-impacting and the stewards made note of that. But perhaps its a bigger issue in that young drivers coming into the sport seem more aggressive and less respectful of being int he world’s top form of motor sport. Derek Daly has suggested it, I’ve heard the SPEED crew mention it and Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali said it today telling the press:

“It has to start in the championships before Formula 1. “You see it too often in the other series that drivers are very aggressive and try to do something almost over what it is possible to do, so it is important to be very strict since they start racing and then they will arrive in F1 in a better condition for that.”

In the end, title impact or not, Grosjean is reaping what he’s sown in the 2012 season. Multiple incidents and now a doozy in which no one was to blame except himself. Pastor Maldonado has incurred a host of penalties lately and you can see a trend of stewards watching these two young men very closely. If they do not improve their ace craft, race stewards will penalize them until they do or the teams will get weary of losing points to penalties and part ways with them.

I can make a clear argument to myself as to why a ban is too harsh of a penalty. I can see that any incident like this should be taken seriously for the safety aspect alone and bemoan why similar incidents haven’t been dealt with as harshly but that betrays the very notion that calling a race consists of a set of rules to be followed and some portion of gut-feeling on intent as couched in the compulsive nature of incident’s outcome and impact on either humans or the series. Should penalties be penalties regardless of the outcome? Sure, they would be more consistent then but that is not what we have in Formula One and due to that very reason, we will always be gnashing our teeth as to why Grosjean got a ban and Schumacher didn’t when he nearly put Barrichello’s Williams in the wall with his infamous chop. Such is life in F1 and we’ve argued that outcomes shouldn’t be the metric by which penalties are given…that leads to seriously inconsistent penalization and frustration from fans as to the fairness of the series regulators.

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