Spa, Stewards, Standards and Safety…

Spa’s big talking point c/o James Moy Photography & XPB

The start of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix was not Romain Grosjean’s finest moment. It was by no means the worst thing he’s ever done in his career, but it wasn’t the best either. If we look at it in simple terms, he pushed a rival to the limit… actually slightly over the limit, and the resultant accident which his move sparked has, quite rightly, resulted in a race ban.

He’s held his hands up, admitted fault, and for that he must be commended. But now the vultures will start to pick at the bones of the incident. They will point to the fact that he’s had X number of contacts in his Formula 1 career, what percentage of those have occurred on the first lap, and how many other drivers such moments have affected. He’ll be cast into the role of young hothead, a GP2 graduate who doesn’t understand the finesse required in Formula 1. He’ll be dubbed a cocky upstart who had the temerity to turn down the offer of counselling and coaching from Sir Jackie Stewart.

He’ll have to read those column inches and suck it all up, watching from afar as his rivals compete for glory at the Autodromo di Monza. He’ll have to learn, and come back stronger.

Of course he’s not the first and won’t be the last driver to be banned for such a faux pas. Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen were both parked in 1994, and they both went on to become world champions. Eddie Irvine was parked that season too, and he very nearly won a world title. But perhaps it’s the fact that an unsuspended ban hasn’t been handed down in 18 years that is causing the greatest shock. It marks Grosjean out as a danger, the likes of which the sport has not felt it correct to punish for almost two decades.

I don’t think such a picture is fair on Grosjean. I don’t believe for a moment that he is a danger. I don’t believe that he is thoughtless or reckless. In the vast majority of instances this season I believe he has been desperately unlucky. But for Spa alone, and purely on its own, I still feel he deserves the ban.

Punishments in Formula 1, no scrap that… punishments in single seater motor racing need to be far harsher than they are right now. And they need to become clearer and be applied with increased standardisation. From F1 down to entry level Formula Ford, even karting, a racing action of questionable moral standing must have the same regulatory reaction. Inconsistency between categories, and inconsistency even from a race to race basis in an individual category must be stamped out.

Fernando Alonso c/o James Moy Photography

Fernando Alonso and his Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali have both referenced the fact that young GP2 drivers are entering Formula 1 with a different core understanding of racing to the previous generation. They claim GP2 graduates are more willing to take risks, safe in the knowledge that the cars will save them and safe in the knowledge that the worst punishment they will receive is a few grid spots penalty at the next event.

Sadly, I can’t argue with that. It’s a view even GP2 drivers have shared with me. Not just that their rivals act this way, but even that they themselves have, at times, pushed just a touch harder than they thought they should because they had no fear of the consequences.

The cars and the tracks are so safe that they know they’ll walk away. The punishments are so slight that a grid penalty is no real hardship. Fines hit them hard because budgets are so tight on the F1 ladder, but they don’t hurt so much in Formula 1. When Pastor Maldonado can bring almost £30million to buy a ride in the big time, does the FIA really think $10,000 is going to affect his wallet?

The only answer, as far as I see it, is to start parking drivers. Just as they have with Grosjean. You want to make a racing driver think about his actions? You want to hit him where it hurts? Don’t make his wallet lighter. Don’t make him start a few places back down the grid. Just show him how it feels to sit at home and watch a race in which he should be taking part. Let him watch as his replacement steps into HIS car and drives it either better or worse than he could. Let his heart pump fast and strong, let him punch his pillow in frustration, let him scream at the unfairness of it all… from in front of a television. Let him know that a lifetime’s dream, a lifetime’s dedication will be flushed down the toilet if he doesn’t shape up. Take away everything he’s worked for. Make him appreciate what he’s got.

And it is something that has to go from the top down.

It’s all too easy to say that GP3 and GP2 drivers get away with terrible moves, when those very same moves aren’t punished in F1. Lead by example. Lead from the front. Make an example of the F1 drivers, and make that same example of those in the junior categories, from GP2 and GP3 to WSR, F3, F2, AutoGP… karting.

I’ve seen some awful manoeuvres go unpunished and even left uninvestigated in junior racing this year.

Conor Daly c/o GP3 Series Media Service

Conor Daly’s smash in Monaco was the tipping point. I felt Dmitry Suranovich should have been parked but the FIA decided that it was Daly who was at fault and gave him a ten place grid penalty for the next race. But my question to the stewards in that incident remains this… if Daly’s actions were enough to find him at fault for the accident why was he not banned? That accident put the lives of the marshals at the side of the track, and of his fellow competitors at serious risk. His loose wheel almost landed on Vicky Piria’s helmet. His car almost took out a marshal post. So if the stewards were able to come to the frankly baffling conclusion that Daly was at fault, then they should have parked him.

Sergio Canamasas in GP2 pushed Simon Trummer over the line and into the wall on the last lap in Hungary. The Spaniard wasn’t even investigated. Roll forward to the next race at Spa and on the run down to Eau Rouge he tried to put Nat Berthon through the wall and into the old pitlane. This time Canamasas was handed a four place grid penalty. Why four places? Because that was all that was needed to get him to the back of the grid.

Seems ludicrous, right? If a move is considered that bad park him. Not just for Spa but for the next weekend in Monza.

It saddens me to have to make this comparison, but even football (soccer) gets it right. The yellow and red card system of fouls works. It works because everyone knows the rules. OK, you still have referees as ultimate arbiters and some have different views on which tackles are OK, which are worth a yellow and which are worth a red, but the rules are clearly laid down. Unfortunately for football, for as long as video replays aren’t used, it’s tough for the ref to ever be 100% right.

Motor racing stewards do have such facilities however. They have the data, they have the video, they have everything at their disposal. What they don’t have is a clear system and definition of what penalties to apply for what action, nor the gumption and assuredness to hand down such penalties if they feel it correct to do so.

Pastor Maldonado flies to the GP2 crown in 2010
c/o GP2 Media Service

Driver behaviour needs to be reigned in and it needs to be done so from an early age. It all stems from the example set in Formula 1, both by the drivers themselves and the respect that they extend to each other, but especially in the stewarding of the event and the penalties applied when drivers overstep the mark. This should then be applied across all championships.

Yellow cards should, in my mind, become a tool used to warn drivers of their behaviour. Three yellows in a season, miss a race. Just like football. Straight red? Miss a race.

Such a system however will never work until all incidents are dealt with equally. And by equally I say not just that a dangerous move in F1 is treated the same way in GP2 and GP3, but also that penalties are applied with the same severity no matter who is involved in the incident.

That the FIA, in its reasoning for banning Grosjean from racing at the Italian Grand Prix referenced the fact that his actions had caused a number of championship contenders to be eliminated from the race was utterly shameful. What difference does it make whether he had taken out Hamilton and Alonso, or de la Rosa and Pic? Does the victim of the crime have any bearing on the severity of that crime? Should such a consideration determine the severity of the punishment?

Pastor Maldonado made contact with Timo Glock in the Belgian Grand Prix. For that he was handed a five place grid penalty. If it had been Vettel, a championship contender, would it have been a race ban?

We shouldn’t have to ask these questions, but sadly we are left in utter disbelief at the insensitivity and glaring stupidity of the words printed on FIA headed paper. Words which set a dangerous precedent.

Robert Cregan c/o GP3 Series Media Service

There will be calls, renewed calls, for cockpit safety to be looked at once again in the aftermath of F1’s big wake up in Spa. For me, the bigger call should have come after Robert Cregan’s GP3 shunt in which his left rear was kept attached to the car by the tether, lodged onto the sidepod and was thrust into his helmet as his Ocean careered backwards into the tyre barrier at Pouhon on Saturday. That was a wake-up call. But did anyone pay attention? Conor Daly’s crash in Monaco, his bouncing stray wheel… did anyone pay attention to that? Lewis Williamson weaving in Spa? When Schumacher did that to hold the McLarens at bay in Monza, the world cried foul. But when I did so this year in the GP3 race, some of my colleagues thought I had overstepped the mark? But why? I’m sure the FIA have these things fresh in their mind, but why does the rest of the waking world only seem to pay any attention when it occurs in F1?

It’s the same question as befalls the issue of parity in penalties. Why are things that occur on an F1 weekend in GP2 and GP3 not treated with the same gravity as those that happen in F1? Why are the same questions not asked, and the same judgements applied?

Yes, cockpit safety does need to be looked at… but ask yourself this. If drivers arriving in Formula 1 already feel invincible, if they already have no fear of being hurt, how will increasing the level of safety improve that?

Do not, and I must stress this, do not get me wrong. I am not saying we should stop constantly striving for a safer sport. While motor racing will never be 100% safe, we all want to go racing in a world where the potential for injury or worse to a driver or anyone at a track is as low as possible.

However, improving driver safety is not a fix to the question of driving standards.

But improving driving standards can aid, without question, the safety of racing drivers and all those who work in motorsport.

Something must be done. It is sad and shocking to admit this, but many have been the times this year where learned colleagues, and people whose opinions in this sport I respect and value have said, under hushed breath, that only when the very worst happens will this generation finally understand that this is not a game. It is life and death at 300kph. Some F1 drivers grew up with Dan Wheldon. Many in junior categories grew up racing Henry Surtees. They know, better than most, the reality of what they do.

Nobody wants a repeat of Vegas or Brands Hatch. Nobody.

But it isn’t just the drivers who are at risk. Think of the photographers standing on the inside of La Source, the fans in the grandstands, the track workers, marshals…

The last thing anybody wants is to strangle the fun, the enjoyment and the racing spectacle out of single-seaters. But driving standards must improve. Drivers must regain respect for one another, and for their sport. They must learn that they cannot rely on their cars or the racetracks to save them. Only their own actions, and the actions of their racing brothers and sisters on track can do that.

Then, there won’t be the need for penalties. But until they learn, until they show the world that they can be trusted with their own safety, and the safety of those around them, they should be punished. And punished severely.

From F1, all the way down to karts.

Vicky Piria c/o GP3 Series Media Service

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67 thoughts on “Spa, Stewards, Standards and Safety…

  1. Agreed! Stewards got it right on this one, purely for this incident Grosjean deserves the ban. And indeed, a grid-penalty may make a driver take even more chances next race to improve position, while sitting at home will make them think hard about the consequences of reckless contact.

  2. The one thing I am confused about….why do you agree with the stewards’ decision!!??

    As you said….the stewards are inconsistent and have normally given grid spot penalties. You are also correct by saying a $10000.00 penalty for most drivers is nothing but a joke really.

    But I would like to think that all drivers are equal and they can all be susceptible to mistakes. If Lewis mashed brakes there would have been no accident! Grosjean was racing and saw and opening and went for it…..four cars were totaled but this is the nature of racing. Lewis in particular has made many mistakes in his young career and has never been banned a race. I remember he hit Kimi in the pit lane on a red light while Kimi was parked at the end of the pit lane……Kimi won the championship that year… race ban was given.

    But I like the article…..just wondered why you agreed with the penalty……I clearly do not! And your arguments were spot on. I wonder if the stewards will read this….hehehehe…

    • I agree with the penalty because we have to start somewhere. We have to start making an example at the highest levels. Romain pushed Lewis onto the wet grass and he sparked a massive accident. As such, a week off to think about his actions is just the kind of penalty that should be applied.

      In soccer terms, Grosjean’s move was like going in for a tackle with the studs up. It is, or should be, an immediate red card offence.

      • Grosjean didn’t leave Lewis a lot of room there! I will definitely agree. I also agree this penalty is a start to make drivers more wary of their actions during racing, BUT the stewards should put something in place so that the penalties don’t seem adhoc! Just like the false start by Maldonado…..that results immediately in a drive through penalty…..that was never given…..but after the race they drop him 10 grid positions…….just seems very adhoc.

    • Actually if Lewis would have mashed his brakes there, there also would have been a huge crash because Grosjean had put his wheels around Lewis’s front tire. He had nowhere to go.

      • Brett….after looking at the replay… are correct! If Hamilton had mashed brakes….could have been different. But I still don’t agree with the race exclusion. I would have agreed if the stewards banned pilots for “bad driving” all the time…..but I think a ten spot grid penalty or a 20 spot for emphasis would be sufficient until they get a proper standard in place to penalise drivers in future.

  3. I agree that the ban was just, if selectively enforced. But why stop at the driver. Bar the car from competing and take manufacturers points and the teams may demand better driving

    • Teams won’t stand for having a car parked, neither will sponsors. Taking away points would be a good start; drivers and teams would feel those worse than any financial penalties. FIA needs a “Big yellow trailer” like NASCAR where drivers and teams who screw up are called in after the race and read the riot act RIGHT THEN and reminded that the sport can survive without them, thank you very much.

      • If I recall correctly, points = money for teams hence a financial penalty in a way as they receive some form of payment for every point they make.

        I don’t think punishing teams because of driver mistakes is fair as ONLY the driver committed the error.

  4. I don’t really agree with ban, but I completely agree with inconsistency in Stewards decisions. Truth is that in many series “stewards team” is different from race to race, decisions are subjective. Stewards are not professionals (means its not their main job) thus they are not independent (connections to motorsport environment). Who did it to whom sadly matters time to time…

    The profesionalism and strict standards are really needed. Otherwise we are waiting for something terrible to wake us up.

    • I hate to use NASCAR as an example, but their system does work. They bring their own stewards and officials to every race, and these people are trained to know what the rules are and to make calls. When there is a problem, it’s dealt with right then and there. They are independent of the teams, and while they can be inconsistent as well NASCAR is far better nowadays at explaining why it rules the way it does. And if there is a serious issue with a driver’s behavior they don’t have a problem with penalizing them harshly.

  5. I’ve been listening to you make these points quite a lot over the year and agree totally, there needs to be consistency and harder penalties from the bottom to the top. It is harsh that Grosjean got a ban in comparison to other penalties handed out this year, but he seems to be taking it maturely and already talking about what he needs to improve on – which shows it’s doing exactly what it’s meant to! Hopefully the mention of affecting championship contenders was just a bit of silliness on the stewards behalf and wasn’t actually a key part of the decision to ban him and we’ll see stricter penalties from now on.

    As fans we obviously don’t know what goes on behind the scenes – but I wonder if you feel the teams need to take more responsible for training these young drivers?

    • Training? The irony is that the teams are rushing drivers to be ready at an early age. They don’t have the time to mature, and those who are mature are deemed too old. That’ll form part of another blog coming soon over the corner F1 has backed itself into as regards its future generation.

        • Isn’t the GP2 races the place where “training” happens!!?? Taking note that the GP2 racing is somewhat scrappy and there are lots of “rookie” incidents that should be highlighted by the FIA stewards committee.

          But would love to read the other blog when it comes out.

          • From what I saw on tv, GP2 is training them to pass for the lead under yellows, not only did they fail to investigate Ericsson, but they gave him a trophy. I’m not a fan of Rio’s reactive block putting Esteban on the grass either.

  6. Drivers don’t feel as vulnerable as they used to. Cars now are so incredibly safer than they used to be. And we’re in a post-Senna era where drivers think being hyper-aggressive is normal. Watch most crashes in any open wheel class nowadays; it’s nearly always started by a driver who tries to pass, is too hot going into the turn, doesn’t have any room but thinks they can force the other driver to give way-and they aren’t going to. And the mechanics get another long night of repairs…

  7. I agree that driving standards need to be looked at and regulated across each series. But I think the competitive aspect also needs to be looked at and the skill of the driver. You can\’t just ban people left, right and center for mistakes that may have been out of their control based on human error. They need to look at how the incident could have been avoided, and if significant aversive action could have been made, then you start to delve into race bans and the like. I believe thats what happened on Sunday regarding the stewards decision.

    I don\’t want the competitive aspect taken away from a sport because of the fear that the consequences are too high if the driver cocks up. But I do think we need to police what we mean by ”Avoidable” a little more in order to make it clearer for the competitors to know what they did wrong, and how it can be prevented for future races.

  8. Its not just Formula 1 where penalties are inconsistent, but with the whole F1 circuit now seeing Grosjean getting banned for Monza, maybe they will clean up their act slightly?

    I think everyone accepts that there will be contact in Motorsport, there will be close, hard racing which will see wheels banged every so often. Whether its deliberate or an accident is another matter…

  9. Well said Mr. Buxton.

    After having though about the decision myself, I agree with the stewards and yourself. However, I’m really quite concerned by two things.

    Firstly, the wording that was used by the FIA. They have clearly stated that, by taking out two of the main contenders, Grosjean should be punished harshly. This statement really worries me as, to me, it sets a precedent that who you take out has a bearing on the severity of the punishment and, if Grosjean accidentally took out de la Rosa and Pic in a similar manner (as you suggested) his punishment may be less strict. I suspect that the high profile of the incident may well explain his punishment, especially when compared to the lower formulae.

    Secondly, whilst he was reckless, Grosjean cannot be accused of intending to take out another driver. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Maldonado. I find it amazing that, if Grosjean gets a one race ban for his part in the start line crash, Maldonado can only receive grid penalties for deliberately trying to take out Hamilton in Spa last year and Perez in Monaco last year. Additionally, Maldonado time and time again has shown his reckless aggression, such as against Hamilton in Valencia and versus Glock this weekend. When will he face similar punishments?

  10. “Pastor Maldonado flies to the GP2 crown in 2011″ Huh? I recall him competing last year :) Apart from that a great read. Cheers.

  11. Excellent analysis Will Buxton. I think it’s obvious we need something better than a visiting pro, to help on the decision process. We need a official in a leadership position, who gets this whole thing, travels to every race, and rules fairly and surely.

  12. (Excuse my English)
    I liked it. I’m practically agree with everything. But I also think that sanctions as it should have to deal Grosjean also put other drivers who are currently in F1. Today, people criticize the aggressiveness of the drivers that come from GP2, GP3 or DTM … this people, last year, praised the fights between Hamilton and Massa on the track … So for me, it is also punishable. But what I find unacceptable is that the FIA write that punishments are so hard because pilots hurt having option to win the title. What about the rest? I find it incredible.

  13. Great article. I agree driving ethics and standards need to be elevated. Driving standards and punishments need to be consistent and clearly defined. Safety should always come first. I commend RoGro for admitting fault. I also commend him for not quoting Senna like another driver in another series did.

  14. Agreed completely, Will. Some of the maneuvers in GP2 the past few years have been ridiculous. It used to just be the guys with tons of money at the back of the grid doing stupid stuff, but now it’s all the way through the grid.

    Also, do you think about Maldonado getting a grid spot penalty for Monza for jumping the start at Spa? Why give him a penalty for an advantage he gained in an entirely different race? I don’t agree with that, at all. I think it’s quite ridiculous, and probably only was given because he has a reputation now.

  15. Just to add to the chorus: this is a great article. It is well reasoned and balanced. And, you are absolutely right about driving standards. What was the quote from Balestre, shown in the Senna movie, where he is talking about how every young driver in the world was watching the F1 drivers for what was acceptable? The best way to get the message down to the drivers in the lower formulas is to crack down in F1.

    Be careful, however, trying to be the voice of reason in F1. It is likely to get you banned from the F1 press room!

  16. Ro Gro doesn´t strike me as someone who is a danger to the sport. Maldonado on the other hand has made some questionable moves that would say that he needed to be hit with a race ban to remind him that his rookie moves have consequences. Apart from Charlie Whiting being a constant presence at each race I am curious if the other stewards are the same from one race to the other throughout the season and is this where the inconsistency lies at each race…. Does the former driver on the panel have an affect on their decisions in a way that might have less to do with the contents of the rule book and more to do with their personal opinion of the driver…

    • I don’t think personal opinion comes into it. The driver is there to give the stewards a racer’s eye… to try and explain how racing, racing cars and racing circuits naturally work. It is up to the driver to advise the stewards when they require help in determining whether something, in racing terms, is usual or acceptable.

  17. Second half of the article comes dangerously close to the conclusions from Smeed’s law ('s_law) – claiming that no matter what the precautions and safety regulations are, the number of serious accidents will be approximately constant within the same field of drivers. Safer cars and tracks are now “compensated” by reckless driving, just to increase the risk to the acceptable level.
    Fortunately, the same reasoning does not apply directly backwards, because the safety regulations are actually aiding more interesting and exciting racing. And nobody would want to watch a series in which the drivers themselves must ensure their own safety by compromising the ability of driving the car to the limits (e.g. run at 80 mph through the 200 mph corner just because it’s not safe – Indianapolis 2005 comes to mind).

  18. Will, I must say that your article was a very interesting read and I fully agree with you on a lot of your points, especially about the inconsistencies in the penalties handed out recently. The FIA’s wording about “the number of championship contenders” that was taken out made this story blow up for me.

    I must say, I was utterly disgusted with the race ban handed out to Grosjean after Spa. I my eyes, after having seen the replays countless times, it really seems a racing incident. Granted, it ended a much bigger mess than we have witnessed for quite some time, but still I can’t see why the stewards (and many others including drivers, team bosses and journalists) need to treat Grosjean as if he were some kind of raging madman.

    People who just mindlessly (unlike you Will, I understand and respect your reasoning) agree with the ban say “lest not forget, Grosjean has been involved in 7 contacts in 2012 alone”. Why yes, that’s the word, “involved”. He hasn’t caused 7 incidents, there is quite a significant difference. But still it seems that the stewards’ decision to ban him was indeed influenced by the fact that he has been involved in that lot of incidents.

    But for the love of all that is good: would someone please take a little look at Pastor Maldonado and his actions over the past 2 F1 seasons? Especially one springs to mind when you talk about driving standards and setting good examples for all the formulae:

    Lewis Hamilton passed, and thereby blocked Maldonado in Q2 at Spa last year. Minutes later Maldonado retaliated by slamming his speeding car into Hamilton’s side pod, after the checkered flag. An utterly insane, immensely dangerous and deliberate, I’ll repeat, deliberate action.

    This year at Monaco, Maldonado did something similar, cutting across on and damaging Sergio Perez’ Sauber during qualifying. This probably caused them both to have quite sizable, separate accidents later on in the session.

    The only consequences these incidents had for Maldonado were grid drops. Grosjean, who in turn didn’t hit anyone deliberately in Sunday’s race, was handed the first race ban in 18 years. When Maldonado in a headless, amateurish move took out Hamilton in Valencia earlier this year, wasn’t Hamilton also a championship contender? But still no race ban.

    I can’t see the fairness in that, at all, and the stewards’ inconsistency is ludicrous. I understand that examples need to be set, and of course it has to start somewhere, but Grosjean was indeed the wrong driver to receive such a harsh penalty. My impressions of him is that he is one hell of a racing driver: fast, consistent, fair and extremely talented. Look at where he is placed in the championship in his first full year!

    For the FIA to treat him like a criminal madman is just plain wrong. This ban will probably have such a hugely negative impact on his career, and this is just sad. What team and what sponsors want “the first driver in 18 years to receive a race ban” to drive for them? It’s so unfair, in my opinion, and really uncalled for.

    In these 18 years we have seen much larger accidents sparked by actual deliberate, down right stupid or over-agressive actions. The accident in Spa was caused by a simple miscalculation of a competitor’s whereabouts on track. Not exactly the actions of a dangerous driver, I say.

    Thank you Will for your great commentary on GP2 and GP3 and your very exciting blog.

  19. Great article, Will. I agree that the severity of penalties needs to be generally raised to combat the increasing level of unacceptable moves (Hamilton last year, Maldonado this year). However, I think the real problem presently is the inconsistency in steward penalties. When you see a certain type of incident these days, you really cannot begin to guess what type of penalty will be applied. That shouldn’t be the case. There needs to be charter drawn up, outlining the severity of penalties that should be applied. Of course, not every case can be covered, but there at least need to be guidelines.

    As an aside, I’d like to question your argument that the severity of a penalty should not depend on how it affects the championship. Certainly Schumacher’s move at Jerez in 1997 wouldn’t have received a total exclusion from the championship if it had been between two middling drivers at the back of the field. But given what was at stake, the penalty was entirely justified, and perhaps should have been even more severe (e.g., a ban from races in the following season).

    Thinking along these lines, suppose Grosjean’s accident had happened in the last round of the season with the championship on the line. It would be a real buzz-kill for the viewer, which ultimately is what F1 is all about. So, playing devil’s advocate here, I can see a case for considering the effect of an accident on the championship.

    • I think we need to be careful here. Schumacher had his 97 tally wiped out because the FIA decided that he had driven directly and intentionally into his title rival. That’s a big difference to unintentionally, but ultimately being responsible for, causing an accident that takes out championship contenders. Each incident must be judged on what happens on track. Who the accident results in involving and their ultimate championship status should not affect the gravity of the punishment.

      • I still have to disagree with that. Maldonado intentionally drove into Hamilton not so long ago. People weren’t impressed, but nobody considered it equivalent to Schumacher’s 1997 move; the reason being that Maldonado’s move didn’t impact the outcome of a race or jeopardize the championship. F1 is ultimately about entertainment, so I think there’s still a reasonable case to be made for considering the circumstances of an accident in weighing the penalty, rather than just analyzing it inside a vacuum.

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  21. Will,

    I agree that the race ban is justified for Grosjean. Though he has had his issues with Lap 1 mishaps, he is not a reckless driver i.e. dicing with Alonso before he was passed in Barcelona earlier this year.

    If one watches “Senna” and various YouTube clips of qualifying and post-race interviews with Ayrton, you can easily see how he made his concerns for safety and driver behavior (as well as F1 politics) known to the public and in the private drivers meetings. Whether within a race, between races, or between seasons, many driver concerns were addressed thanks in part to his force of personality, his championships, and the respect Senna earned throughout the paddock in the media.

    For me, in this generation of F1, GP2, and GP3 drivers, the one person who can reign in his colleagues and reframe the expectations of team bosses, sponsors, and Bernie is Fernando Alonso. Fernando is my Senna. His accomplishments, gravitas, and sheer will is evident with his success with Renault, Ferrari having coalesced around him, and the props current and former drivers give Fernando for his performances with such an underperforming car. It shouldn’t take a Senna-esque tragedy to make racing safer and, dare I say, more enjoyable for everyone on either side of the paddock gate.

    After having a Lotus cartwheel across his cockpit, I think there is no better person to affect needed change in the culture of F1 than Fernando Alonso.

  22. While I totally agree that Grosjean deserved the penalty and that his driving and his peers driving techniques push beyond the boundary of what is deemed safe, this is a situation that has been cultivated by the Formula 1 management to increase the spectacle and ultimately the viewing figures. Formula 1 thrives on danger and it’s management believes it needs incidents to attract media attention. If last weekends carnage had not happened then the casual viewer and certain pundits to the masses would have declared the race boring! We do not need to create incidents to have a good race, this is just the way Formula 1 has decided to go.

    As for the stewards decision, we were lucky that they took the right decision on this occasion and handed down a race ban. I say lucky because their inconsistency is appalling. F1 needs a full time set of steward’s to attend all races. This is not football where there are thousands of games played every weekend, we have 19 or 20 events per season which would be easily manageable. This would also then ensure parity across other formulae at the same weekends, and they could also attend other GP2 & GP3 events that are not scheduled with F1. Having different stewards at each race is like each race team having a different pit crew for each race.

    We need to ensure penalties are penalties with parity across races and across the different formulae. We do not need closed cockpits or even cages. This would change the sport and give the drivers an even more false sense that open cockpit racing is safe. This would then lead to even more incidents of drivers pushing to far. Drivers need to improve their driving standards and if not they should not be in F1. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport in all aspects and it needs to be treated with respect and that is what some drivers (young and old) do not do!

  23. I see you completely missed your mate Calado edging Razia on the grass at 120+mph. The first driver who took that cowardly defensive stance all weekend.

    As you did in your coverage, not a word about anything untoward, instead it was Razia making a mistake. Shameful double standards Will.


    • In the first instance, the camera shot was from the end of the straight and at the time of the spin I initially had no idea it had been Calado alongside. I believe that during the race I referenced the move, and as the two had been side by side I said it was marginal, but I still do not think James had either seen and if he had did not intentionally push Luiz onto the grass. The incident itself was investigated by the stewards and no penalty was given. James was on the racing line and Luiz tried to go around the outside of him during a frantic first few corners. It didn’t pay off.

      I would like to think I have a good relationship with all the drivers, and I take some umbrage to your suggestion I would not have called James up on the move because of a personal relationship. Not that it matters but I have known and been friends with Luiz for a great deal longer than I have known James. Saying that, I have come to know James well, and I do not believe he is the type of driver to deliberately force another off track. I feel confident in making such a claim. I hold him and his talent in high regard, just as I do that of Luiz. But I won’t hesitate to call him out if he oversteps the mark. The limits are set for all drivers. No matter who they are. I have hoped my commentary makes such a stance clear. But his move did not appear to be deliberate at the time, nor does it now, and that is something the stewards of the event backed up.

      • Thanks for taking the time to answer, seeing the replay again you’re right that James is on the natural line, but surely it’s his responsibility to check if anyone is getting alongside and if he is entitled to the line? Every single car that was attacked on that spot this weekend left space and stayed right.

        I wonder if what saved him was that the 2 cameras available could not confirm that Razia’s front wing was at all alongside?


        • That’s a possibility, yes. And in those kind of instances, where it is hard to find clear cut video evidence, you’d have to think previous form would come into consideration and neither James nor Luiz has driven recklessly this season. Again, it’s an odd one isn’t it? The incident should be judged on its merits, not on previous form, not on who it involved. Calado is in the championship battle, so too Razia and ultimately Valsecchi who it also affected. Given the Grosjean penalty, I wonder if it had been, lets say for the sake of argument someone like Berthon (I use him because, like Grosjean he has scored podiums but isn’t in the championship fight) had sparked an accident that had involved the two championship protagonists, would the stewards have looked upon it differently and thrown the book at him in spite of there being insufficient video evidence? That’s the danger of the precedent set by the wording of the FIA’s judgement in the Grosjean case.

  24. Also Will you say you agree with Grosjean’s race ban as most “experts” seem ot do, I find the decision scandalous, on what grounds did he receive a ban? The very same offence of edging/squeezing has been seen numerous times even this weekend or season including f1 (eg Rosberg Bahrain). The one on the receiving end sometimes takes avoiding action which prevents interlocking wheels but doesn’t change the severity of the offence.

    So what is different this time to merit a ban? Is it that it was on the start hence more dangerous? But on the contrary starts have been considered mitigating and have been left unpunished before (eg Vettel-Button Suzuka). Or is it a new tough stance by the FIA, in which case we should expect every squeezing from now on to receive a ban? And if so judging by Fumanelli Canamasas & co only in f1?

    Don’t get me wrong I agree that edging over is criminal and should receive a race ban MINIMUM but there is no precedent for this.

    Note that the official decision doesn’t mention any previous for this particular driver which would make sense, only the “potential serious injury” due to the resulting pileup but surely this is down to chance and doesn’t make the offence by itself any worse than other recent ones, and of course the infamous “championship contenders” reason.


    • Personally I hope this is the start of a more regimented and severe implementation of penalties across FIA regulated championships, starting in F1 and filtering down through other series. It has to start somewhere, so why not at the top?

  25. Brilliant writing Will!
    Enjoyed as always. I agree with most of what has been said. Romain deserves a race ban. That being said, I do not feel it was intentional.
    I think F1 needs to have “permanent Stewards” so that the rule enforcement is ‘even handed” all the time. With clear penalties laid out in the rules.
    I also credit Romain for admitting fault and I believe you could see (through body language)
    That Lewis knew it was no intended as they walked together after the incident.

  26. The end of Brazil 2003 comes to mind when it comes to punishments — Alonso escaping unpunished for bringing out a red flag and finishing third (in an ambulance and not the podium) when he had gone (almost?) flat through a blind corner under double waved yellows just to find a “hazard wholly or partly blocking the track”. If there is something wholly or partly blocking the track and you are meant to be “prepared to change direction or stop” you absolutely should not be going at around 300 km/h through a blind corner, unable to react to any impediment immediately after the corner. Given there could easily have been marshals on track in my mind there’s no doubt he should have been disqualified at least from that race and had a multiple race ban on top of that.

  27. You William are the first to point out Lewis Williamson’s woeful driving. Other than Red Bull of course. His weaving at the end of the straight (and at times down the straight) was particularly dangerous in a Formula where the drivers are perhaps not always that competent.

    Lewis Williamson is unfortunately at the end of his single seater career and should recognise the limits of his talent and intelligence. Having met him at last years British GP in the BRDC clubhouse, he came across as unintelligent, over arrogant, un-aware of his surroundings and most in-appropriately dressed like a ‘chav.’ (A strange observance – but relevant nonetheless when presenting to some of the most important influencers of the year e.g. in the Clubhouse.)

    My criticism of Lewis here is relevant to my ultimate point. He has graduated on supposed talent, but in reality he has graduated courtesy of Red Bull. He should never have been in WSR. He is atypical of approx 80% of junior drivers I have met. That has nothing to do with maturity as some of those drivers I have met in junior categories still remain the same characters as they have aged. All junior drivers are peers of each other and as such they tend to repeat each others actions. Their mindset is all wrong.

    In order to ‘solve’ this – as well as reprimanding drivers from the top down (which is much needed) there ought to be a far tougher graduation process which is not just dictated by the size of someones wallet. Perhaps FIA sanctioned sessions where driving and racing etiquette is reviewed should be held quarterly for each category. Drivers in F1, GP2 and GP3 should be made to appear at lower formulae events throughout the year where they are there to educate the up and comers what racing and driving is all about.

    Ultimately, it’s my opinion – but I don’t think the standard is anywhere near what it was around 5 years ago throughout all categories. That is down to one thing. Budget. When teams start needing budget from the drivers to go racing, that is when the standards drop.

    • I think you’re being a touch harsh on Lewis there. He’s undoubtedly talented, and I think he was treated incredibly badly by Red Bull this season, however I agree that I do not believe he was ready for WSR. Fashionwise? Doesn’t have that much to do with racing talent. In fact it seems to have an opposite effect. Michael Schumacher’s the most successful driver in history and has one of the most questionable tastes in fashion the world has ever known.

      Your final point however is very solid. Sadly junior level drivers will always need to bring budget. It is when the budgets spiral out of control however that the talent can get left behind, and only those with the biggest wallets can afford to reach the top.

      • There was a good point made by Peter Windsor in The Flying Lap podcast this week about “pay” drivers.

        Back in the day, Ron Dennis would give drivers a good ticking off for any misdemeanours and let it be known the standards that were expected.

        In this era of “pay” drivers, where teams are dependent on the budget brought by the driver, they’re less inclined to upset the goose laying all those golden eggs.

        No names were mentioned, but I can’t help think of Maldonado.

  28. Pingback: Better cockpit protection expected for 2014 | F1 Fanatic round-up | PooZ

  29. I’m glad you took a moment to point out the FIA’s questionable wording in regards to the impact on championship contenders. I feel the punishment is merited on the basis of the potential for injury (or worse) to another person, whether that person is Alonso, Pic, a marshal, or a fan like me sitting in the grand stands. I was watching the Malaysian MotoGP race live on TV last year, and I never want to see a racer/fan/etc. lose his life doing what he loves again!
    I’ve seen some comments here and elsewhere who feel this was inappropriate because there is not a recent precedent for a ban, but perhaps this becomes the precedent.
    On a happier note…Monza soon!!

  30. Pingback: Course Spa : la deuxième de Jenson Button | ChequeredFlags

  31. I’d keep the system we have now fundamentally the same but outline a clear and consistent structure of giving out penalties. I’d argue that there are some incidents where the stewards are too harsh on drivers (50/50 collisions) and don’t need to investigate and then others where tougher punishments need to be handed out.

    If it was down to me I’d put the following into practice:
    – Have an elite panel of stewards covering international events (not just F1) of which 3 are picked for each race. One steward must have top level driving experience and one must be experienced on the technical side (i.e. designer/mechanic)
    – All penalties in race must be given within 3 laps of the incident occurring. Anything in the last 3 laps to be sorted prior to the podium ceremony.
    – Penalties for engine and gearbox penalties to be changed to punish the team and not the driver. I’d propose fining the team the cost of the replacement unit and dock constructor’s points. I’d also add unsafe releases to this point.

    Now onto the driving offences there I would propose the following for drive-throughs:
    – 2 drive-throughs in the same race = black flag and 10 place penalty for next race
    – 3 drive-throughs in same season = 10 place penalty for next race
    – 5 drive-throughs in same season = race ban

    And for other offences:
    – 1st offence = 5 place penalty
    – 2nd offence = 10 place penalty
    – 3rd offence = back of grid and suspended ban
    – 4th offence = ban

    Depending on the seriousness of the offence the stewards should have the power to apply any of the above penalties if the offence is deemed serious enough, so a race ban can be applied straight away as in the case of Grosjean.

    I also think a driver ban has not come a moment too soon, using my proposals I’d have given straight bans in the following cases in the last few years:
    – Frentzen at Monza 2000 – causing the pile-up that killed the marshal
    – Heidfeld at Brazil 2002 – crashing into the medical car
    – Alonso at Brazil 2003 – ignoring the yellow flags and hitting Webber’s tyre at full speed
    – Hamilton at Canada 2008 – crashing into Raikkonen at pit exit
    – Schumacher at Hungary 2010- pushing Barrichello into the pit wall
    – Maldonado at Spa 2011 and Monaco 2012 – deliberately crashing into other drivers

    Apologies for the length of the reply, but wanted to make my point properly. Hope I haven’t bored anyone!

  32. Pingback: Piden mejores medidas de seguridad para los pilotos y sanciones ejemplares a quienes se comporten como Romain Grosjean

  33. Right on, Will. The fact that this “modest proposal” generates so many positive comments shows how far FIA has to go. And I do think FIA has made enormous progress. I do give Max Mosely real credit for improvements in safety during his tenure. He started from a low point.

    This quote from Jean-Marie Balestre in the program from my first F1 race, the 1988 Detroit Grand Prix about the drivers seems to show the acceptance by the FIA in the day of high risk: “The Grand Prix spectators must give them all their support, since they are top class athletes who risk their lives each time they compete in order to win a battle of great sporting quality”.

    Safety is not measured by the number of incidents. It’s measured by the exposure to risk.

    No fatalities in F1 since 1994 mean nothing if the risk is still there. Last week’s events show it still is.

    Double roll hoops, closed canopies, improved barrier structures will all play a role. But there is no substitute for safe driving. Yellow and red cards and having to sit out racing are great upgrades, and ones I hope will move forward at FIA. They can do this if there’s the will do do so.

  34. I totally agree with all the above. A lot of what goes on is unfair. People will say “that’s the way of the world”. Then I would reply “its unfair cause we make it unfair so we can make it fair by implementing these ideals instead of just saying it’s the way of the world”. We won’t great racing, well we will never see how good drivers really are if silly driving keeps taking people off. An engine blowing is hard to avoid but dangerous driving can be stopped.

  35. I’m more suprised that while a bad move by Grojean is punished hard, it appears to have been a mistake rather than with malice, Maldonado has gone “unpunished” for deliberately driving into other cars on two separate occasions. OK they weren’t in races but for me that is worse even if the consequences weren’t.

  36. Thank you for your views and for speaking up on these preventable incidents Will. As a marshal who has witnessed fellow workers killed by flying cars at the Toronto and Vancouver CART races of 86 and 91 respectively, I can attest to the life changing affects that these incidents have on us. I wish these young drivers would understand that it’s NOT a video game – it’s real and it’s a serious business that can have greater consequences then the team principal being ticked off – people can and do get hurt. Thanks.

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