Formula 1 drivers are demanding more consistency from the commissioners

Penalties have always been a controversial topic in Formula 1, but this season the problem seems to have taken on new dimensions. Just as Michael Masi sometimes chose a different line than his predecessor Charlie Whiting, his successors Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas also make their own interpretations of the rules.

So far, however, this has not always been well received by everyone. There was always a little frustration among the drivers, also because they had to get used to two new race directors. Wittich and Freitas take turns in the lead, but due to other commitments they don’t take part in every race.

Of course, consistency sometimes suffers – not only compared to previous years, but also between the two race directors, who sometimes take the rules very seriously and follow the wording. The fuss about drivers wearing jewelry in their cars is just one example.

The frustration with these things mostly stays behind closed doors, but in Austria Max Verstappen made his point clear: “I don’t think it necessarily depends on a race director,” said the world champion on the subject of consistency. “I think it’s more about working together with the drivers than just being stubborn.”

“We want to make it better for everyone and it’s not like we’re fighting for ourselves,” emphasizes the Dutchman. “We have good conversations among the drivers and at the end of the day we more or less agree on most things. Of course everyone has their own opinion on certain things.”

Driver briefing with scenes from Austria

At the race in France last weekend, at the instigation of the GPDA at the drivers’ briefing on Friday night, Freitas and Wittich gave a review of some recent incidents, showed them from different camera angles and then asked for opinions on whether the stewards should have imposed a penalty or not Not.

These included the collisions between George Russell and Sergio Perez and between Alexander Albon and Sebastian Vettel in Austria. The former resulted in a penalty while the latter did not, so there were interesting case studies.

Most in attendance felt Russell was to blame, with many also calling for Albon to be punished.

A little unintentional comedy ensued as attention turned to the incident on the last lap in Montreal, when Fernando Alonso received a penalty for changing lines more than once in front of Valtteri Bottas.

Alonso had called the penalty unfair in later briefings and in France the scene was shown from the cameras of both cars and from above for all his colleagues. Apparently Alonso’s vigorous jab was so unsubtle that everyone in the room laughed, and only the Spaniard and teammate Esteban Ocon didn’t think it deserved a penalty.

No commissioners from Austria

As usual, the four race stewards for the French Grand Prix were also present at the driver’s briefing. None of them were involved in Austria’s decisions, but Gerd Ennser was already involved in the Alonso case in Canada.

It was nothing new that incidents from the past were shown at the driver briefing. This has happened more often under Whiting and Masi, but for 2022 it was a first.

It must also be noted that the FIA ​​keeps Wittich and Freitag away from journalists. This is a direct response to Abu Dhabi and is intended to prevent them from getting a profile similar to Masi’s. However, this also means that drivers and teams will no longer find an additional FIA view of post-race incidents in the media.

Drivers welcome advance

In the currently tense environment, the cooperation with the new race control in France was very much appreciated by the drivers. GPDA boss George Russell says: “I think we all want to sit down, look at these incidents together, get the drivers’ opinions and try to understand the mindset of the commissioners so that we can all get on the same page.”

“Ultimately, that’s what we all want. And we all want that consistency, but we have to understand how the commissioners feel about the incidents and they also have to understand how we’re feeling. I think it was constructive, and we probably need more of it,” said the Briton.

Russell was directly involved in one of the incidents shown, so he took a particular interest in what was discussed. “They followed the wording of the rules,” he says of his penalty in Spielberg. “And I was wrong, but sometimes you have to look at it on a case-by-case basis.”

“And when a car has a clean line on the outside, clean air, and turns in and the driver on the inside doesn’t have a chance, even if he’s in front, then there’s contact.”

“It’s a bit like tackling in football, you can’t just say, ‘You have to tackle this way, you don’t have to.’ Everyone is always a little different. And you have to develop a feeling for racing,” he says.

Albon: Meeting was helpful

Albon, who escaped a penalty in Austria but apologized to Vettel anyway, also spoke up in the meeting: “Well, I didn’t say it was my fault,” he explains.

“I explained the reasons for that and what the commissioners said because I don’t think anyone in the room understood why I didn’t get a penalty and why George got one. So I explained the reasons why the commissioners said that .”

Albon agrees that the video review was helpful: “I think it shows, first of all, that it’s not that easy for them,” he said. “We know it’s not an easy task for the FIA, but it’s more about understanding why, for example, George got a penalty and I didn’t, and how can we learn how the commissioners can check that? Like that we drivers also know how to go about fighting. It was more about that.”

Alonso “very satisfied”

Alonso, who often criticizes the officials after a penalty, appreciates the opportunity for discussion: “I think it’s something to improve things and to show us some incidents and why they give penalties and why not,” he says. “I think it’s for the good of everyone if we try to better understand their approach.”

“We will see it in the upcoming events. But it can have a double effect because if you see a video and it was a penalty, then maybe we have it [im Rennen] in the head, and it was exactly the same, but they didn’t give a penalty.”

“So we could see a number of videos that could be interesting. At least the FIA ​​shows that they are willing to improve things, to make everything possible and to think outside the box, because we have never done that in the past. I’m very happy with that,” said Alonso.

“Sometimes it’s fair and sometimes it’s not”

Others also agree that the video round is a positive development: “It was very useful because we managed to discuss between us drivers and race officials why some incidents have five-second penalties and others don’t.” , says Carlos Sainz.

“It was a pity that the commissioners [aus Österreich] weren’t there to explain it to us, but race officials did their best to explain. We will see if these meetings continue to contribute to our mutual understanding.”

“There were a lot of different opinions about a lot of different things,” says Lance Stroll of the meeting. “As always. I think the commissioners are doing their best. I think we all know how to race and sometimes it’s difficult to be fair when they have to make decisions.”

“Because it’s like all sports, whether football or basketball, there are flags, penalties that are sometimes fair for some and not for others. In the end, someone has to make that decision, and it’s not always easy,” says he.

Vettel and the curbs

The discussion in France also touched on other contentious points. Sebastian Vettel, who left the briefing in Austria frustrated and received a suspended fine of 25,000 euros, wanted to talk about the so-called baguette curbs.

Not for the first time, he pointed out that several riders in the junior categories had suffered back injuries after hitting similar curbs and flying off, and he felt they weren’t necessary in France. He was upset when told they were required for the Porsche Supercup.

Freitas said he would think overnight, then confirmed in his notes on Saturday that the curbs on the corners discussed had been removed.

“At least they were removed,” Vettel said after Sunday’s Grand Prix. “It’s just an unnecessary risk. We’ve seen so many incidents with these curbs in the past so I don’t think they should ever come back.”

According to him, the briefing at Le Castellet was useful: “I think we just want to talk to each other, we want to open a dialogue and I think we can improve. I think that’s always useful. It’s not like we make the rules. It’s just that we understand what we can and can’t do. I think it’s always good to talk.”

Should there be a steward from the previous race?

However, one should not forget that the penalties are pronounced by the four stewards, not by the race officials. According to Russell, it would have been useful if at least one of the commissioners who gave him the sentence in Austria had been present.

“They have the commissioners for the current race weekend,” says the Mercedes driver. “But I think we need a bit more consistency, that at least one of the commissioners from the previous event comes along to make these statements. We got some statements from the race director. We are working on it, that’s for sure.”

The fact that there are different commissioners on site from race to race is another point that is repeatedly brought up by the drivers. When they’re subpoenaed for alleged misconduct, they never know who they’re dealing with. A total of 27 men and women acted as stewards on the first twelve race weekends.

These include four permanent chairmen (Ennser has been in action at four races this year, Garry Connelly at four, Nish Shetty at three and Tim Mayer at one) and six different driver stewards, with Enrique Bernoldi, Danny Sullivan, Emanuele Pirro, Mika Salo, Derek Warwick and Vitantonio Liuzzi take turns in this role.

Teams don’t want a permanent chair

Between the individual events, there is an intensive exchange of information between the permanent representatives in order to improve consistency. However, it is inevitable that 27 people will not always have the same reaction to every single incident.

Previously there was only one permanent chairman. However, this was rejected by the teams because they felt that a single person could be biased. At least it would be time to reduce the pool of existing commissioners.

“I think it would be beneficial for all of us if we had the same stewards from race to race,” says Russell. “And even among the spectators or people in the paddock, it’s clear that not everyone always has the same views on a particular incident.”

“But if it’s always just one person’s point of view, then over time you at least get to see how they thought these decisions through, and that makes life a little easier for everyone,” said the Mercedes driver.

“Like I said, we just have to work together and find the best compromise. I don’t know if there are logistical limitations, I don’t know well enough for that. But we’re all for it.”

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