VF1blog: Penalty Fair?
The annual Grand Prix at Spa rarely disappoints when it comes to providing drama. Despite an amazing pole to flag drive from Jenson Button, this year’s race will be remembered for the dramatic first race crash and other controversies which resulted in penalties being handed out.
Penalties are always a massive talking point throughout an F1 season, particularly when one driver is making regular visits to the FIA stewards, or when a series of similar incidents occur and the punishments handed out are inconsistent.
Cause and Effect
Sunday’s incident at the start of the race which caused a terrifying crash resulted in Romain Grosjean being handed a 1 race ban by the FIA and a 50,000 Euro fine. This was not Grosjean’s first incident at the start of a race (for example, he was involved in a dramatic start to this year’s Monaco Grand Prix) and it resulted in the scariest incident we’ve seen in a while.
The replay of the start showed Grosjean making a quick start and then moving over to the right, which squeezed Hamilton who did not veer outside of the white line to avoid contact. If you take this part of the incident in isolation then it is quite similar to other incidents we have seen this year, but the impact was so much greater because the whole of the pack were bunched together so closely at the start, while also braking to go round turn 1. If the two had come together like this later in the race and nobody else had been affected, chances are it would’ve just resulted in a grid-drop for Grosjean. It can be difficult to differentiate between the two scenarios, but ultimately drivers need to take extra care at the start of the race. Grosjean described the incident as a “small mistake with big consequences” and has apologised to the other drivers involved (and their fans). I’ve seen some emotional comments on twitter attacking Grosjean’s words, but I suspect he would have learned from this incident with or without the ban for the next race. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t receive it, but I’d be gob-smacked if the gravity of the situation and good fortune that nobody was seriously hurt doesn’t have a deeper impact on him than a race ban. We saw in October 2011 the devastating consequences that a small coming together between two cars can have on a race track when there is traffic ahead. Wade Cunningham and JR Hildebrand came together at the Las Vegas Speedway which sent cars in front airborne, resulting in the tragic loss of Dan Wheldon.
The role of the FIA
The inconsistency of penalties from the FIA is one of the most controversial issues in motor racing. The inconsistency applies not only within Formula 1, but also across the feeder series of GP2, GP3 and World Series Renault where young drivers (like Grosjean) usually graduate from prior to their F1 careers. Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari’s team boss called for a higher standard of driving to be required in these lower series: “In my view, the most important thing is looking at the behaviour of drivers. 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”. Others, including GP2 and GP3 world commentator Will Buxton have supported this view. We shall have to see if Jean Todt pays attention to this call for action from his former team.
The most irritating thing from the FIA today was one of the reasons given on their official notice confirming Grosjean’s penalty: “It eliminated leading championship contenders from the race”.
This sentence is simply infuriating. It shouldn’t matter who is affected by the incident or their position in the championship standings. All drivers must have an equal standing in such incidents whether they drive a Ferrari or an HRT.
F1 moves to Monza in just a few days, and it is not yet known who will drive the second Lotus car. In theory it should be Jerome D’Ambrosio, the team’s official reserve driver, but there is already speculation that Jaime Alguersuari could be called upon given his experience this year as Pirelli’s test driver. I would be delighted to see either driver race next weekend. This is likely to be the main talking point for the next few days until Lotus confirm the driver line-up.
Will the FIA act on Domenicali’s call for new standards? The organisation has a reputation for changing regulations on a whim to hush the cries of teams crying foul about technical details, or to stall the progress of an exceptional team/driver. They are not so smart at responding to lucky escapes. I hope the F1 paddock will not let them ignore the issues which emerged today, and that we will see a sensible, FAIR, crack down on dangerous driving throughout all the racing formula which they control.
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