As you may have gathered from my earlier post on The Dark Art of Overtaking, I was not exactly thrilled with the stewards’ decisions at the Monaco Grand Prix. In fact, I have been mightily unimpressed with their decisions in this first part of the season alltogether. I will not dissect each and every decision of the year in this post (and there have already been way too many), I’d rather take you all back into the past, the days when Schumacher was still a wild youngster. Yes, today I take you back to those fateful Sundays in Adelaide 1994 and Jerez 1997.
While the stewards have apparently decided that the overtaking driver is always at fault when an incident happens, let’s try to put the above mentioned incidents into a 2011 stewards perspective. Schumacher first of seven world titles was perhaps the most stained of them all. With Benneton cheating all year with an illegal fuel rig and rumoured use of the recently banned traction control, Schumacher already had a nice helping hand over the competition, yet it still all boiled down to the season finale in Adelaide (watch the video here). Leading the race on lap 36 Schumacher has Hill closing in when Schumi goes off and touches the wall. He gets back on track and in what is probably the most outrageous move in F1 today turned into Hill with his severely damaged car as Hill tried to go up the inside on this tight street circuit. Schumacher was never punished for this and subsequently walked off with the World Title as Hill was also forced to retire following damage incurred as a result of the contact.
Moving on to Jerez ’97 . Again fighting for the World Championship, Villeneuve dives from way behind down the inside of Schumacher, again he is far from in front or level with Schumacher as he starts the overtake. In his case one might even argue Villeneuve came in too hot and might not have even made the corner had Schumacher not served as a brake for him. Schumacher turns into the apex to find Villeneuve there, only this time he did not damage the Williams with this contact and Villeneuve drove on to take the title. This time Schumacher did of course get penalized and was diqualified for the championship. While I found this incident much less severe than the ’94 one, he got the penalty he perhaps would have deserved in 1994.
Let’s now take a look at these incidents from a 2011 steward’s perspective but perhaps we need to disregard the fact that Schumacher already had terminal damage to his car at the point Hill tries to overtake (this would only strengthen my point that the lead driver shares a responsibility for ensuring clean overtakes). Hill dives down the inside yet does not get in front of Schumacher as they brake and start turning in. Schumacher then mercilessly dives for the apex (and Hills car parked on it), resulting in the incidents. If this sort of accident had happened in Monaco 2011 between driver x and driver y, who do you think would have gotten a penalty? Probably the guy trying the overtake because ‘he wasn’t level or in front as they got into the braking zone so Schumacher had every right to stick to his line’. Starting to understand how silly the notion – which seems to live in many people’s minds- is that a driver must be in front or at least level before he is allowed to even try an overtake? Indeed, Lewis was not in front or level with Maldonado or Massa, but it is foolish to think that one has to be to make an overtake stick. If that were the case, we would only ever see DRS overtakes a la Turkey where a driver sails by in a straight line and that wouldn’t be terribly exiting now would it?
Look at the most exiting passes of last year. Kobayashi on Alonso in Valencia dove from way behind. Now we think of it as a superb overtake, had Alonso turned in would we have seen it as Kamikaze Kobayashi and given him a penalty. Or again Kamui in Suzuka, always diving from behind for a series of superb passes at the hairpin. Did we blame Kobayashi or Alguersuari when they were banging wheels during the overtake? Look at Kubica’s series of passes in Singapore, nearly all diving from behind or alongside but not in front. We rightfully praised him for that superb drive. Alonso driving through the backmarkers in Monaco at the hairpin, all praised as great moves but again coming from behind. The only reason these overtakes were clean is because the lead driver allowed them to be so by giving sufficient room when he knew that if he did not there would be contact. Who is to say that if by some miracle we do get a tight WDC fight at the last grand prix this year. The way things are going now, the lead driver is actually endorsed to turn into the overtaker, if they both get taken out too bad, if they continue the guy trying the overtake gets a drive through, giving us a fitting Schumacher-Hill moment with the Villain possibly taking the crown.
I am not saying Maldonado, or Massa, or Alguersuari (contact with Di Resta) were solely responsible for the contact, but I am saying they have their share in the responsability for making an ‘avoidable’ collision a collision nonetheless. Even more, I am very disappointed that stewards are giving out harsh penalties to drivers that go out there, grab a car by the neck and race hard, willing to take risks. Ayrton Senna once famously said “If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver.” Defending is about making sure you do not leave a gap for the opponent to squeeze into as Senna so famously did against Mansell in 1992. Maldonado and Massa failed to do so. Maldonado could and should have hugged the inside in the run up to Ste Devote and Lewis would have always been unable to pass. He knew he had a faster car with a racey driver right on his tail so it would have been the wise thing to do. As it was now, he left a gap, and Lewis went for it, when Maldonado saw this he still turned in as if he was alone on track. Being a stickler for stewards’ consistency, we must also ask whether Maldonado is weaving quite badly on the pit straight. To me it definately seems like he is doing more than the allowed one move even before they got to the braking zone. Is that not what we all want to see, drivers going for it instead of playing the long strategy game? Equally for Massa, reviewing the footage, it is clear he has not yet started to turn in as Lewis poked his nose on the inside, yet as soon as Massa realizes this he turns in much sharper than the usual line. Just look at Webber’s line – who is right in front of them at this time- and see how Webber is still hugging the right barrier when Massa already starts to turn in. Webber effectively turns in much later than Massa despite being in front of him! Is that not enough evidence to show Massa deliberately turned in early to block off Hamilton which could only ever result in contact. Does Massa not at least share the blame for this?
I am not clamoring for penalties to be handed to Massa and Maldonado instead of Hamilton at all, but I am saying that these are racing incidents where both drivers share the responsibility and these incidents will happen when these guys go racing balls out. I’m saying no penalties should be handed out for such incidents. As long as noone blatently crashes into people with the intent to take them out or by sheer stupidity I say let them race! To penalize them is to castrate them. I for one do not like it one bit.