Charlie and his three stooges : Stewarding slapstick in 2011

Posted: September 20, 2011 by thevillainf1 in Insights

Here at backmarkers F1 we’ve been highly critical of the FIA stewarding this year, and with some controversial (non-) decisions during the Italian Grand Prix the issue was back at the fore. I’ve said it countless times, both on the blog and the podcast, stewarding is terminally lacking in two areas: transparency and consistency. I’ve also been critical of the stewards ‘nanny’ approach to drivers and do believe we’re seeing too many penalties this year. However I’m also of the opinion that driving standards have gone down and that the interpretation of the one move rule is at the core of this problem. This post is not a call to have harsher stewarding in itself, far from it, but it is about how stewarding should be fair, consistent and transparent over the course of a season. With this post I will delve into these critical issues, then in a subsequent blog post I will  attempt a detailed analysis of all penalties dished out this year and uncover similar controversial incidents that failed to incur the stewards’ wrath.

1. Consistency

In a refreshing display of honesty, the driver steward for the Monza Grand Prix, Derek Daly, admitted after the race that he had failed to see the key controversial moment in the Schumacher-Hamilton battle, feeling he had let race direction down by not issuing a penalty for the move. One can only assume the other stewards somehow also missed the incident since it was never even under investigation. What I find baffling about this is that while the stewards took no action since apparantly they didn’t see what was only one the most defining moments of the Monza GP, it was race director Charlie Whiting himself who got on the radio to Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn to warn Schumacher for his dodgy defensive moves.

As we’ve covered in our discussion on the one move rule, article 16.1 of the sporting regulations explicitly states the following: “Incident” means any occurrence or series of occurrences involving one or more drivers, or any action by any driver, which is reported to the stewards by the race director (or noted by the stewards and referred to the race director for investigation) which …” So that basically throws out Derek Daly’s explanation of why Schumi didn’t get penalized because he had simply not seen the incident. Charlie had obviously seen it and thought it dodgy enough to issue a warning, so why did he not refer it to the stewards? Why did Schumacher effectively get a second chance by getting a warning first? According to reports, Charlie even issued a second warning to Brawn,  all on his own initiative. Why did other drivers who were penalized this year for similar behavior not get this warning and were issued with a penalty immediately? Ironically, I believe the Monza approach of Whiting issuing a warning first is the superior policy, but it flies in the face of fair and consistent stewarding over the 2011 F1 season. Like we said in the podcast, stewarding needs to be consistent over the year, if changes are to be made they need to be made in the off-season, to maintain a fair and balanced policy.

2. Transparency

When I talk about transparency – well the lack of it – I refer  to the absolute lack of information coming out of the stewards office and the horrible FOM coverage. The FIA publishes the stewards reports in the ‘post event information‘ on their website, but these steward reports are lacking all detail. Instead of motivating their decision, all these reports do is state driver X has been issued with a penalty, then uses a single vague term (usually ‘causing an avoidable collision’) to motivate the decision. Apparently, even the teams and drivers involved get no more information than this either, as was shown by Lewis Hamilton going to the stewards on his own initiative after Spa qualifying to find out why exactly they had reprimanded him.

Why can’t there be a detailed stewards’ report which motivates their decision? I’m not asking for pages of explanation, just a paragraph motivating the decision in detail, while releasing the footage and data the stewards have available. Why is such footage withheld from the fans? It’s happened on numerous occasions this year: in Italy, Daly missed the Schumacher-Hamilton incident because he was looking at slow motion footage of an earlier incident between Massa and Trulli. That particular footage has not been shown to the public at all, why not? In the controversial q2 incident in Spa between Hamilton and Maldonado, the only footage available to the public was a crappy long range shot and Hamilton’s onboard which cut out a crucial 5 seconds. Where is Maldonado’s onboard? Where is the stewards explanation of how they interpreted the steering input from the telemetry? The only footage I’ve ever found on the Heidfeld- Di Resta incident on lap one in Germany was a fan made amateur video from the grandstands. Many more examples exist. When I’m looking for replays and onboards I’m forced to look to videos on youtube – posted illegally and FOM bloodhounds are always quick to have said videos deleted- because FOM posts only a race edit and one onboard lap from quali on their site. Where is the coverage FOM?!

For stewarding to be a credible process the public needs access to more of this information. It is always claimed – and probably rightly so- that the stewards have so much more information available to them than the public, which is all fine and dandy, but why the secrecy? It’s like telling a kid: ‘You’ll understand when you’re older’. Why can’t this wealth of footage and data be shared with the public? I understand the stewards would not share the actual telemetry as it would infringe on team’s internal secrets, but they can give us a short interpretation of it and why it helped motivate their decision. These stewards reports would be final, they don’t need to be up for debate but it would greatly improve the racing and perception of fairness. If stewards motivated their decisions sufficiently, it would slowly but surely help set new, fairer driving standards as everybody would know why exactly driver x got penalized. We’d have more to go on than just ‘causing an avoidable collision’. Right now it’s all up to speculation and every driver, established or a young gun, fills in what he believes is acceptable.

People will rightly say in defense of the stewards that they do not have time to write detailed reports as they’re constantly analyzing footage in the booth and while that’s true should that really be a problem? Hire a writer to sit on the stewards’ panel who’s only task would be to take down what the stewards say during their deliberations and then neatly summarize it to be published to the public, easy as that. As for the TV footage, it is inexcusable that time and again the public does not get to see crucial moments. The FOM charges ridiculous amounts of money for broadcasters to be allowed to cover the sport, which would be acceptable if the feed they provide was adequate, but it is far from that.

Stay tuned for the next blog post where’ we’ll dive into the meat and bones of this issue: an in depth look into all stewarding decisions of 2011.

  1. Great article! Stewards do a hard job but sadly the consistency and transparency often comes to question. I look forward to your next detailing the decisions. The one that stands out for me is Hamilton’s penalty for two moves in Malaysia (probably influenced by the warning for weaving last year) and Schumacher’s lack of one in Monza.

  2. JMD says:

    Well Steve, you’ve set this one up nicely ….. and your point is fair. In high school we had a debating team and this would have made a great debate both For and Against.

    Now, the FOM coverage is another bone to pick but that’s frankly a separate topic in it’s own right with the obvious overlap occurring when a racing incident is under investigation.

    My immediate reaction is that to this topic has two aspects;
    1) Again I find myself agreeing with the sentiments and the arguments. All good.
    2) The inconsistency in the steward’s rulings is the critical issue here.

    I venture that if this inconsistency was not a problem, the magnitude of the dis-harmony over stewards as discussed at length here and elsewhere would be less.

    I can imagine push back on any proposal at being more transparent. This push back being motivated by good old fear and a general unwillingness to change; traits the human species have long borne.

    Whilst the stewards decision remains final, any opportunities to challenge, newspaper articles getting in on the act and general debate is avoided largely with the bland “causing an avoidable collision” sterile formal report.

    If the inconsistency issue is addressed, my take is that much of the ‘problems’ with stewards goes away.

    Side note:

    Football [soccer] and the arguments over the 4th official [the 4th official being video replay].

    Whilst,logical, proven and as many feel very necessary, there is still push back from the governing authorities when it comes to adoption. Rugby and Tennis has it in place for years so it’s proven. Soccer’s issue centers over implementation and soccer being a running clock game and therefore not being conducive to the technology argument. But there is an old establishment to overcome also and underestimating it is folly .

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