In the paddock: Edd Straw
Accepting your punishment, apologising and moving on – now there’s an example that more Formula 1 drivers would benefit from following
“GASLY HINTED HIS PENALTY WAS TRIGGERED BY PEREZ BEING VERY FORCEFUL POST-RACE”
Kimi Raikkonen did something extraordinary after the British Grand Prix. Having been hit with a 10-second penalty for booting Lewis Hamilton into a spin, he simply accepted the punishment matter-of-factly and apologised. That this is worthy of comment says a lot about the way teams and drivers respond to penalties in Formula 1, both those issued to them and to rivals. While Raikkonen’s reaction is not unique, for very occasionally drivers do accept penalties, usually they are railed against in no uncertain terms. And that is what leads to the proliferation of penalties.
Heat-of-the moment negative reactions can be understood. But in many cases, such criticisms are delivered long afterwards. A recent example came during the drivers’ parade ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel, who had been hit with a three-place penalty for impeding Carlos Sainz Jr during Q2 a day earlier, was asked if he thought the penalty was fair and fired back “no”. But Vettel also said something very perceptive on the topic later on.
“The rulebook’s now so fricking big, ”he said.“it’s a result of all the drivers, all of us. I think we’ve more or less all been there, whinging and complaining. In the end, you should let us sort it out on track.”
There’s a trace of irony here in that Vettel is, according to some of his fellows, one of the more vocal on such subjects in drivers ’briefings. But he’s right.
There was another example at Silverstone, with Pierre Gasly’s five-second penalty for contact with Sergio Perez that pushed the Force India wide and allowed Gasly to take 10th place. This meant they swapped positions after the race.
Gasly branded the decision “completely ridiculous”– but one thing he said hinted that the punishment was largely triggered by Perez being very forceful in the post-race hearing. “He finished P11 without a point, so he tried to blame me as much as he can, ”said Gasly.
Had Perez not blamed Gasly so forcefully, perhaps the stewards would have been able to let this one go. Drivers demand consistency, leniency or harshness when it suits them. And therein lies the problem. With the Raikkonen penalty, it does seem strange that what is superficially a similar incident to the Vettel/valtteri Bottas clash at the start of the French Grand Prix brought a different penalty. In both cases, a Ferrari driver made a misjudgement and clattered into the back of a Mercedes on the first lap.
Yet Vettel got a five-second penalty and Raikkonen a 10-second one. But beyond the superficialities, this comparison illustrates that no two incidents can ever be identical. And here we get into the tricky question of how outcomes should influence penalties.
In principle, the outcome should not impact the severity of the punishment. But while it’s a noble ideal, just as consistency is, grey areas make them difficult to achieve in the real world.
In France, Vettel was not attempting to make a pass, misjudged the grip and slid into Bottas. At Silverstone, Raikkonen was attempting a pass and got it wrong. The outcomes were also different, with Vettel in France dropping to the back and requiring a nose change, while Raikkonen continued unhindered in fourth place. You can argue that the different outcomes justify different penalties.
While you have to have sympathy for Bottas and Hamilton in the two Ferrari incidents and can understand Mercedes’ frustration, you can argue that both incidents were honest mistakes and should have avoided penalties just as easily as you could say the punishments should have been more draconian.
Perhaps the superlicence points system needs a revamp.
It’s a good idea, with 12 points over a one-year period leading to an automatic one-race ban (a point nobody has ever reached).
But these points always accompany other penalties.
Could both Vettel and Raikkonen have been given some standalone points so that drivers who make a few honest mistakes in quick succession pay the price?
Formula 1 has attempted to dial back the penalties, and the regulation that has been brought in demanding that penalties should only be issued when one driver is “wholly or predominantly to blame ”for a clash makes sense on paper. But it also ties the hands of the stewards. Vettel and Raikkonen were wholly to blame for their first-lap errors, hence a penalty almost becomes inevitable.
It’s understandable that drivers get angry about incidents in the heat of the moment after some wheel banging at some ridiculous speed. But after the event, things should be different.
Returning to the example set by Raikkonen, it’s in the hands of drivers and teams to take a more mature attitude to penalties.