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

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - EDD STRAW


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.

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