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Parc Ferme: Don’t shoot the messengers F1 Stewards

Parc Ferme: Don’t shoot the messengers

Parc Ferme: Don’t shoot the messengers F1 Stewards

The Formula 1 Stewards ended up taking a beating as a result of the fallout following the Lando Norris – Max Verstappen Austrian affair.

Opinions have fallen between two extremes: Either Max did nothing wrong and was victimized by a British-biased FIA, or he committed a capital racing offence warranting him to be run out of the Paddock.

Them’s the regs

The truth is that the Stewards applied the F1 rules pretty much as the FIA prescribed them. In fact, on reflection, they could have issued Max a black-and-white warning flag for moving under braking but didn’t. This alone would suggest they don’t fall on the British-biased Fernando Alonso side of the fence.

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For those who wanted Max tarred and feathered, the Stewards applied a bland ten-second penalty and license black points that were neither fish nor flesh but the only recourses available. The problem here is the sporting regulations that govern overtaking, not those that apply it.

For the record, I think Max did nothing wrong based on the current framework and past application.

A positive step forward

The FIA’s decision to use strategically placed gravel after the white lines is a welcome move and deserves recognition. Where present, it relieves the Stewards’ burden of deciding whether an F1 driver has gained an advantage when leaving the track.

In effect, they have simplified regulations by allowing natural justice to prevail. A similar approach to the “racing” regulations could also help bring them some blessed relief.

Look to the F1 past

The rules for engagement used to be simple: If your front wheel was parallel with the other driver(s) when overtaking, the position was yours; if not, it wasn’t. Any fault was easily judged.

For those new to the sport, this courtesy did not extend to overtaking on the outside. Such an action was generally considered folly. If spotted by the other driver, you were considered fair game to be eased off into the bushes if you tried to stay there.

This may have been a gentleman’s agreement, but it was observed by all. The term “racing room” had not entered the F1 regulatory vocabulary.

Do it yourself

verstappen norris austrian GP crash f1

If “racing room” was needed, it required a driver to create it for themselves, normally by lifting. Faced with a choice between the scenery and coming off the fast pedal, the latter normally prevailed. Logic dictated a trip to the grass would result in lost time and more importantly, could precipitate a more uncomfortable end to the day. Common sense therefore, generally prevailed.

Let them race

The artificial overtaking at the British Grand Prix would suggest that there were stern words in the drivers’ briefing before the race. This, together with the pre-race Social Media bromance posts between Verstappen and Norris of “it’s me, not you”, suggested a higher authority also wanted to tamp down the fire.

Fortunately, the rain rescued the race entertainment, but what of the future?

More past than present

The current set of regulations would have been more relevant in the 60s and 70s. During this period, the possibility of serious injury or death was an F1 driver’s constant companion. However, conduct when overtaking was, to a greater degree, self-regulating since any contact could have meant the end for both parties.

The 1990 interview disagreement between Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna clearly demonstrated how the improved driver mortality rate changed driver attitudes. Both were right, for their era.

Less is more

These days, and thankfully so, the Grim Reaper is more of a stranger. Statistically, horse riding is a more dangerous activity, so maybe it’s time to de-regulate a bit in this area and give the Stewards a break.

Oh, and maybe consider deducting Championship points rather than applying them to a license… It might have more of a self-regulatory effect as we saw in the past!