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Stewarding the stewards
Stewarding the stewards
Posted By:   |  06 Nov 2008   |  10:20 am GMT  |  10 comments

The FIA World Motor Sport Council made some important changes yesterday to the way stewards decisions are reached and explained to the public. This year, like previous years there were some big calls by the stewards which had an effect on the outcome of the world championship; I’m thinking in particular of the penalty Lewis Hamilton got in Spa and the one Sebastien Bourdais received in for colliding with Felipe Massa in Fuji.

One of the problems with these decisions is that they were not fully explained to the public and so many people arrived at the conclusion that there was some sort of ‘fix’ going on. Now the WMSC has approved a report by Alan Donnelly, who was the convener of the stewards this year, which makes some important recommendations. First the FIA will harness new technology to allow video replays to be analysed more quickly, so decisions can be made and penalties served, during the race. As multiple TV and CCTV pictures are generally the only means of judging an incident, the stewards need to have the best equipement available and now it seems they will have. Also, crucially, where an incident has been judged using video footage unseen by the public, this footage will now be made public on the FIA and FOM websites, together with the explanation. This is a great development and a real coup for transparency. It’s been forced on them really, by the rise of new media, in particular You Tube. It is in Bernie Ecclestone’s interest and that of the FIA, that any such footage remains in their control, not You Tube’s. [ more ]

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One of the biggest issues this year wasn't so much the penalties that were given but the explanations behind them. The FIA were either not forthcoming with this information or gave no evidence to back up the penalty given.

Hopefully this more transparent approach will fix this although it still may not fix the issue of penalties given that are not in the interest of the sport. Which is a grey area that will probably always remain that way. Such is the nature of motor racing.

I'm still convinced that Lewis' penalty at Fuji this year was unfair. All of the camera angles i've seen suggest that Kimi could have easily stayed on the track if it wasn't for Heiki going wide and blocking his path. Am I wrong on this one?


I agree the improvements are welcome (especially the increased use of video) but do they go far enough?

A large part of the problem is that the rules on fair racing aren't well documented. Precedents are often contradictory: if Lewis Hamilton got a penalty for forcing Kimi Raikkonen off the track at Fuji, why didn't Jarno Trulli get one for doing likewise to Sebastien Bourdais at Interlagos?

At present the FIA imposes F1's racing rules by giving vague definitions in the Sporting Regulations, then verbally informing drivers of how they will be enforced. This is plainly inadequate for drivers and fans alike.


Baby steps...

I really hope that the stewards get it right next season, but I see nothing in these new proposals to suggest _improvement_. What we will (or may) have is plenty of subjective video and paper documentation, but no improvement to the quality of the decision-making process.

I believe we need at least one permanent steward to aid consistency, so even if the decisions continue to be outrageous, at least they'll be consistently so.

Bring back TonyScott-Andrew?...


Yep, this is a big start. Of course we'll still disagree with them but it'll be a lot nicer to be able to say exactly WHY. We'll be disagreeing on equal terms if you will.


James, have you been able to see the footage that prompted them to penalise Bourdais at Fuji, or read any explanation of why the stewards did that?

It's still a complete mystery to me, and absolutely reeks of race-fixing.


JA writes: No I haven't seen any additional footage, but only really an overhead shot would give you a true picture. I'm told they based their judgement heavily on the fact that when the two cars cross the white safety car line, Massa's nose was slightly ahead, even though he is on a different line.

Anyway, the good news is next season all decisions will be fully explained!


Spot on regarding clips being shown on YouTube.

I think the FIA are ready for a new brand of fans to come into the sport, since Hamilton's title win, Formula One is reaching sky-high levels of popularity, certainly in Britain.

There are much more 'casual' fans, who watch now that we have someone to cheer on in Lewis Hamilton. I'm sure that's not only the situation in the UK, but all over the world. In my opinion, some of the stewarding decisions last season will have thrown new fans, who don't entirely understand the sport in the way that the more 'hardcore' support do.

It seems the FIA are opening up the sport to the fans in some ways, to cut out the rumours and doubt surrounding some of their stewarding decisions to help keep a positive image and atmosphere surrounding the sport, which is great.

I hope this makes sense, my writing isn't always ever so clear!

James - do you reckon that the stewards showing the reasons for their decisions will be positive, or merely create more debate, and doubt over their decisions?

Thank You, and I wish you all the best next year.

PS: It made our weekend chatting to you after Qualifying briefly at Silverstone!


JA writes: I think it was unavoidable, to be honest. The fact that clips of unseen footage of incidents has been appearing on You Tube and then being picked up by bloggers and linked in and shared on social networks, means that the debate has overtaken the sport, in many ways and is sure to move on further.

There was some home video, for instance, of the incident last year at Fuji behind the safety car showing Hamilton slowing ahd starting erratically and Vettel hitting Webber.

As I said in the post, the advantage F1 stewards have is time to make the correct decisions, unlike football referees and I imagine that this will all put more pressure on football to employ some element of 'video evidence' in refereeing decisions.

A bit of controversy doesn't go amiss in stirring up interest and F1 has traded on that over the years. But when it becomes possible to judge the judges, then they have to be seen to get it right.


First off James, I will miss your insightful, knowledgeable and interesting commentary next year, as will many others, despite what some may say!

I know Martin is quite outspoken in his views regards the way rules are enforced in F1, what are your feelings on the situation? I personally don't go by the thought that the FIA favour Ferrari, after all, it wasn't that long ago we had a host of rule changes and a new points system to try and stop Ferrari winning, but it seems that at every possible opportunity they try to engineer the championship so that it is closer, the excitement of having such a close championship finish must have generated (and will generate) huge sums of money for bernie and the sport as a whole, if Lewis had wrapped up the championship in China, Brazil would have been just another exciting wet race and the advertising wagons wouldn't have got half as much exposure, I feel F1 is becoming *too* much of a business now, thats evident in whats happened this past week.

For instance I assume you know that Alonso was holding a towel when he was weighed after winning the Singapore GP? Now I'm not saying strip Alonso of his win for the sake of a wet towel, but rules are rules, and if the FIA can penalise Seb Bourdais for allegedly causing a collision with Felipe Massa (yeah right...) then why not strip Alonso of his win, I dare say that would it have gone un-noticed had it been Lewis wearing a towel on the scales? Also note that Lewis finished 3rd, and had Alonso been stripped of Victory, Lewis would have been crowned in China. The most recent similar incident I can think of in Hungary 06 Kubica was disqualified for having an underweight car, and I'd hazard a guess to that margin being very very small, and Schumacher was promoted and got an extra point, at a time when he was chasing Alonso in the championship (and then there was Monza qualifying). Interesting stuff I'd just appreciate your opinion if you have time to spare. I don't think for a minute the whole sport is rigged, just maybe FIA interference goes a bit too far (or not far enough) sometimes. As you say with the stewarding changes hopefully this will no longer be an issue.

Kind Regards,



A wet towel could weigh half a kilo and had Lewis been holding it there is little doubt he would have been disqualified.
I disagree with Shane.

There has not been so much blatant bias shown in favour of Ferrari since the days of Jean Marie Ballestre, when it was Renault who could do no wrong.

Massa was very clearly in the wrong and should have been penalised, not Bourdais. The rules on that very situation had been mentioned specifically in the driver's briefing, the stewards then went directly against the briefing. Martin was quite right to express his outrage and disbelief at such obvious bias.

Do the stewards attend the driver's briefing? Obviusly they should and if they do what happened?

However Martin remains almost inert compared to James Hunt whose comments always brightened up the day.

Eddie Irvine, now there's a guy for comments!

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