FIA admits “lack of clarity’ in Monaco GP last lap
McLaren
FIA admits “lack of clarity’ in Monaco GP last lap
Posted By: James Allen  |  20 May 2010   |  10:10 am GMT  |  180 comments

The fallout from Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix continues. This morning the FIA has accepted that the way the Safety Car was handled on the last lap and the information given to teams was not clear and has said that new rules will be drafted to make sure there is no repeat.

Race control: New Safety car rules (Darren Heath)


According to a statement the incident, “Showed a lack of clarity in the application of the rule prohibiting overtaking behind the Safety Car.

“Adjustments to the regulations are necessary to clarify the procedure that cars must meet when the last lap is controlled by the Safety Car whilst also ensuring that the signaling for teams and drivers is made more clear.”

Given that there was an acceptance that the withdrawal of the Safety Car had not been handled correctly, it is surprising that Michael Schumacher should have been penalised so severely.

More research shows that the stewards may have had some options after all to apply a more common sense penalty to Michael Schumacher, rather than the one which dropped him out of the points.

A poll with a sample of over 4,000 on JA on F1 shows that 60% of fans think that the stewards got it wrong in the case of Schumacher.

Despite the intention being for the race to end behind the safety car, the procedure was not quite right, with green flags being shown instead of yellow as the cars ended the final lap.

It seems that when considering their options for penalties, the stewards were focussed on Article 16.3 of the Sporting Regulations which say,

“The stewards may impose any one of three penalties on any driver involved in an Incident :
a) A drive-through penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane and re-join the race without stopping ;
b) A ten second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop at his pit for at least ten seconds
and then re-join the race.
c) a drop of any number of grid positions at the driver’s next Event.
However, should either of the penalties under a) and b) above be imposed during the last five laps, or after the end of a race, Article 16.4b) below will not apply and 20 seconds will be added to the elapsed race time of the driver concerned in the case of a) above and 30 seconds in the case of b). ”

But later on in the same Sporting Regulations, in article 18.1, it says,

“The stewards may inflict the penalties specifically set out in these Sporting Regulations in addition to or instead of any other penalties available to them under the Code. ”

“The Code” is nothing to do with Pirates of the Caribbean but is instead the FIA’s Sporting Code, which applies across all FIA championships. This gives the stewards far more options.

Article 153 of the Sporting Code says:
“Penalties may be inflicted as follows in order of increasing
severity :
− reprimand (blame);
− fines;
− time penalty;
− exclusion;
− suspension;
− disqualification.
Time penalty means a penalty expressed in minutes and/or
seconds. ”

The Monaco stewards decided to impose a very tough penalty, but under the circumstances perhaps switching the cars back again to the original order might have been fairer. There were some indications on Sunday night that this was what might happen. So why didn’t it?

As the Code says, the Stewards are free to add a time penalty, it is not prescriptive of how long that should be, unlike the Sporting Regs. The problem is that the cars were all very close as they crossed the line.

To add a one second penalty would have dropped Schumacher back to 8th place, behind both Alonso and Rosberg. It doesn’t say that they can apply penalties in fractions of a second which is what they would have needed to do to replace Schumacher in P7.

I wonder whether the stewards were aware of their options under the Sporting Code. One would have hoped so.

Instead they applied the one penalty which cannot be appealed – the drive through.

This matter is now to be the subject of a meeting of the Sporting Working Group which will report to the F1 Commission and it is likely to lead to a change in the sporting regulations.

Meanwhile I can tell you that the teams involved have been monitoring your comments on this story and have remarked to me about the very high level of debate about this subject here on the site.

Thanks to all for your contributions.

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1

Absolutely agree that Schumacher should not have been given any more of a penalty than having his overtaking move declared void. The marshalls flags have to be the number one indicator to the drivers as to what is happening.

It’s not unheard of for a drivers radio to fail. In such circumstances would the stewards still ruled against the driver if he saw the safety car go in and green flags being waved?

There was no fault on Michael Schumachers part (nor any of the other drivers who made a mad dash to the finish line as soon as the safety car left the track) – the fault was with race control and the marshalls who waved the wrong colour flags.

And that from somneone who, to say he’s not Mr Schumachers number one fan, is a bit of an understatement.

2

Thanks James for a very good summary of the issues.

It actually seems to be clear that race control gave the wrong information by signalling that the safety car was being called in and by showing green flags.

If they had wanted the race to finish under safety car conditions and to apply rule 40.13, the correct procedure would have been to switch off the safety car’s flashing orange light (otherwise the cars would have been obliged to follow it into the pits) while continuing to display the yellow flags and SC boards until the end.

All the signs implied that the race wasn’t finishing under safety car conditions but the safety car was being called in on the last lap, meaning that there would be a short period from the first safety car line to the finish line where racing was permitted.

So Schumacher should not be penalised for wrong or, at best, misleading communication from race control.

3

Its probably been said already but I feel lack of clarity is symptomatic of nearly every race decision the FIA have been involved with,Spa 2008 being the doozy we all most remember.IMO Schumacher should have only been relegated back to his original position due to confusion on the prevailing rules,on everyone’s part.

4

James, do you know how the teams are informed of new sporting regulations? Surely they receive an announcement from the FIA, but I wonder if they all sit down and discuss it together with the FIA.

5

it’s good that FIA itself has accepted they didn’t handle the incident correctly, but now it’s such a shame that Schumacher was deprived of points for a silly “lack of clarity”..

and assuming Schumacher will race like his old self from Monaco on, i expect more of these incidents and talks involving Schumacher-Alonso-Hill-FIA in the future races..

6

This is a good gesture from the FIA to admit their fault in terms of the wording of the rule and it should set a good precedent for the future.

7
Robert Whitting

I am a lifelong F1 fan, ever since Australia 1994 when my father shouted at the TV in frustration at Schumacher. Since then I have never been a fan of him what so ever and always supported his rivals.

This time I would say that Mercedes GP should have had the benefit of the doubt based on the Green flags being waved and the race control declaring ‘safety car in this lap’. It’s a simple case of a rule clash and the FIA should have the resources available (ie lawyers) to proof read these regulations before they come into effect. Not a good episode for them I think, the cars should have been free to race on the last corner despite what most team principals thought in the heat of the moment.

At this level of sport with all the money flying around in general I would say that I am a little disappointed that the FIA can make a rule clash like this. This is a premier show and the fans should be treated as such.

8

Lack of clarity my ass! Lack of common sense is more to the point! And it was way over the top to penalize Schumi that heavily.

The “new” FIA has not exactly covered itself with glory of late!

9

HI James – one thing that I haven’t seen anyone mentioning in this whole saga is that Alonso’s car seemed to “fishtail” as he got on the power and slid sideways a bit which is why Schumacher could take advantage and overtake him.

What I don’t quite understand is the situation on re-starts where one driver makes a mistake: is the following driver allowed to continue with his existing speed. Imagine Alonso came to a sudden halt: should all the drivers behind him suddenly put on their brakes and then wait for him to get going again? This is a bit extreme, but imagine Alonso had, instead, brushed the wall and had to limp on slowly: what then?

There was the case when Trulli slipped off the track and Hamilton therefore overtook (as I remember) and was penalised (which seemed very unfair as he let him by anyway),

Also, can you explain why they changed the re-start rule to use a safety car line instead of the start-finish line? I presume this was to avoid the leader backing up the cars behind, but it makes it very hard for us poor spectators to understand when they can start racing again (or is it always as soon as the safety car peels off)?..We can all see the start/finish line!

Thanks for your excellent blog James 🙂

10

Gents,

It will be very silly to race when the cars were all stuck behind the SC the second before and would be relased for a 400m final sprint on the last lap… Huge risk of crashes…

On top of that I would find very unfair to see the potential winner 20s in front of the whole field, loose the race because all cars were regrouped behind a safety car on the last lap and some crazy idiot will take “a chance”

11

I am puzzled because the Ferrari team told Massa and Alonso that they couldn’t race so Alonso wouldn’t have been expecting Schumacher to overtake him. When he did see Schumacher make his move he accelerated and spun his rear wheels and then it was too late.

The real question is, why did the two teams read the rules differently?

One cannot blame Schumacher to try what he did, but the fairest result would have been to put him back into seventh position.

No wonder this rule needs sorting out!

12

“The real question is, why did the two teams read the rules differently?”

Because it’s F1, and each time tries to get an advantage wherever they can!!!

And sometimes the sport suffers because of it. *cough* double diffusers *cough*

13

am i missing something? in a normal safety car period, not at the end of a race.. the safety car goes in and the drivers arent allowed to pass until the start/finish line.. why would the end of the race be any different?

14

And the start/finish line rule was also changed, to a white line near the final corner. That is the new start/finish line for this season.

15

That’s not the start/finish line, you still have to get over the official start/finish line to claim for position and points.

And yellow flags always have been used when finishing under these conditions, they just made an error this time.

16

Because now they want the race to end under green flag because it looks better for the TV when the cars go fast over the finish line. So if the accident is only semi cleared, they say SC in this lap, but no overtaking.

17
Seymour Quilter

For me the elephant in the room is the very idea behind this rule! This rule exists so that if a race finishes under the safety car, TV viewers see only the F1 cars crossing the finish line. But this is a sham if there is to be no overtaking, even though green flags are being waved on the final lap.

18

in your words James ‘I wonder whether the stewards were aware of their options under the Sporting Code. One would have hoped so.’

It seems not given the stance taken since when they seem to have backtracked and I’m guessing had they known they might have gone for say one second penalty .

Whew!! – as has been said on another site if football fans were as vociferous on blogs as F1 fans seem to be then every Monday morning would be hell (or heaven dependent on your viewpoint) were

19

‘were’ at the end is superfluous sorry

20

There was another option which is not discussed at all:

Schumi keeping place 6 but being penalysed by moving him back by a number of places next race. Let the number be 0.

So there would have been a (formal) penalty, Ferrari would have appealed (they could, probably because it wasn’t a drive through) and there would have been a lot of confusion and discussion still going on.

But would this have been best for the sport doing it this way?

Opps did i see another loop hole by having the numbers not limited to positive numbers? Sorry for this FIA.

Hope i was using the correct english words in 50% of the writing.

21

Surely the reason for the ambiguous wording of the press release is because there’s actually no lack of clarity in the rule, but they don’t want to admit that Charlie Whiting messed up.

If the intention was that the race should end under the safety car, there was no need for Race Control to send any message at all to the teams. The SC would have come in, under the perfectly clear rules, everything would have stayed yellow and nobody would have tried an overtake. Once he told the teams the SC was coming in, it’s perfectly natural to think ‘why has he said that? It must mean the race isn’t finishing under the SC, so rule 40.13 doesn’t apply.’ That is what was unclear, and that is why James is correct in my view in arguing that the penalty on MS was unduly harsh. [Although to be fair, MS was also completely wrong in accusing Alonso of being asleep.]

Everybody has a high regard for Charlie Whiting, but this isn’t the first time that FIA has twisted things to avoid embarrassing him when he has made a mistake. Another aspect of this which hasn’t attracted much comment is that it was actually safe to race. There was no need for the race to end under the SC. CW is always prone to spoiling the races by keeping the SC out for too long, and this is yet another example of it.

22

Reubens did something really dangerous and gets no punishment, Michael tried an opportunists overtaking move and gets punished. It is so clearly wrong, all he should have to do is have the place taken back, if that.

23

The part of 40.11 that defines the procedure for ending the safety car period was adhered to, therefore it had ended. As far as I can see, it is that simple. The penalty would therefore seem to be a bit of a farce, but at least it has been dealt with quietly, and steps have been taken to clarify things for the future. I’m relieved to see that the FIA hasn’t used it as an opportunity for a display of power. Personally, I wouldn’t have chosen Todt to be FIA president, but I’m happy to put my hand up and admit that I might have been wrong.

Well done for spotting 18.1, but I don’t see why you assume that time penalties have to be integer numbers of seconds. For instance, “0.8 seconds”, is most definitely expressed in seconds?

I’m a little concerned about the race stewards English comprehension skills. With such complicated regulations, written in English, assessing this should perhaps form a larger part of the selection process. Unfortunately that would lead, at the very least, to a perceived bias in event stewarding. Translating the regulations would probably just muddy the waters further; fine distinctions can all too easily be lost. Anybody have a solution? I know that the regulations could probably have been written a little more clearly, but I personally I would struggle to rewrite them clearly enough.

24
Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Yes, I would guess that the point about minutes and seconds is so that penalties are not expressed in distances on the race track.

It is time as opposed to distance and whether or not time is expressed in whole seconds is irrelevant.

25

Ross Brawn correctly interpretted what the meaning of the words of the rules as written in conjuction with the actions of the stewards on the day. However, it is clear that while this was a correct literal interpretation the actual intention of the rules is to prevent the Safety Car crossing the finish line first.

As has been pointed out on several Internet forums with photographic evidence of Monaco and the end of Melbourne 09, the yellow flags should have remained out and so should the SC boards.

In my mind, I suspect Mercedes assumed most teams eould follow the intention of the rules but having spotted this loophole in the wording of it figured they could catch Alonso unawares. Much has been made of Alonso’s slide before Schumacher’s move but I suspect this was more down to a lack of concentration (being ‘asleep’ as one driver put it!) than to him being racey.

Of course, the stewards ruled in favour of the intention of the rule rather than the actual wording. Given that both Ferrari and McLaren have very publically confirmed this as their prior interpretation of the rule I think Mercedes knew there was a risk in attempting the overtake, although obviously they expected that their argument would prevail.

That having been said – I think there is certainly a case for Mercedes to take legal action against Race Control (NOT the stewards). Their handling of the situation caused the ambiguity, they could have said ‘Safety Car in this lap, Safety Car conditions to remain until end of lap’ and more importantly they should have kept the yellow flags out.

I think there is certainly a case to be answered here and given the loss of points impacts the financial reward at the end of the season I think that that might be a case Mercedes would win.

26
Mike from Medellin, Colombia

We have seen too many races ruined by ridiculous and out of proportion penalties that cannot be appealed….the most memorable being Spa 2008.

Maybe drive through penalties should not be one of the options of the stewards in the last 3 laps?

Teams should be allowed to appeal stewards decisions that have taken after the race….there is no sense in them not being able to do so.

27
Prof Bolshaviks

The odd thing about spa 2008. I assume you mean, Hamilton’s penalty, was I can remember a couple years before Montoya got done for the same thing in Suzuka, he did an illegal pass but then slipped behind and retook them. He was told to let the car back through, but I think he had passed more cars by then too. This is all very hazy, I admit. However I recall montoya being told afterwards that te stewards has said it was permissible after all.
It seems there are just some drivers the stewards go after. Alonso, Schumacher, Hamilton. Odd list of names.

28

Simpler solution,

why cant you finish the Race under the safety car? this would keep it simple for most of the people and we wouldnt need attorneys to decide whether what you saw on TV still holds!

if you want a Photo finish, they can tell the lead car (we heard Webber speaking to Charlie, surely the communication other way round is possible) to back off a bit and tell Bernd Mayländer to step on it!!

29

Will the stewards be replaced, fined or even banned ?? Unlikely i suppose but because it was Michael at Monaco they did what they did. A fair punishment would have been to swop him with Alonso BUT only because of the ambiguity in the rule. How can a racer not respond to ” the track is clear, the lights are green so you can race” or when he sees that the SC boards are gone and the green flags ( lights ) are out he races..and that’s what Michael is – A RACER. We miss your commentary in Cape Town James … Jonathan does not do it for us !!!

30

Come on FIA be magnanimous and reverse MSC’s penalty – at least restore him to 7th. I realise the effects of a ‘drive-through’ cannot be reversed – even when the driver was innocent, but this mistake can be reversed. Why not declare the result as things stood on the penultimate lap.

31

Meanwhile we found out that the stewards can handle only one rule infraction per race. They didn’t have time to rule on a driver throwing a two pound object directly into the narrow racing line right in front of an oncoming car.

32
Clayton Mendonca

If Schumacher isn’t handed back 7th place in Monaco, there is no hope for justice in F1. It’s as simple as that!!!! The rules weren’t clear enough and Schumacher has to be reinstated 7th place. I’ve watched F1 for nearly 20 years now, and if this continues, I’m just gonna switch off the television.

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