The stewards at the Monaco Grand Prix have set an important precedent ahead of Sunday’s Grand Prix by giving eight GP2 drivers 25-second penalties for cutting the first corner on lap one.
The tough penalty has played havoc with the finishing order of this morning’s feature race. Lucas di Grassi, Nico Hulkenberg, Javier Villa, Roldan Rodriguez, Edoardo Mortara, Luca Filippi, Kamui Kobayashi and Dani Clos all had 25 seconds retroactively added to their race finishing times.
Among other changes, di Grassi was relegated from third to fourth, Hulkenberg from fourth to fifth, and Javier Villa lost eighth place (and, with it, pole position for tomorrow’s sprint race).
The ruling is surprising for a number of reasons:
Although all the transgressions took place on the first lap, the penalties were not handed down until after the race.
At past Monaco Grands Prix stewards have conspicuously failed to penalise drivers for gaining an advantage by cutting the first corner. Two years ago Takuma Sato and Christijan Albers passed Anthony Davidson at the start by cutting the first corner, and went unpunished.
On this occasion it does not seem as though all the drivers implicated gained advantages by cutting the corner.
Autosport’s write-up of the story quotes Andreas Zuber saying: “I think Nico [Hulkenberg] took advantage because I was already side-by-side with him.” It certainly did not look that way from the video I saw of the race and the picture above shows Hulkenberg side-by-side with Vitaly Petrov, not Zuber.
Since the barriers at the inside of Ste Devote were removed six years ago we have seen fewer first-lap accidents at the corner but also more instances of corner-cutting. It seems to me that if a driver cuts a corner there is no need to punish him unless he gains an advantage.
And if he does gain by cutting the corner, the correct punishment should be to yield that advantage back, not an arbitrary 25-second penalty which makes a mockery of the finishing order of the race.
Once again the FIA’s race management procedures is found badly wanting. This problem isn’t confined to F1, it happens in other championships too.
There will be no uproar on this occasion because it ‘only’ involves GP2 drivers. But it could just as easily happen again with an F1 driver (probably Lewis Hamilton) and it’ll be ‘Spa-gate’ all over again…