Have the stewards really lightened up in 2017?

2017 F1 season

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Before the 2017 season began much was made of how Formula One officials were going to lighten up and let drivers sort out their differences on track.

That seemed to be the case at the most recent race in Spain, where a series of incidents was met with no more than a shrug from the stewards.

Have the stewards really softened their stance or is something else going on? Let’s take a close look at the data from the first five races of each season.

At first glance, there is no evidence of a fall in the number of penalties being handed down by the stewards. In fact it’s risen slightly, despite there being fewer cars on the grid this year and therefore fewer competitors to penalise.

But the striking detail here is the rise in the number of investigations. The outcome of these extra investigations in 2017 has usually been not to hand down a penalty.

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This leaves us with the impression that the stewards aren’t necessarily being more lenient, they’re just investigating more incidents which didn’t deserve a penalty to begin with.

However this only gives us part of the picture. The number of penalties may not have fallen, but are the penalties which are being issued less severe? Here are the sanctions drivers and teams picked up over the same periods:

Penalty 2016 2017
Pit lane start 2 0
Fifteen-place grid drop 0 1
Ten-place grid drop 0 1
Five-place grid drop 3 5
Three-place grid drop 2 2
Ten-second stop-go penalty 1 0
Drive-through penalty 3 0
Ten-second time penalty 2 1
Five-second time penalty 2 5
Suspended €25,000 fine 0 1

Two significant differences are evident here. The first is we’ve seen a big increase in the number of grid drops issued in 2017. However most of these have been for gearbox or power unit changes where the penalty is fixed by the rules. This doesn’t show the stewards have been harsher, just that the cars have been less reliable.

The second is a drop in the most severe race penalties. No one has had a stop-go or drive-through penalty so far this year.

Perhaps the clearest example of the change in attitudes comes from how first-lap incidents have been treated. In Bahrain last year Valtteri Bottas received a drive-through penalty which ruined his race after tangling with Lewis Hamilton at the first corner. But in Spain last weekend Bottas and two other drivers were cleared following their first-lap collision.

It’s easy to exaggerate how far the stewards are letting the drivers ‘off the leash’ as far as penalties goes. McLaren were surprised to see Stoffel Vandoorne receive a penalty last weekend for his incident with Felipe Massa last weekend, given the clash removed Vandoorne from the race and left Massa unaffected.

And it’s also true that the rapid year-on-year rise in penalties had already begun to reverse last year.

But there has been a clear softening in the stewards room in 2017, and last weekend’s race was the clearest example of it so far. That will come as a relief to some of the drivers, particularly those who were edging dangerously close to the 12 penalty points which would incur a race ban. Sebastian Vettel, Carlos Sainz Jnr, Jolyon Palmer and Pascal Wehrlein are all at least halfway there.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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41 comments on “Have the stewards really lightened up in 2017?”

  1. As long as you only crash or trackextend and not do anything Really bad like drive past cones or miss an Anthem they sure have

    1. @mrboerns
      Yeah, the concept of issuing potentially race-relevant reprimands for failing to approach one’s lips to the local dictator’s buttocks in time, or penalty points for driving around the wrong side of a bollard doesn’t quite convince me.
      If they insist on gathering the cattle for those silly anthem ceremonies, a fine for missing that would be more than enough. No reason for a connection with a possbile grid drop.
      The same goes for infractions that weren’t really dangerous. Cutting a corner or driving over a line you’re not supposed to drive over should be punished with a sanction that at least negates any on-track advantage that may have been gained, and adds some additional disadvantage to discourage from such a behaviour. Penalty points should be strictly reserved for potentially dangerous driving, i.e. causing collisions, forcing cars off the track, failing to retire a car that’s losing pieces of bodywork, entering the pits at excessive speeds, purposely overtaking under yellow flag conditions, things like that. After all, the reason for penalty points is the exclusion of drivers whose on-track behaviour is deemed to be dangerous, not to instill fear on drivers who were involved in minor incidents once too often.

      1. issuing potentially race-relevant reprimands for failing to approach one’s lips to the local dictator’s buttocks in time

        Is this the greatest quote of 2017?

        1. @hugh11
          You seem to like euphemisms. :P

    2. Roy Simpson
      26th June 2017, 14:07

      The fix in in for Vettel. Rams car from behind (telemetry shows Ham. did not brake), passes car under SC, swerves into leader to try and put him out of the race. 10 sec penalty. This all happened in 10 secs. The stewards are basically saying, anything Vettel does is OK. Vettel is a Pro Driver, been around for years and is acting like a new kart driver. Real penalty should have been a DQ and suspension. Never happen, Ferrari owns F1, they get $100 Million before anyone else gets paid, penalties that are a joke. Vettel is a real roll model for out children, not.

  2. How long is it before points refresh on the super-licence? I.e how long would Vettel need to wait until his licence is clean again?

    1. Points last 12 months. Vettel will go down to four on July 10th providing he doesn’t collect any more before then.

  3. If the tracks were designed better you would not need stewards in 90% of current cases

  4. i’m glad that in Spain they didn’t investigate the Vettel vs Hamilton incident when they touched, but wasn’t Vettel’s move a bit illegal? I mean he clearly didn’t leave any room for Hamilton to go around on the outside, i thought there was a rule that states if you are alongside, you need to let a car’s width of space…

    1. It was the similar move that seems to be ok in f1. Drivers are allowed to push others off the track if they do it in corner exits. Hamilton pushed rosberg off the track at least dozens of times and I don’t think anybody except rosberg has been given penalty for it.

      1. The Skeptic
        18th May 2017, 14:43

        Rosberg was penalised for pushing off at the corner entry.

        At the corner exit, it is expected that the car might understeer in hard racing.

        At the corner entry, it can only be the driver that understeers…..

        1. Belgium

        2. The difference is that Rosberg was behind at the braking point. Both in Austria and in Germany.

          You are only allowed to take the racing line when you are in the lead and Rosberg wasn’t. So he should have held his own line and leave the opponent enough space on track.

          Vettel was ahead of Hamilton and therefore Vettel was allowed to stay on the racing line and Hamilton should yield.

        3. The understeering explanation is pure nonsense. Drivers have control of their cars. Depending what kind of line the driver chooses in the corner dictates whether he will drive the other car off the road or not. It is a choise. And because the car on the outside is always in weaker position it is always beneficial for the car on the inside to push the other one off the track. Some drivers like hamilton do this everytime, some drivers like vettel do it sometimes. Some drivers rarely if ever do it (ricciardo, alonso, raikkonen)

      2. That is absolutely correct, Hamilton has taken from where Schumacher had left and has made it the de facto rule in F1. Not that it is of everyone’s liking. I would much prefer if one couldn’t push wide a car that is at least half alongside. It would be consistent with the treatment of the corner entry, and it would make for better racing – easier to pass, battles lasting for several corners. What more could you expect from a very straightforward rule change ?

        As for understeering, what Hamilton usually does and what Vettel did in Spain is clearly deliberate – and why would they not do it deliberately, since it is OK with the stewards.

        1. You don’t understand the actual rules. The driver who is ahead has the rights to the racing line.

          It’s just the idiotic Mercedes/Wolff dictate that necessitate Hamilton coming up with nonsensical excuses like “understeering”. He was completely in his right to hold the line. Rosberg did exactly the same back in cases where he was ahead. Sometimes even when he wasn’t … and then he would get penalised. It really is that simple.

    2. It was a non incident that annoying numpties keep bringing up

    3. Neil (@neilosjames)
      18th May 2017, 20:38

      You only need to leave a car’s width on a straight when defending a position on the approach to corners. It doesn’t apply in corners.

      In corners, generally – with the stewards, and by the rule book, and by how it should be – it’s OK to push a rival wide if you yourself maintain a normal, or very close to normal, racing line. You’ll only get in trouble if you veer away from a normal line in order to force the other car off (Rosberg to Hamilton in Austria last year, for example).

  5. Another small change I’ve noticed this year (it may have happened sooner, but I’ve only noticed it in 2017) is that the stewards notifications now say incidents are ‘noted’ rather than ‘under investigation’. It’s a small change in terminology but feels far less heavy handed somehow. More ‘don’t worry, we saw it’ than ‘hold on, we’re just choosing a penalty’.

    1. @bookoi

      the stewards notifications now say incidents are ‘noted’ rather than ‘under investigation’.

      Yeah, that’s a smart little change. Of course, it means 100% the same thing. But it’s a known fact that meaningless words can heavily influence our perception.

      1. Like when a little wheel goes round on your computer with the words connecting or working when you know full well it isnt

      2. Not exactly. “Noted” means the stewards are aware of the incident. “Investigating” means they’re actually looking into it.

        I’ve seen a number of incidents which were noted, but not investigated (Hamilton running off at turn 1 in Spain, for instance).

        I’m curious if Keith’s stats are for “investigated” incidents, or “noted” incidents, since it would probably make a difference in the first bar of his graph.

        The stewards do seem more likely to write off incidents as “racing accidents”– last year, if two cars touched, there was going to be an investigation and probably a penalty.

    2. Well spotted. I also noticed and liked the change. For the casual fan “investigated” sounds much more serious than “noted” and will bring them to the sport as well.

      Keith, one more thing you should check on is how many Lap 1 incidents have been investigated and penalized compared to last year. I believe that has been the largest change.

    3. @bookoi

      It hasnt replaced the “under investigation” message which is still there when something is indeed under investigation.

      I think its more like “Dont worry everyone the stewards saw what happened and its ok”

    4. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      18th May 2017, 18:16

      I’d like to see them hand out ‘warnings’ rather than ‘5 second penalties’ for minor misdemeanours, then give a drive through if they offend again. Maybe they could even carry over to the next race. Personally I find it preferable when the finishing order is the order on the road. Tacking on 5 and 10 second penalties dilutes the purity a little

    5. I’m getting the feeling they’re issuing these ‘noted’ declarations in an attempt to get the drivers and teams to stop moaning about the incident on the radio: “Yes, we saw what happened, so you can calm down and stop the playacting.”

  6. Good to see far less interference from Stewards. Although some of their actions still are puzzling.

  7. I am just so glad they let that ridiculous ‘Verstappen’ rule go. Vettel v Bottas was epic. But Bottas would have been punished under it.

    1. Every single rule that spawned from Verstappen showing everyone how to drive is stupid.

      The only good thing about that rule is that only Vettel got punished by it.

    2. The Vettel v Bottas overtake wasn’t the same as the Verstappen rule. Vettel faked moves behind Bottas, once he had made his move down the inside, Bottas didn’t move. Verstappen on the other hand would have waited for Vettel to make his move then cut him off in the braking zone !
      Imho they should have kept the Verstappen rule, it’s dangerous.

  8. The rulings of the stewards are inconsistent:

    * Wehrlein was given a five second penalty for diving into the pitlane late and passing a bollard on the wrong side. This affected no other driver and put no-one at risk, yet Wehrlein was penalised and ultimately lost the seventh place finish he had earned.

    * After his ambitious overtaking attempt on Vettel, Hamilton left the track and rejoined immediately instead of passing the bollard as he should have. In doing so, he gained a clear advantage – or rather, did not suffer the disadvantage that adhering to the rules would have entailed – yet the stewards chose to take no action. This ultimately decided the race as Hamilton rejoined close enough to Vettel to retain DRS and was able to overtake him.

    This inconsistency hurts F1 in the long run.

    1. Sorry Henrik but your comment is flat out wrong. Firstly the pitlane entry line has been a rule for years and many drivers have had a penalty because of it.

      When it comes to the Hamilton vs Vettel incident then the first point to note is Hamilton did nothing wrong. The rule was if a driver goes left of the kerb they must re join by also going left of the cone. Hamilton didn’t go left of the kerb therefore didn’t need to go left of the cone.

      1. No Tom, you obviously do not get it and are blinded by having a favourite who in your eyes can do no wrong. According to the RULES, BOTH Wehrlein AND Hamilton should have been penalised because they were in breach of them equally! You see Tom, the RULE is that if you go off the track you must rejoin in a safe manner and that is defined as passing on the correct side of the bollard. Hamilton did not do that, therefore he DID something wrong – he broke the rules. Furthermore, by doing so he gained an advantage, one that ultimately resulted in his “winning” the race.

        Now get this: Even if you think Hamilton “did nothing wrong” the rules MUST apply equally to all drivers whether their names are Hamilton or Vettel, Wehrlein or Palmer. Nor should it matter for which team they drive or the reace position they were in. Break the rule, incur the penalty.

        1. @Henrik
          They are completly different rules and put in place to deal with entierly different issues. That alone would make this an useless comparison but add to that the fact that Hamilton didnt even break the rule and Pascal gained his fine P8 through this maneuver despite the penalty, what are you even talking about???

        2. But get this @Henrik Hamilton didn’t break a rule ! That’s a fact not my personal opinion. I completely agree, break a rule and get a penalty BUT he didn’t break a rule.

          They have the exact same rule in place in Canada so this is nothing new.

  9. Mark (@iceman153)
    18th May 2017, 18:40

    This analysis should only be including the incidents spawned from on track car interactions here, as their intent was to be more lenient with on track incidents, not for gearbox changes due to mechanical failues, or for that silly force india driver number issue. If these are filtered out I think you might see that they have been more lenient.

    1. Exactly. A bit of constructive criticism for a great website: As @iceman153 says, half of the data in this article are irrelevant. Apart from that, the other half of the data are lacking: Among the investigations following on track infractions, what kind of infractions caused them? The difference is huge between having, say, 20 investigations for causing a collition and 20 investigations for cutting a corner.

  10. This doesn’t show the stewards have been harsher, just that the cars have been less reliable.

    Honda, you mean.

  11. This leaves us with the impression that the stewards aren’t necessarily being more lenient, they’re just investigating more incidents which didn’t deserve a penalty to begin with.

    This is the central problem in analysing the situation. If the drivers are all well-behaved in year 1 but drive like hooligans in year 2 then a rise in investigations wouldn’t be evidence of tougher stewarding. The best we can do is look at the number of investigations which result in a penalty, a figure which has clearly shown a steep decline. The raw number of investigations is dependent on the behaviour of both the drivers and the stewards, and teasing out the distinction is difficult ans subjective.

    Over a large number of events you would expect the number of genuine driver infractions to approach a mean value, but five races is too few to rely on this.

    1. Edit: the fraction of investigations that result in a penalty.

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