Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Hockenheimring, 2019

Ferrari’s fine for Leclerc’s unsafe release raises concerns

2019 German Grand Prix

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Team principals raised concerns Ferrari were not given a time penalty for releasing Charles Leclerc unsafely from his pit box during the German Grand Prix.

The team was given a €5,000 fine after Romain Grosjean had to take evasive action.

“He lost five positions there,” said Grosjean’s team principal Guenther Steiner. “He was in neutral, rolling, and then he had to put the gear in again .”

Asked whether the decision could encourage teams to take greater risks, knowing they won’t get a sporting penalty, Steiner said: “I didn’t think about that one, but we need to think about this one because it encourages people to pay.

“Take the risk and the FIA gets the money and we lose the positions. Everybody else wins apart from the guys who loses out.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said the decision showed his driver Max Verstappen had been unfairly penalised for a similar incident involving Valtteri Bottas in Monaco.

“I was surprised [by] the release of Ferrari, [which] looked very similar to a Monaco one to me, that the team only got fined. Otherwise Max would have had another podium in Monaco.”

Horner admitted the two penalties were slightly different in that Verstappen and Bottas had been fighting each other for position, but Leclerc and Grosjean weren’t.

“You want to see racing in the pit lane,” said Horner. “That was a situation where one was coming in and one was going out, so slightly different.”

Ferrari’s fine “arguably was the right decision,” he added. “Monaco is arguably the wrong decision. But some days it goes for you some days it goes against you.”

FIA race director Michael Masi insisted the decision to fine Ferrari was “quite clearly consistent with previous penalties”.

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Keith Collantine
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29 comments on “Ferrari’s fine for Leclerc’s unsafe release raises concerns”

  1. And I still don’t get how Hamilton got a penalty for going at the “wrong” side of the bollard at the pit entry but no penalty for endangering mechanics in the pit for Leclarc. Both should have gotten penalties.

    1. Because he broke the rules? It’s that simple.

      1. But he created a safer environment for himself and others by coming straight in, LeClerc and Ferrari made a dangerous place much more dangerous.

        The two cannot be directly compared, but Hamilton had already very heavily penalised himself with his mistake – surely a warning or license points, or even just a note that it’s been spotted but ignored due to exceptional circumstances? I’m not bothered, really – it didn’t affect the result – it just seems an odd decision, since doing another lap was more dangerous.

        I will never understand FIA stewarding decisions.

        1. drivers were briefed about the bollard

        2. But he created a safer environment for himself and others by coming straight in

          And I agree with that point, but think about the alternative, had he followed the rules: if he had gone on the track he might have been forced to retire before getting to the pits, either from the stewards deciding he was going around in an unsafe manner, or because the damage would be too great to make it around the track.
          Either way, he’s gaining an advantage from breaking that rule. So I think it’s fair, even if you take into account that he posed less of a danger for others this way (which I agree with).

          Leclerc’s situation is just plain laughable, to be honest. He should have had a 5 second penalty and the fine amount is ridiculous!
          It would be bad enough in the dry, with that many drivers coming in and out of the pits, let alone in the wet. People often say “but it’s not the driver’s fault”, and sure, if he waited for the go ahead it’s not. But the teams play multiple roles at every race, pit stops being one of the most important and directly affecting the race. Should we also give a driver a bonus -5 or -10 seconds at the end of the race if a pit stop goes wrong? It’s not their fault, after all! If we don’t, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the inverse also applies, and drivers get time penalties for some team errors, like this one.

        3. This is a peculiar explanation. So if someone has a big shunt at T1 (or T2 at some circuits), it’s OK to enter via the pit exit (assuming it’s clear of traffic), because it is subjectively safer than driving around the circuit?

          I’m not in an anti-Hamilton brigade, so I’m not going to bother digging up any specific past incidents. But I’m certain that pretty much any F1 driver has merrily driven a car around the circuit with a disintegrating tyre, which in turn also put out carbon fibre on the circuit. Not much concern about a safer environment that time, isn’t it?

          The only way of creating a safe environment is to adhere to the rules. Do the lap and re-enter the pits, or retire the car (on track if unavoidable, or drive it off where possible).

          1. You know what it reminds of? “Vettel wasn’t in full control of the car, so how could the stewards deem it unsafe, how he returned to the track?”
            In both instances I can see and understand what and why they did it. Doesn’t make it right, especially in light of the rules.

          2. I think that going the wrong way up the pit lane and cutting a small part of the entry when clearly sighted aren’t really comparable.

        4. But he created a safer environment for himself and others by coming straight in.

          Actually he didn’t, because he was already past the official pitlane entry, and thus had to take a perpendicular line across the track, which is unsafe in the face of incoming traffic.

          To avoid a penalty, you have to enter the pitlane via the prescribed entry. If you can’t (because you’re past it), either go another lap until you can, or retire the car.

          Hamilton had his incident next to the pitlane entry, thus after recovery he was no longer elligible to enter the pitlane, unless he felt picking up a penalty was better than driving one lap around.

    2. On telemetry by cutting the track like that, he was making negative ground (think of it like driving in reverse direction) because he passed the point of pit entry. In terms of absolutes he was being dangerous, in reality it was probably alright.

  2. So of Grosjean would have stayed on the pitlimiter-speed and collided with CL then CL would have a 5 seconds penalty, but because one took evasive action it’s only a $5k penalty? Treacherous territory. Like I posted on another article:

    you would think that with the likelihood of many drivers simultaneously pitting would be reason for a more strict approach: the likelihood of accidents with potentially dangerous outcomes is higher.

    1. +1
      The FIA should spare themselves any more troubles and just say that it did a mistake. It’s not like leclerc finished the race so no major controversy will happen.

      1. Agreed. I hadn’t paid much attention to the article the other day where Masi claims Ferrari’s fine was consistent, and I disagree that it was consistent based on the chart in that article where most fines were due to mechanical issues not unsafe releases, and I agree with your point @mcbosch that there was more reason for caution at a busy pitting time. CL should have had a 5 second time penalty for unsafe release because of how it affected Grosjean.

  3. Fine should be higher, and part of it payed, in this case, to Haas

  4. Much as I don’t like the driver being punished for the team’s error, there should always be a ‘sporting’ penalty to act as a deterrent. Minimum of a five-second penalty, but more for the serious breaches (which I actually thought this one was).

    Was odd on Sunday, simultaneously hoping Leclerc would catch and get involved in the top three and feeling angry that he wasn’t getting a real penalty for such a poor release.

  5. Everybody else wins apart from the guys who loses out.

    Guenther Steiner, 2019

  6. This is what I want to see. Drivers not getting punished for team errors. Same should be for Engine and Gearbox penalties. But fines there should be considerably higher. Though that is a way touchier subject.

    Poorly attached wheel, poor release where nothing happened just someone had to slow down, all should be financial punishments. If two drivers fight for position, then a sporting penalty sure. But in cases like that I was relieved he did not get a sporting penalty.

    1. I don’t entirely disagree, but the driver is part of the team so punishing the driver is punishing the team in all cases. I’m not all bent out of shape about it but I don’t see how this wasn’t a 5 second penalty for CL, which is also a team penalty, which could have also been negated by CL (theoretically) finishing 5 seconds ahead of his closest trailing rival. Considering how much they spend to find a few tenths here and there, 5 grand is cheap and could invite more of this behaviour as Steiner et al suggest, not that I think this about to start an alarming trend of teams releasing drivers prematurely for the cheap positions gained on the track. I don’t agree with Masi that the fine instead of the penalty was consistent in this case.

      1. 5 grand is cheap

        Indeed @robbie.
        Given that teams spend millions to gain 1/10th per lap, then $5k to ‘save’ 5sec in a race (or about 1/10th per lap) is the best return on the money they’ll ever get.

        1. @coldfly, even then, in the case of a top team that 5 second penalty could be quite cheap and there are still circumstances where it would be preferable to take the time penalty for a strategic benefit.

          In the case of Verstappen in Monaco, if Red Bull had held Verstappen in his pit box to avoid Bottas, they would have also lost a position to Vettel given that Vettel was directly behind Bottas – so, if they’d done what they are meant to do, which is to hold the driver in the box to avoid the risk of a collision, it would have left them in 4th.

          By contrast, in taking a 5 second penalty, the worst that could happen was Verstappen would end up in 4th anyway – so, in other words, ending up where he would have been if they had held him in his pit box – whilst the advantages were that it gained him positions over Bottas and gave him an opportunity to attack Hamilton for victory.

          For a cynical team boss, that case created a pretty significant incentive to take the penalty and gamble on the unsafe release. It becomes a preferable strategy given the penalty just means you’d end up with the result you would have had if you behaved properly, whilst the best case scenario means you’d actually gain a significant amount.

          That is why I would say that even the 5 second penalty is still far too weak a penalty when you consider that there is a rather cynical game being played here with the safety of the mechanics in the pit lane – because, after all, these rules were introduced primarily for their welfare. If you’re confident you can pull a 5 second gap, then strategically it becomes preferable to take the penalty to gain track position rather than behaving as you should – and when that is a viable strategic option, you know that the penalty system is fundamentally broken when it fails to discourage dangerous behaviour in the pit lane.

    2. @jureo
      Disagree here. F1 is a team sport, every mechanic and engineer in the team has the same importance (if not more imo) than the drivers. Because it’s a team sport penalties should be subjected to all.

    3. Teams get punished for driver errors, only fair that drivers share the same burden when the team screwes up.

      Its not like Leclaire changed the tires himself, engineered, financed the team, came up with all the strategies, etc. Some of his success is tied to the team effort, so the reverse is true.

      This us not the 100m sprint, this is a team sport.

    4. @jureo, in these sorts of situations though, the team is deliberately taking the risk because they think that it will benefit the driver to do so – in the recent cases of Verstappen in Monaco and Leclerc in Germany, it was about gaining track position. It wasn’t so much a case of making a mistake as more of a case of taking a cheap penalty for strategic advantage.

  7. It will, unfortunately, create dangerous precedence. The stewards, it seems, have been treading a thin line in fear of another backlash from fans and team alike, which then means they’ve lost their independence, and can no longer make impartial decisions.

    1. I don’t think it is that bad in terms of setting a precedence in spite of the point Steiner is making. I also believe the stewards do not fear backlash and overwhelmingly take each case on it’s own, independent of a fear of team or fan ‘backlash.’

  8. A fine like that is a pittance to any F1 team, let alone a Top 3 one. If you’re going to do a monetary fine, at least don’t make it substantial.

    Is it unfair to punish Leclaire for the team’s error? At first glance, yes but the truth is this isnt like say single athletics where most of the performance on the field is due to your own ability.

    F1 is a team sport, where an overall performance is due to the result of a large team and multiple departments. Engineers could screw up and the car won’t be fast or reliable. Drivers could screw up and undo hard work of engineers and pit. Pit could screw up a perfect drive, strategy could screw up good pits and drive, etc etc.

    They all benefit from each other doing well and suffer when another screw up.

    So while Leclaire wasn’t at fault, his pit crew very was. This wasn’t even a “racing incident” where drivers were trying to race, this was just sheer negligence.

    1. *If you’re going to do a monetary fine, at least make it substantial.

  9. GtisBetter (@)
    1st August 2019, 15:05

    Actually, Horner I don’t want to see racing in the pit lane. That is why they have a speed limit. It should be a safe zone, so mechanics, engineers and marshalls aren’t put at unnecessary risk.

  10. I think there should have been a time penalty as well as a fine, so I think Ferrari got off lightly. I doubt Williams would have been treated so leniently. As others pointed out, Alfa lost their points based on scant evidence while Ferrari endangered the lives of people and got what amounts to a grumble from their accountant as a punishment.
    It is pretty obvious that the combination of 80 km/h speed limit and what seemed like 10 cars wanting access to their pit boxes within seconds of each other just isn’t safe. Really there needs to be limits on the number of cars allowed to enter the pitlane at one time, e.g. 3 car, after which you have to wait until one of those three has had their tyres changed before more cars is allowed to go to their pitbox, or even a lower speed limit, e.g. 40 km/h that applies while driving passed pit boxes during a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car period.

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