Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Suzuka, 2019

Why Leclerc’s penalty decision took four hours longer than Kvyat’s

2019 Mexican Grand Prix

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Two incidents in the last two races highlighted how F1’s stewards can take far longer to rule on some race incidents than others.

In Japan, Charles Leclerc collided with Max Verstappen on the first lap of the race. Yet the stewards did not issue a decision on the incident until long after the finish. It took them 236 minutes – almost four hours – to decide Leclerc was to blame, and give him a five-second penalty.

They reacted much more quickly when Daniil Kvyat rear-ended Nico Hulkenberg on the final lap of the Mexican Grand Prix. Officially, the verdict blaming Kvyat was issued 26 minutes later.

Viewers actually learned of Kvyat’s penalty much sooner as it was communicated to the television commentators ahead of being officially published. The turnaround was a mere nine minutes.

The length of time it can take the stewards to render verdicts has frequently been a cause for complaint among media and fans. FIA race director Michael Masi shed light on the reason for the delay.

In Kvyat’s case the explanation was simple: The stewards felt it was a clear penalty. “In their view, [it] could not have been more black and white,” said Masi, whose role involves reporting incidents to the stewards rather than ruling on them.

Leclerc’s case was, they felt, less clear-cut. The stewards also had to consider another matter to do with him driving on the track while shedding parts of his car.

The stewards also did not initially investigate Leclerc’s collision with Verstappen. According to Masi, this only decided to when they found new evidence on the matter. This added to the delay.

However the key difference between the handling of Leclerc’s and Kvyat’s collisions was that the stewards chose to hear from the drivers involved in Leclerc’s case before issuing a ruling. This did not happen with the Kvyat-Hulkenberg collision.

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As the Leclerc incident happened on lap one of the Japanese Grand Prix, that meant the stewards had to wait until he’d taken the chequered flag.

“If they’ve got an element of doubt, they will wait until after the race and it’s purely up to the panel of stewards to determine,” said Masi.

“If they want to get an understanding of the drivers, of their [side], that’s their prorogative. That’s why they’re there, that’s why the four of them sit there in the room and have a look at everything. If there’s something they’d like to get a better understanding of, they go for it.”

This can create situations where drivers are competing for lengths of time – virtually an entire race, in Leclerc’s case – not knowing the outcome of an investigation hanging over them. That potential uncertainty is “for the team to manage, not for us,” said Masi.

“Our aim is to get the right decisions. Sometimes they might take a little bit longer than we all like but I’m still a fan of having the right decision the penalty being applied rightly or wrongly.”

Other sports have introduced technology to improve the speed or accuracy of refereeing decisions. The examples of Kvyat and Leclerc show there can still be a wide disparity in how long it takes the stewards to make a call in F1. Masi says the stewards prefer not to alter the result after a race, but sometimes it can’t be helped.

“I think all of us overall have a desire that when the chequered flag drops you’d like to know [the result]. I don’t think there’s any doubting that one in a philosophical sense.

“However, if it’s going to a point of ‘do we want the right decision?’, and it takes a little bit longer to get to the right decision, so be it.

“[It’s] no different in some regards to a technical matter that’s found after the race. If you find a technical matter after the race, then guess what, it changes the result.”

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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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35 comments on “Why Leclerc’s penalty decision took four hours longer than Kvyat’s”

  1. I guess after Leclerc’s and Verstappen’s penalties the stewards had to show they were paying attention.

    1. Right, with Kvyat no attention to anything at all. They didn’t even bother requesting telemetry.

  2. Getting the drivers to give their “view” is superfluous imho.
    It’s not what the drivers thought that is relevant, it’s what they did. Stewarding is an ACTION related review. Thoughts don’t count.
    “I didn’t see him there, gov, did I? I was distracted by the back marker ahead.”
    “I thought I left room on the inside, honest gov”
    “Run him off the track, moi? Never”
    Etc Etc Etc..

    1. Exactly. Verstappen is always saying “he just turned in on me”. Mostly because he puts himself in the path of a driver into a corner, by breaking too late. By his view, he is always right, but he is getting penalties all the time. So how is his opinion relevant?

      Monaco and Spa this year come to mind. Clearly at fault at both. But he still thinks he is right.

    2. In some cases, it can affect whether a mitigating factor is found – or indeed an aggravating one. Such reviews can lead to increases, as well as decreases, in the penalty issued.

  3. We all know the real reason for the variation in investigation time and penalties, and it’s frankly putting the sport in disrepute.

    1. And what is this reason you’re referring to? Is it the same reason Verstappen’s driving into Leclerc at Austria decision took so long?

      1. Driving into lec… You have a very funny view on that incident I see :)
        Nevertheless it took way to long.

    2. @balue Exactly.
      Do we need to spell it out? It’s obvious. Twice now Leclerc has escaped lightly or with no penalty – Monza where he was given a black and white flag, but continued to drive erratically and still received no penalty. Then in Japan driving around the track with bits falling of his car, despite being told to pit by FIA, with a lump taking out Hamilton’s mirror, centimetres from his head, and a pathetic penalty.
      Masi: we can see the strings being pulled.

      1. @ho3n3r @david-br It’s not just Ferrari. It’s about not really wanting to give anything to the big protagonists, and I suspect the delay is also so they can consider about the championship impact. As we’ve seen before with Bernie and Max with a little help from Charlie, there was outright steering of championship using penalties, and it seems new boy Masi has gotten the memo. “Listen Michael, we want the championship to be decided as late as possible. This is good for the shareholders and the fans, and therefore for F1. Capice? You can do whatever you want with the low-lifes”

        1. @balue I think you’re correct that it’s a factor, they don’t want to decide (or be seen deciding) a championship by penalizing a driver still just about in contention. But Leclerc’s treatment in the two races I mentioned seems to me far beyond other cases of leniency.

          1. @david-br No because the one ruling that caused such an outrage that the race director actually had to join regular press conferences just to explain himself, was for allowing Hamilton to cut the T1 chicane and come out 100 meters in front of the field at the race start in Mexico 2016.

          2. @david-br, we have had explicit comments from the stewards that seem to confirm that the championship standing and relative popularity of a driver is taken into account when deciding how harsh a penalty should be.

            When Vettel hit Hamilton under the safety car in Baku in 2017, Paul Gutjahr – one of the stewards – was later quoted as stating “we did not want to influence the world championship too much” as one of the reasons why they chose not to impose a harsher penalty on Vettel.

            Similarly, we have also seen penalties towards other drivers being made harsher because they have collided with high profile drivers. Back in 2012, when Grosjean was given his one race ban for the crash in the 2012 Belgian GP, the ruling explicitly mentioned the fact that he had “eliminated leading championship contenders from the race” as a reason for imposing the race ban – suggesting that he wouldn’t have been given a race ban if his crash had involved midfield drivers instead.

            I do recall that Maldonado also suggested that some of the stewards did have a tendency to automatically assume that some drivers were guilty simply because of their reputation. Now, you might say that he would say that, but some of the stewards did subsequently make comments which suggest Maldonado is right and driver reputation is considered – with some stewards being more likely to blame the driver with the worst reputation, or to penalise them more harshly, than they would compared to other drivers involved in the same incident.

            In that case, there was the vicious circle that, if a driver was being hauled up before the stewards, then chances are he’d get a bad reputation – meaning that he’d be more likely to be hauled in front of them again for misdemeanours that others wouldn’t be, giving them even more of a bad reputation.

          3. @balue Probably the biggest recent outrage, though, well undoubtedly the biggest, was the Canada decision to penalize Vettel. That caused uproar and triggered a weeks-long attempt by Ferrari to reverse it. But OK, I get your point. it’s the top teams in general. The top 2 I guess, given Red Bull haven’t seen much leniency. I just disagree.

  4. One thing that 100% should be considered in the 2021 regulations is just how damaging even the most minor of collisions can be. Now, in most cases, whenever there is any contact, where hefty or slight, at least one of the parties has damage as a result. They should make the designs regulations in such a manner that most collisions don’t end with one driver having to drop all the way back and losing 40 seconds. The answer to this is most likely simplicity in design. Most of the cars from the early 2000s didn’t have fancy bargeboards or boomerangs or whatever, so even side-to-side contact would usually not result in any significant damage.

    1. @mashiat
      I actually really like this idea. Can be quite a simple addition to the rules really – just an impact test for each variation of suspension and upright. Will make the cars heavier but will make sure we have more cars on track at the end of the race.

      1. @robinsonf1 I would love if something was implemented to deal with this. People often say that stewarding decisions and penalties are the reason drivers don’t do daring moves, but actually, I’d argue that’s very minor compared to the main culprit, which is that a driver knows that even if he gets it even slightly wrong, he’ll end up with endplate damage that will cost him 30-40 seconds. Look at MotoGP, probably higher risk than F1, but the riders are willing to try daring moves in the knowledge that if they run side-by-side with another motorcycle, there is very little risk of them actually getting any damage unless they themselves completely lose control of the bike, which happens rarely.

    2. They tried that with FE. It ended up being bumper cars… Watch any touring car class what happened when you have more resilient cars. In the case of Verstappen, it was the Pirelli that failed. Leclerc also almost had his tire cut by Vettel, but it survived.

      1. F1 is not FE. I cannot imagine a scenario whereby F1 would be like FE, or F2 even. However, would it be so bad if we got a bit more side-by-side action and excitement? It would certainly be an improvement on the simple DRS passes we see with drivers not called Ricciardo or Verstappen unwilling to take any risks under braking.

  5. The stewards have such a broad choice of penalties now that it’s not like drive-through or nothing. I would much prefer them taking a decision quickly and sometimes slightly wrong than wanting to have the good decision after 4 hours…

    1. Also Vettel of Castrated donkeys didnt get penalty for shoving hamilton on grass which was downright dangerous. Grosjean did similar thing in Spa 2012 leading to that massive crash. Seems like both drivers of this team wont be penalised severly unless they kill one of their on track rivals.

      1. I definitely thought that would get a penalty. Hamilton had every right to keep his foot in it and let Vettel trigger a huge crash. I was surprised how little attention was paid to that compared to the Verstappen turn 1 incident that was hard racing rather than dangerous idiocy.

  6. The disparity between two cases highlights one issue: when should the stewards hear from the participants involved in the issue being investigated? It might be much clearer to state that either all on track collisions are decided by the stewards without any hearings, or that all incidents will be investigated after the race (the not-so-good option).

  7. Verstappen overtake Magnussen off the track, stewards didn’t even take notice… :/

    1. notme, they did notice Max first hitting Magnussen and then passing him off the track – before promptly announcing that they would not take any further action.

  8. I thought a simpler explanation would be that they have to put more time and attention to penalising a team like Ferrari as opposed to a team like Toro Rosso.

    1. And extra time to find an excuse if they don’t penalise them ;)
      @todfod

  9. I just miss Charlie. The standard of stewarding is returning to the dark ages. So much incompetence is difficult to know where to begin, I now feel apathetic to it tbh.

    1. It was very dark while he was in charge to be fair.

      Especially the last few years. Totally out of touch. Nice bloke and all but his performance was woeful.

  10. @keithcollantine @dieterrencken

    There are a few wording mistakes (autocorrect?) you may want to take a look at throughout this article:

    According to Masi, thistle only decided to when they found new evidence on the matter.

    This did not happen worth the Kvyat-Hulkenberg collision

  11. Every other week Masi is giving statements to cover up incompetence under his watch and making up things as he goes along. Rubbish.

  12. 4 hours to decide is unacceptable and smacks of incompetence.

    1. either incompetence or they’re struggling to come up with an excuse to do or NOT do something…

  13. Our aim is to get the right decisions. Sometimes they might take a little bit longer than we all like but I’m still a fan of having the right decision the penalty being applied rightly or wrongly…CANADA??

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