Alexander Albon, Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull Ring, 2020

F1 has room for improvement as stewards’ room becomes battleground for top teams

2020 F1 season

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What Formula 1 needed on its return to action at the Red Bull Ring was a total focus on on-track action combined with lack of paddock drama. This was not entirely delivered, and was perhaps avoidable.

Red Bull and Mercedes fought each other as fiercely off the track as they did on it. The scoreline between their pair read 1-1 following disputes over the W11’s Dual Axis Steering system (DAS) and Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying lap.

The latter proved controversial as the stewards originally cleared Hamilton for failing to slow for yellow flags triggered by team mate Valtteri Bottas, who slithered off at turn four on his final qualifying run. For whatever reason, Hamilton’s in-car camera wasn’t operational at the time of the incident. But new evidence came to light overnight from F1’s 360-degree camera, which led to Hamilton being handed a three-grid penalty.

This came about after a review was requested by Red Bull on the basis of the new evidence. The right of review is permitted by article 14 of the International Sporting Code, which governs all FIA championships and series, and states that stewards may decide to “re-examine their decision following a petition for review” by “either one of the parties concerned and/or a party that is directly affected by the decision handed down”.

So far so good, and the matter was dealt with accordingly, as explained by F1 race director Michael Masi. But the question remains why it took a request from a rival team for an incorrect verdict to be overturned, and could the stewards have done so without prompting from Red Bull?

Start, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Both Red Bull drivers gained places at Hamilton’s expense
As Masi acknowledged, the FIA could have requested review. Article 14 further states that “the secretary-general for sport of the FIA” may request do so. There could, of course, be numerous reasons why the secretary-general did not or cannot make a specific request, However these 360-degree views have been on cars since 2018, and as the regular onboard camera view was missing, it should have occured to someone that this material could be located.

Inevitably, the conspiratorially-minded will question the FIA’s motives in not overturning the original verdict. In the FIA’s defence, the 360-degree footage is not immediately available as it needs to be stitched together. Nonetheless, perhaps the stewards could request F1 to expedite processing of footage needed for investigations and delay hearings if necessary material is not available.

Equally, teams who become aware of new evidence should in the first instance alert the FIA, and only file a request for review should the governing body’s Secretary-General fail to submit a request for whatever reason.

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The DAS case was substantially more complex, for the operation of this sophisticated system needed to be analysed in both technical and sporting terms in order to ascertain whether it is in breach of any provisions of either regulations. After a six-and-a-half-hour investigation the stewards determined DAS, a device that has caused controversy since end-February, to be legal.

So far so good, but the overriding question is whether a team should have to wait until after the first day’s running of the first grand prix of the season before lodging protesting a device first seen during testing in February, when a number of teams questioned its legality. To be fair, though, much of the chatter was aimed at figuring out how the device worked.

Technical protests can only be lodged after a team has operated a car in an official session with a suspect device or whatever. The first race of a season therefore can tend to see a flurry of protests threatened or filed – inevitably prompting headlines of the ‘new season clouded by controversy’ variety.

Another protest aimed at Racing Point was widely predicted by many in the paddock given that Renault and others believe that the pink car looks like it is missing a ‘Mercedes Used Car Programme’ sticker. No such protest arose, but could well do so at the second round, to be held this weekend at the same venue.

Having twice attended FIA stewards’ seminars and being acquainted with a number of them, this writer can vouch for their diligence, commitment, professionalism and unbiased enthusiasm for the sport. There is no suggestion they have acted improperly, but the past weekend highlighted areas for improvement.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Five months after it first appeared, DAS was ruled legal
While the FIA constantly tightens its processes and the wording of its regulations, a case could well be made for mechanisms which permit exceptional protests to be lodged ahead of official running or scrutineering, possibly at time a suspected breach become known, thereby pre-empting weeks of innuendo and race weekend protests.

Such mechanisms would need to take into account devices such as aero rakes teams run during testing which obviously would not pass a race weekend technical inspection. This could be circumvented by the suspected team declaring whether its controversial device will be run during a competitive session.

A robust, well-regulated protest process forms a vital part of a democratic sport. But whatever processes are in place should not detract from F1’s aims to provide legitimate entertainment rather than legal sideshows, particularly at a time when F1 needs to go all out to fulfil those aims. If no more, F1 should consider the viability of a ‘pre-protest’ mechanism.

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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...

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31 comments on “F1 has room for improvement as stewards’ room becomes battleground for top teams”

  1. I’m delighted that Mercedes has been allowed to keep DAS. I’m so annoyed that it’s Mercedes that have come up with it (I like variety on the top steps!), but that’s the entire point of the sport. The technical team make the best of the rules, including loop holes, the manufacturing team bring the designs to life, the mechanics keep it running, the strategists think through the race and the drivers extract the best from it. It is a team sport and DAS is a perfect example of an excellent, intelligent technical team thinking outside the box and giving their team yet another edge.

    If I were a rival team, I’d protest as well, while being slightly annoyed that it wasn’t on my car.

    Good for Mercedes; the best team this sport has ever seen. They are frustratingly relentless in every department.

    1. @ben-n – “They are frustratingly relentless in every department.” A great quote!

      Like them, loathe them, or be indifferent to them – Mercedes have dominated the sport recently, the law of diminishing returns suggests that their advantage should narrow but their developments are impressive, I’d love to see other teams develop their own DAS and for it to become another tool in the F1 arsenal rather than banished after 1 season.

    2. isaac (@invincibleisaac)
      7th July 2020, 16:40

      @ben-n I agree – it is a bit frustrating that it was Mercedes who have come up with this brilliant scheme, as they just seem unstoppable at the moment! However, like you say, hats off to them for always pushing forwards and being on the ball … they show no signs of relinquishing their crowns.

      Perhaps I missed it, but I did not see much use of the DAS system this weekend – did you? I saw it used occasionally in practice, however not so in Qualifying or the race: is there a reason behind this? Wasn’t sure if it was used for producing fast laps or only for warm-up laps to better heat up the front tyres.

  2. ” For whatever reason, Hamilton’s in-car camera wasn’t operational at the time of the incident.”

    It’s a 360 degree camera and the datalink cannot carry this much data, so it’s downloaded after the race and processed

    1. Correct it’s downloaded later!

    2. There are in fact, three cams: the standard in-car and a 360 cam (used for broadcast), and a high-speed cam (Incidents only, not broadcast). We reported that the standard cam in car #44 wasn’t working – as anybody with a TV could see – and that the 360 cam footage was only usable after download and stitching. Where is the issue? Hope you read the complete article…

      1. A few months back one of the Stewards said they have access to lots and lots of cameras all around a track so they can see any incident from lots of angles, yet in this case they don’t appear to have had any camera footage to look at, and they overlooked one of the cameras which they should have known about. Why couldn’t the Stewards have adjourned this case until the 360 degree view became available? It shouldn’t have needed Red Bull to protest their original decision.

    3. Motogp have been using 360 cameras and broadcasting live for a while now.
      Seems odd that the F1 boffins – masters of F1TV – can’t get them to work and have to download after the event.
      Still, they know best….

  3. You can’t fault Mercedes for innovating; when was the last time Ferrari did anything (legally, knowing wink towards engine dept.) innovative?

    I have similar feelings about the pink Mercedes: there’s little to be gained by copying something if you don’t understand it. The round area on the nose for the Mercedes three pointed star is so blatant; I’m sure they could have smoothed that out a bit without losing the front end concept downstream. So RP might get the occasional podium & finish the year 4th, say? Who cares? It must be weird for Larry to be paying for a sticker on a faster car (RB).

  4. Since when have humans had 360 degree vision?

    1. Turn around fully. That’s what a 360 cam does

      1. Very inconsistent decision and also penalty when comparing to Mexico last year. Even considering Hungary 2016.

        Made in haste, they certainly made the wrong decision. At the very most penalty points would be understandable but certainly not a grid drop..

        Perhaps this alludes to topics you discussed above.. should it be allowed to submit a request for review so late that the stewards are forced to rush in an under considered decision?

        1. @Kasim The case with Nico Rosberg’s 2016 Hungarian GP-qualifying pole lap was clear-cut in that he did what he was supposed to do. He reduced his speed significantly when he was approaching towards the start of the yellow flag-affected section, and went back to full-attack mode once it became green again. He was just lucky with the timing in that he only had to heed for the double-yellows for a very brief amount of time as he entered the zone just when the yellows were about to get lifted.

  5. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    7th July 2020, 12:55

    Someone on this site linked this video a day or two ago:

    This is another thing that I do not understand why it didn’t even get looked into.

    Looking at Channel 4 highlights and the timing screens, this footage was in the sector with the double waved yellows on lap 69. It clearly was Hamilton not slowing down, rather than Bottas slowish down more than he needed to. From the timing screens, Hamilton gained 2 seconds on Bottas. I personally see this as very disrespectful due to the yellow flags being out. I also think the reason Hamilton did this was to try and pull away from Norris (or maximise the gap) to prevent his penalty losing him as many places, and it very nearly worked. But what he did surely was cheating and breaking the rules.

    How can this have not been reported?? If Red Bull had still been in the race, I am almost certain they will have been to the stewards yet again about it.

    I am really surprised so few noticed this. Drivers have got penalties before for gaining a fraction of a second through yellows. Hamilton looked to make no effort at all to slow down and gained a massive amount of time on Bottas, who was clearly going slower at that point for the right reasons.

    1. Nothing has been reported because Hamilton did nothing wrong @thegianthogweed

      Watching the video you posted, the first and only yellow flag is between turns 6 -7 and this is when Hamilton gets a “flag” pop up on his screen. There’s no audio but he looks to keep in 5th gear through the corner. He accelerates out of the corner as the next flag he can see is the green one flashing on the exit of T8. From that video it looks like Bottas slowed too much or possibly that the final flag was yellow for Bottas but went green when Hamilton got there.

      You complain that Hamilton caught Bottas but mention nothing about Norris and Leclerc keeping the same distance from Hamilton and therefore also catching Bottas. If Hamilton did anything wrong then Leclerc and Norris did too. This leads me to believe that Bottas was either unlucky with the timing of a yellow flag which was removed before the others got there or he simply slowed down a little too much.

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        7th July 2020, 13:55

        Yes, some of what you say does seem correct seeing the timing screens for Leclerc and Norris, but it still looked like Hamilton was carrying way too much speed through two sets of double waved yellows that clearly was out at the time. But it still could be correct that Bottas didn’t need to slow down as much. Still, I don’t see the point of yellow flags if drivers tear round the corners at the speeds many of them did. It doesn’t make it look like they are prepared for the unexpected.

    2. @thegianthogweed @tom Weird indeed, especially considering how vocal he was about the double-yellow ruling in Hungary four years back even though his then-teammate did what he was supposed to do in that situation.

  6. With regards to Hamilton’s penalty, it occurs to me to wonder how much time he had in which to react to the first yellow flag that showed up to us on the late-produced 360 degree footage? After all, if the yellow lit up a fraction of a second before Hamilton flashed by at, say, 120 mph, then would he have had time to react to it?

    1. Here’s a video of the event.

      1. Perfectly clear, and it should end the discussion. The penalti was fully deserved. Maybe he didn’s see it, but that’s not a valid excuse anyway.

  7. Jose Lopes da Silva
    7th July 2020, 13:54

    The current qualifying system, which two-thirds of F1 fans support, again showed its flaws. Having everyone packed doing their laps results in:
    – we don’t see their laps live because the camera (and our brain) can only focus on one of them;
    – if someone goes off (if we have 10 can simultaneously, the odds are high!) and everyone is packed, the odds of everyone having their laps ruined for yellow flags are also high;
    – otherwise, we start this sterile thing: so, it was Bottas who went on purpose, like Schumacher-Monaco-06 and Rosberg-Monaco-14? Or not? Hamilton did not see the yellow flag? Or did he? And the stewards attitude towards either of the drivers? Who are they protecting (because no one believes they are just doing their job)?

    We ended up with Hamilton starting 5th for no reason other than the nature of the qualifying system. This was not “sporting truth”. This was a gimmick.

    Not being possible the 1996-2002 system (which kept the sport’s spirit), I’d rather have the qualifying race instead of this “penalised-no, not penalised-yes, penalised after all”.

    1. You keep repeating this (solitary) view, Jose Lopes da Silva.
      Again, what is ‘sporting truth’?
      And please elaborate how evolving track conditions and changing weather conditions facilitate a fairer quali if drivers are slotted.

      And if you want to see all laps by each driver, then you should spend some money on F1TV (and a VPN).

      1. Above all I question what this has too do with the topic. Please stick to the thread.

        1. Jose Lopes da Silva
          8th July 2020, 8:31

          I don’t want drivers slotted. That was the change they made in 2003 and it was ridiculous.

          This is related to the thread in the sense that the stewards room will continue to be a battleground for top teams also because of the way qualifying works – and it’s something we’ve been discussing since Saturday. In other circumstances, the Bottas off-roading would not generate so much discussion.

    2. Jose Lopes da Silva, that system has nothing to do with “keeping the sport’s spirit” and was invented solely to sell another product to TV networks.

      Furthermore, how exactly does that old system you so love solve that when it was not uncommon to see multiple drivers setting a fast lap at the same time, or for an extended yellow flag to disrupt the qualifying laps of multiple drivers? Most of those complaints remain applicable – are you so wedded to that system solely because that was what was in use when you began watching F1 and therefore it is what you are used to?

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        8th July 2020, 8:27

        No. I would be good with qualifying races.
        “it was not uncommon to see multiple drivers setting a fast lap at the same time”, but now it does not work in any other way. That’s why ColdFly tells me to spend some money on ITV or a VPN.
        “an extended yellow flag to disrupt the qualifying laps of multiple drivers” but now it might disrupt the laps of all of them, and they might not have a new shot.

  8. I guess they don’t have protocols in place to download the 360 footage sooner as there is usually no reason to need it that quickly after a session. Usually they have access to the footage from the live OnBoards that every car has now & I think it is fairly rare for those cameras to fail unless damaged in an accident.

    After this incident I would guess it would be fairly easy for the FIA/FOM to come up with a way to get any footage available from non live cameras upto the stewards faster & for stewards to have the option to wait for it before making a decision.

    It is surprising however that the telemetry, timing/tracking/GPS & flag system data wasn’t enough as surely that would have given them enough to show where the yellow sector was, Where Lewis was & what he was doing in terms of speed/throttle input.

  9. Bert the Hippo
    7th July 2020, 16:12

    This is the psychological mind games played by the teams. RB & Mercs are masters at it. Yes, the legality of DAS should be verified, but RB wait until the final moment for added pressure.

  10. What needs to happen is obviously for FIA to get their act together. Drop staff loyalty and get rid of non-performers or outright corrupt individuals. Get professionals and increase staff. Get permanent stewards. Polish routines. Etc etc.

    In the old days, legal controversies were seen as part of the show, and for egocentrics like Mosley it really was, especially when Ecclestone had requested championships go to the wire and arbitrary penalties were handed out left, right and center. This then became part of the F1 culture, and Masi has learned from henchman Whiting and similarly knows he can take liberties. The race now in Austria proved it all too well.

  11. Also how big teams use their power to have influence on some of the rulings

  12. Too much double speak here on the stewards…
    “their diligence, commitment, professionalism and unbiased enthusiasm for the sport. There is no suggestion they have acted improperly”

    There is ONLY suggestion that they acted improperly, thats the problem. They didn’t act with commitment, professionalism or unbiased enthusiasm when they failed to review ANY necessary footage to confirm or deny the drivers take on the yellow flag situation (which was an out and out lie, there was no green light/flag at turn 5, just the opposite).

    How can you NOT do the one thing you are tasked to do as a steward. Either they are completely incompetent or something smells fishy….

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