Christian Horner, Red Bull, Barcelona, 2022

No ‘intended bias’ from F1 stewards but clearer rules needed, says Horner

2022 F1 season

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Christian Horner disagrees with Lewis Hamilton’s suggestion some of Formula 1’s stewards show bias towards certain drivers when it comes to penalty decisions, but agrees F1’s rules must be made clearer.

New FIA president Mohamed Ben Sulayem announced a series of changes to race direction in Formula 1 earlier this month following the controversy which rose after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Former F1 race director Michael Masi will not return for 2022, following his decision to restart the season finale with one lap remaining after a late Safety Car when he had only allowed cars between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen to un-lap themselves.

Ahead of his first stint in the new Mercedes W13 in pre-season testing, Hamilton claimed some F1 stewards may be biased in favour of certain drivers they know personally. However Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said he does not believe that there is a “conscious bias” among FIA stewards.

Wolff’s opposite number at Red Bull, Christian Horner, also said he does not believe stewards have any biases for or against certain drivers.

“We’ve all been on the receiving end of stewards decisions that we’ve been unhappy about,” Horner said. “I would agree with Toto that I don’t think there’s an intended bias. I’m not aware of any stewards travelling with drivers to the races.”

Horner says that one of the root causes of the controversies over stewards’ decision, the lack of clarity in the rules, is being addressed this year.

“I think a lot of issues are to do with the regulations themselves,” said Horner. “Because you’ve got very complicated regulations that then leave room for interpretation.

“I think the circuit limits one is an obvious one in that, in any other sport, being over a white line [means] you’re out. You have a situation like we have currently where some corners it’s okay, some corners it isn’t. I think that – for the fans and even for the teams of the drivers – it’s confusing. So what you need is clear rules which are then easier to police.

“In Mohammed, we have a new president who is looking to bolster the structure and to bring in the equivalent of a VAR – something that certainly the top teams have available to them. I think giving a better infrastructure for clearer decisions with clearer regulations is something that should be strived for.

“But I certainly don’t think that there was any bias from stewards during the last seasons.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
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21 comments on “No ‘intended bias’ from F1 stewards but clearer rules needed, says Horner”

  1. Two-line rulebooks!!! Enough exceptions of exceptions, annexes of annexces, etcetera! How a steward will now every word of that Bible?

    1. TBH, the Sporting Regulations are not that long, at 89 pages, about half of which are the appendices. The main rules are not particularly complicated, either, although the appendices get complex at times when dealing with technical issues.

      The rules around Safety Cars are actually very clear and concise, and the only way the stewards could justify Masi’s behaviour was to interpret 15.3 as a “God Rule”, allowing Masi to just ignore any rules around the safety car and do whatever the heck he wanted. Remove/reword that (or clarify that the stewards ruling from Abu Dhabi should not be used as the correct interpretation), and it’s a straight forward and easy to understand set of procedures with little-to-no wiggle room.

      As for the rest, I agree that some parts need to be tightened up to avoid the “multiple interpretations” problem, but I think a larger part of the problem is that we have allowed the stewards and other officials to interpret the rules how they want, to ignore parts when inconvenient, with little (if any) oversight. Last season was particularly bad for that, and IMHO was made even worse by taking the “Let them race” philosophy to extremes. It is this which leads to inconsistency. If, instead, the stewards and other officials were beholden to the rulebook, preferably with an external body reviewing their decisions and feeding back, we wouldn’t actually need much change at all to the existing rules.

  2. Let’s start by replacing “any” with “all”.

    1. @hatebreeder, I agree, even though this shouldn’t have become an issue in the first place since ‘any’ & ‘all’ effectively mean the same thing anyway, or at least in practical terms, no matter what the formal word definitions are.

      1. @jerejj @hatebreeder

        I’m pretty sure they mean the same in legal and technical definitions, too. A contract which said “Any customer with citizenship of another country will be required to declare this” would certainly mean the same as “All customers with citizenship of another country will be required to declare this”.

        This is why the stewards only included that as Red Bull’s submission, and did not reference it in their own decision. They were grasping at straws with that one, and I suspect the stewards found it as laughable as the rest of the English-speaking world.

        1. Good point about the “all” vs “any” remark. You’re right, the stewards’ decision does not mention that at all, it was one of Red Bull’s points they made (and a pretty laughable one at that), but the stewards did not decide that this interpretation of the wording was correct. As you say, they probably had a bit of a chuckle at it as well. As you mention above, the steward’s main decisions seemed to be focussed on the “God powers” of article 15.3, and the fact that they felt taking results from the end of the penultimate lap would be retrospectively shortening the race, and thus inappropriate.

          1. TBH I think they were right about retroactively shortening the race, it wouldn’t have been appropriate. The only real way to deal with this (without authorising 15.3 as a “god power”) would be to say that the final race was not run to regulations so the results were nullified… Which would have been of no effect on the top 2 in the WDC or WCC but would have a significant and unfair effect on lower positions. Nullifying the race would have been worse on so many levels, but at least they would have been recognising that Masi screwed the pooch instead of authorising the race director to ignore any regulations regarding the safety car and race starts whenever they want in future…

        2. @drmouse Another valid example is from Chain Bear on YT:
          ”any passenger carrying a grenade will be asked to leave the aircraft”
          ”will only some passengers with grenades be asked to leave?”

        3. @drmouse Nullifying the final race wouldn’t have impacted any WCC positions as the eventual final order was already in place, while lower positions (below P3) in driver standings are pretty irrelevant.

          1. @jerejj Yeah, I didn’t actually mean it would affect the lower WCC positions, just WDC.

            The point I was trying to make is that there was little point in Mercedes continuing an appeal as the only realistic result of them winning would make no difference to their or their drivers’ positions, but it would have an impact on others who were not at all involved. There would be collateral damage which, while I get your point that on the world stage “lower positions (below P3) in driver standings are pretty irrelevant”, it probably isn’t irrelevant to the drivers involved.

  3. No matter who you follow, the application of the rules in 2021 left a lot of people wondering what is going on. Were stewards favoring driver x over y? Don’t know, but I do know it is time for consistent application of the rules as written.

  4. Championship contenders have seemingly got favored over non-contenders occasionally.

  5. There certainly was bias last year, to create a greater show and add entertainment value. Final decission to restart the race with leaders in position to fight was just one in a number of ‘biased’ decissions.

  6. The FIA have noone to blame but themselves. Let them suffer, hopefully they’ll learn from this.

  7. the bias was towards the spectacularization of the “show”, rather than Verstappen
    they would have done the same with the two drivers swiched the other way around

    1. Yep, and it would have been just as wrong.

      The difference is that an appeal would probably not have been dropped, as getting the race voided as not having been run to regulations (a realistic outcome of an appeal) could have resulted in the trophy changing hands in that case.

  8. I don’t believe the FIA/Liberty were intending to favour one particular driver over the other. But they were absolutely intent on keeping the gap between the two leading drivers as close as possible. It became obvious early on that the show was the priority and if that meant bending or ignoring rules well so be it. The last two races in particular really stood out and caused widespread controversy due to the lack of action by the race director/Stewards in the Saudi GP. The 10 second penalty for brake testing was no more than a token penalty for Verstappen as it had no effect on his position or points.
    The last race looked to be a decisive win for Hamilton until the Latifi crash and the opportunistic decisions made by Masi to ‘enhance’ the show by blatantly ignoring the rules and bowing to the pressure from Redbull. Which of course caused never before seen controversy and pushback from F1 fans and the teams themselves.
    It remains to be seen if removing Masi is just a token gesture to appease the fans and teams and if F1 will continue to move more towards manipulated excitement through the use of VSC and SC’s.
    Or if Mohamed Ben Sulayem will try to put a bit of distance between the FIA and Liberty and restore some integrity to F1.

    1. I thought it was completely obvious that F1 wanted a new, mainstream champion. It was always going to be worth a lot of money. Did Masi really change his mind from legal and correct to illegal personal nightmare because a team asked him to? I don’t think so. Look at Brazil, and then at as you say the non-penalty for an actual brake test and the stewards pretending Lewis was playing the same game over DRS when Max was simply all over the track, how they accidentally forgot the rule about leaving 2 corners after letting a car back through, and how they didn’t even address rejoining the track unsafely.

      They kept the water a bit muddy with some penalties but overall it’s obvious the stewards and Masi knew that the club they’re part of wanted Max. And then in the end, when Masi was doing the right thing but the wrong thing, someone clearly said something, in that 3-4 minutes, to change his mind.

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