Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

Formula 1’s stewards should listen to drivers less, not more


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The focus of Ferrari’s anger over Carlos Sainz Jnr’s Australian Grand Prix penalty wasn’t simply the fact that the call went against him, but that they didn’t get an opportunity to argue his case.

Sainz’s immediate reaction on being told of his penalty, while waiting for the race to restart, was to plead with his team to ensure he got a hearing. Ferrari therefore triggered the ‘right to review’ process not just in the hope of overturning Sainz’s penalty, but to get the hearing they felt they had been unfairly denied.

As the stewards had not heard Sainz’s explanation for his collision with Fernando Alonso, Ferrari submitted it as evidence which they claimed was sufficiently new, significant and relevant to trigger the reopening of the case. They failed because the stewards did not agree with them.

But Ferrari are not along in seizing on any opportunity they get to press their case to the powers-that-be in an effort to tilt the playing field in their favour.

The potentially damaging consequences of this have played out before. The infamous conclusion to the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix featured both Red Bull and Mercedes ferociously lobbying race director Michael Masi, to the point that he made an error which influenced the outcome of the world championship and led to him losing his job.

In response to the that the FIA drew the correct conclusion that teams should not be allowed to pressure the race director to make calls which favour them. This was a sensible move, and the practice could be applied effectively elsewhere to speed up the often ponderous decision-making process.

Sainz’s clash with Alonso was one of three which occured following the lap 57 standing restart in the Australian Grand Prix. Bafflingly, despite their obvious similarities, all three were handled differently.

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Ferrari may not agree, but the stewards’ call on Sainz exemplified how such racing incidents should be handled. He clearly went too deep into the corner, crashed into a blameless driver and spoiled their race (notwithstanding the fact a separate decision by the race director later restored Alonso to the position Sainz cost him, an option which is rarely available).

Report: FIA stewards explain why they rejected Ferrari’s request to reconsider Sainz’s penalty
The stewards responded swiftly and issued a proportionate penalty. They did not speak to either driver, and had no reason to, as they pointed out in their decision yesterday.

“Had we thought that this required a statement from [Sainz] for us to analyse the event, we would have summoned him after the race,” they noted. “We did not consider it necessary then to hear from him to decide that fact.”

Sainz’s penalty only seemed harsh in the light of how the other drivers involved in incidents were treated. That particularly goes for Logan Sargeant, who committed a remarkably similar error to Sainz by clattering into a blameless Nyck de Vries and ending his race. This incident was not even investigated by the stewards, never mind acted upon.

In past seasons, F1 media had the opportunity to question the race director after grands prix about the handling of such decisions. Sadly that practice ended at the race before the notorious 2021 finale and has never been reinstated, depriving F1’s fans of valuable insight into how it is policed.

But what rankled with Ferrari was the fact the stewards waited to hear from the two other drivers involved in incidents, Alpine team mates Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon.

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“The biggest frustration was – and you heard it on the radio – to not have hearings,” Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur told media including RaceFans before yesterday’s hearing. “In this case, I think it would have made sense considering that the race was over, it was not affecting the podium, to have the hearing as Gasly and Ocon had.”

Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, Alpine, Albert Park, 2023
Gasly got to make his case over Ocon collision
It’s clear from the stewards’ verdict on the collision between the Alpine drivers that their comments influenced the decision not to penalise either driver. The stewards “determined that it was a first lap [after a standing restart] racing incident”, and “both cars [drivers] recognised and accepted this as such”.

Given the incident in question involved two team mates, it is hardly surprising the pair of them agreed it was a racing incident. Ocon would not be popular in the Alpine garage if he strolled into the stewards’ office and lobbied them to throw the book at Gasly. Particularly as his team mate is two penalty points away on his race licence from a one-race ban – something else the stewards might have factored into their decision.

In all three cases, there was no need for the stewards to hear from either of the drivers involved. The fact the stewards were able to rule on the Sainz case makes that clear, and their explanation for how the decision was reached show they usually have the necessary details at their fingertips to make a quick call.

As the Australian GP’s stewards pointed out, they “have access to a considerable amount of telemetry data” in order to analyse how incidents occured. Multiple video angles of incidents are usually available. And in the event some vital detail relating to a driver cannot be seen, team radio means they can communicate any important information before being hauled before the stewards.

It’s not hard to see why Ferrari felt they were not treated fairly given the difference between the treatment of Sainz’s case and that of the Alpine drivers. Giving some drivers the opportunity to explain away incidents while others don’t is unfair.

But the solution is not to give every driver a hearing on every incident. That would mean few penalty decisions being made until long after a race.

Instead it should be the default position of stewards that they don’t need to hear from the drivers unless they believe there may have specific information relevant to a decision which they want to obtain. And in the majority of circumstances that is unlikely to be the case.

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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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23 comments on “Formula 1’s stewards should listen to drivers less, not more”

  1. I’m firmly on the side of not listening to the drivers at all.

    Nothing they say could add to the process of assessing their culpability and handing out a penalty if warranted.

  2. I think a poll might have been possible here @keithcollantine, but on the other hand your comment was clear and concise. Yes, arguably Sainz was treated differently than others (and indeed de Vries – not sure how to handle that case), but yes, I think I agree that with the amount of data available, including steering angles and all the camera’s, hearing from drivers has less value nowadays, and can thus be left for those few occasions where it is of importance.

    That also cuts down on the workload for the (voluntary still, correct?) stewards, which might give them more time to look at incidents that are now left out and might also help in getting investigations done quicker, and possibly more timely, which to me is also an important consideration with penalties and racing incidents.

    1. @bosyber Thanks for the suggestion – we’ll look at doing a poll on that in the future, I suspect it’s going to remain a talking point.

      1. I suspect it’s going to remain a talking point.

        That is certainly not too big of a leap of faith Keith!

        Thanks for the write up. Largely agree – the stewards should just be able to decide without all this discussion around it. I would also think they should think less about the consequences for the championship or say Gasly being banned (I saw Saward online defending not investigating Sargeant at all because “it was irrelevant to the outcome” and that seems completely backward to me. Not to mention that in that case Sainz also should not have been penalized since Alonso was reinstated anyway)

        1. Mr Saward was also part of the group of people arguing for Red Bull to institute team orders in an effort to push Mark Webber to the WDC.

          Completely backward arguments are his bread and butter.

  3. Really the only thing that speaking to the drivers could make clear that wasn’t available from any of the other resources that the stewards have available to them is intent. And that would only be if the drivers tell the truth about what their intentions were (Of course I didn’t mean to crash into them!). But is intent really needed to determine if a rule was broken or not and what the penalty should be? I can’t recall any other sport where they consult the players first to determine intent before issuing the penalty. Why does F1 need to do it?

    1. I can’t recall any other sport where they consult the players first to determine intent before issuing the penalty. Why does F1 need to do it?

      I can’t either, and I did consider arguing that case in the article. But what I know about sports which don’t involve four wheels and an engine wouldn’t fill the back of a postage stamp, so I thought better not to risk it.

      1. Australia Rugby League (and as do many rugby codes world wide) has a discipline review panel where players found guilty of breaking the rules (normally for foul play) after being placed on report , sin binned or sent off by the match officials, where the players have their say on the event that got them into trouble.

        They also have a system where, to cut down frivolous back chat, an early plea of guilt sees a reduced sentence. Plead guilty from the start may mean a one match suspension or a fine. Arguing the case and still found guilty, may result in a 3 match ban and a larger fine.

        But either way the player has a say before the Judiciary and can plead their case.

        Worth a read

    2. @g-funk It’s a good question. It strikes me as a relic of an era when drivers in Formula 1 were seen to treat each other ‘more honourably.’ That ethos vanished in the 70s and 80s, surely. I really don’t see the point. Did Sainz deliberately spin and crash in Monaco qualifying last year? Ask him and he’ll swear no. Look at the telemetry and it says yes. Which to believe? Fairly obvious.

      1. Oops, sorry, Perez…

  4. Couldn’t agree more about listening to drivers less. Also with the assessment of the Sainz incident. Alonso’s views on the penalty being harsh after his immediate successful appeal on the radio for a restart are, I think, irrelevant. I doubt he’d be so forgiven for some other drivers out there.

    I’m ambivalent about the Alpine clash. It was clearly Gasly’s fault but given the team lost both drivers and neither was going to press for a penalty, I’m not sure a lack of a penalty matters. Should they have been heard? Probably not. Would Gasly been given a penalty if they hadn’t been heard? Hmm, very likely. As for Sargeant, obvious penalty. Presumably the stewards had a plane to catch.

    1. I’m not sure a lack of a penalty matters

      It was just chance that Gasly collided with Ocon. He’s been in so many incidents that he’s overdue a ban, but ever since he and his team boss complained about that, the servile stewards have refused to give him any penalties, despite him continuing to be involved in incidents. Next time Gasly does something like this, he might instead cause Sainz, or Stroll or Hamilton to DNF. Why would that then be different?

      1. If he takes out a driver from another team like that, it will be a clear penalty. I mean, I think he had no idea Ocon was there, but at a restart, he had to presume someone was likely to be behind him and moving faster. It was like that time Grosjean spun 180 onto the track at the 2018 Spanish GP: it was obvious someone would be arriving, even if he had no time to look.

        I think they were being kind to Alpine this time.

        1. I think he had no idea Ocon was there, but at a restart, he had to presume someone was likely to be behind him and moving faster.

          If you’re say he didn’t know specifically that it was his team mate there rather than just A.N.Other driver then I agree.
          I’m pretty near certain he knew someone was there, just not certain he knew who was there.
          Not that I think he cared.
          Ocon is also culpable – as the Vettel – Hamilton incident in Canada proved it is possible to avoid the collision and live to fight another day (or corner). Probably a 60-65% Gasly, 35-40% Ocon

          Penalty for both.

          Maybe with a free weekend Gasly can have a brain fitted.

          1. I thought it was 100% Gasly. If you look around the 6:50 mark on this clip, an Ocon onboard, Gasly rejoins the track right in front of Ocon. So immediately that’s an issue of Gasly not rejoining safely. Ocon, going faster already, has to either brake or steer right, where there is plenty of space. He does what anyone would do, he steers right and starts passing. Only Gasly keep moving right, across the track, until they collide.

  5. I don’t think drivers opinions should be considered, because they will always be self serving (even if unconsciously. I think the bigger issue is consistency in applying the rules as I think happened in the race concerned.

    If there is consistency then there is no question on the penalty.

    1. 100%, and to add gasly should have got a penalty regardless if it was his team mate or another driver he crashed with.

  6. First, it’s hilarious that the stewards get to decide whether or not the stewards’ verdict can be reviewed.

    Second, if the stewards didn’t consider Sainz’ take to be a meaningful addition to their review, one wonders what they hoped to learn by summoning not just Gasly, Ocon but also a team representative (!). What’s with the double standard?

    In Sainz’ case, the stewards claim they “reviewed positioning/marshalling system data, video, timing, telemetry, team radio and in-car video evidence”. By comparison, in the other case they claim they “reviewed positioning/marshalling system data, video and in-car video evidence” (so no timing, no telemetry, no team radio). Perhaps they had to bring the drivers in to tell them what they said on the radio.

    These stewards, and one has to add apparently – since their decisions are an exercise in brevity rather than explanations, consider Sainz’ incident to be worth a penalty since they consider him to be “wholly to blame” but they also refused to issue any penalties to Gasly because it was supposedly a “first lap incident”. In other words, they somehow consider Ocon to be meaningfully involvd, despite Gasly rejoining unsafely, sweeping across the track, crowding Ocon off, and causing a collision. Each of those things is not allowed. But I guess everyone knows why Gasly won’t get any penalties for the time being.

    And in the case of Sargeant ramming De Vries off he, well, the stewards didn’t even bother with that one. Because, well… who knows. Guess even the stewards don’t care about the backmarkers.

    1. Mmm, actually ferrari could try to appeal to an authority external to the fia, not because a 4th place is so important, but in the name of consistency and fairness, they have some grounds to win I think, considering the non penalty decisions on gasly and sargeant.

  7. I’m fairly torn on this issue. I like the idea of an impartial referee who cannot be lobbied, but I also feel the stewards are becoming too insular.

    I’ve stated before that I feel the Australian GP 2023 ought to be a watershed moment in stewarding. That was as unclear to the neutral fan as anything I’ve witnessed across any sport. Why a red flag? Why a standing start? Why only Sainz punished? Which lap/sector should we do the count back from? What’s the point of penalty points if we don’t suspend the driver who exceeds the required total? It was a mess from start to finish.

    I can’t see the answer to any of those questions being resolved correctly if we follow a marketing/entertainment agenda rather than listening to the professionals undertaking the activity. I’d be asking all the drivers to judge every incident between races and give a “fair”, “harsh” or “lenient” verdict. Then on the Thursday of the next race, or using the prior year’s examples, cover where the stewards were right or wrong. This shouldn’t be difficult and let’s everyone know where they stand.

    Fundamentally, the stewards shouldn’t be the star of the show. We need to let the drivers self-assess and actually learn lessons. Lately, I feel the stewards make the same mistake multiple times and have little trust in the drivers comments. That’s a recipe for disaster.

    1. @rbalonso Listening to the drivers is a bit like asking footballers immediately after a match if a penalty decision against them was fair. I mean, true, they’re the professionals around which everything revolves, but it doesn’t make them the best source for impartial decisions. Why was there mayhem at the restart? Because a bunch of them threw caution to the wind. Basically like a 2-lap sprint race that decided the actual GP final result. Add cold tyres and low sun in their eyes, and there were a lot of bad braking judgments. What bothered me more was the point you mention about where to count back from. Immediately red flagging meant that all that mayhem was supposedly scrubbed from history. Do they want some chaos in the spectacle or not? Formula 1 is already heavily controlled from car design regulations to constant performance monitoring – when not subtle driver coaching – from the teams and their endless flows of data. A bit of randomness now and again is fine by me.

      1. @david-br to be honest, I’m not sure about the penalty analogy. In football, there is 0% chance the referee will change the result after the game. As I understand it the PFA unions can also ask for clarifications to the rules after the game. That said, their application of handball rules in the UCL this week was farcical – so no sport gets it right all the time.

        in F1, we have the Alonso penalty in Saudi Arabia which was handled poorly and only a week after the Ocon penalty for the same issue. Had there been a review in between races, then these clarifications could have been handled behind closed doors and there could have been a caption on screen to viewers explaining the precedent. That would make the stewards look decisive instead we get a clumsy end to Saudi and a ridiculous end to Australia.

        The 2 lap sprint idea to me was always going to end in tears at some point. In Sao Paulo when Hamilton and Albon collided, most thought is was thrilling but I fear more often than not, it will become a desperate free-for-all. I think F1 has a duty of care – not just to the drivers, but to the integrity of the race to that point (>95% complete) to perform a usual SC restart. Standing restarts have always been unfair ways to end races in my mind.

  8. In lower racing categories, e.g., club national championships, the Stewards don’t make decisions about any incident without always talking to all drivers involved.
    Of course, that’s not the only difference in FIA requirements for F1 that are different in lower categories. For example, in F1, circuits are not allowed to place anchored tire stacks at key points to ensure track limits, risking serious injury to drivers and high risk of serious destruction to cars.
    But there you go.

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