Guenther Steiner, haas, Albert Park, 2023

Steiner’s outburst on stewards was a reasonable point poorly made

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“The decision, for me, I still don’t understand it. I was told in the video you can see a collision. I looked at numerous pictures and I cannot see a collision.” Those were the words of Haas team principal Gunther Steiner who was enraged by a stewards decision against his driver Nico Hulkenberg during the Monaco Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg was handed a five-second time penalty after they deemed him responsible for a collision on the opening lap of the race. Furious at what he felt was an inconsistent penalty with no explanation, Steiner made his feelings clear to media including RaceFans last week.

“Lap one, we get a penalty for what I think is not a collision,” Steiner said. “F1 is one of the biggest sports in the world and we still have laymen deciding on the fate of people which invest millions in their careers.”

The stewards took umbrage over Steiner’s word “layman” and summoned him over the remarks. He was duly reprimanded for a breach of Article 12.2.1.k of the International Sporting Code, namely the “use of language which might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence, humiliation or to be inappropriate.”

Though perhaps the nature in which Steiner conveyed his message wasn’t quite the way to go about instigating change, the FIA should not ignore the valid points he also made.

Formula 1 events are overseen by a quartet of stewards which change regularly between rounds. One from a pool of chairpersons is present along with one ex-driver steward. Of the remaining two, one comes from the National Sporting Authority (ASN).

When decisions are criticised for lacking consistency, the ever-changing roster of stewards is often blamed. In 2021, the FIA used 41 different representatives over the season. In 2022 there were 36 different stewards being used across the 22 races, with no steward ever doing more than seven in a year. However the race-by-race change in national representative accounts for most of the variation.

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The stewards operate independently from the FIA despite being appointed by the organisation – a point which is often overlooked. They should be free of influence even when investigating the governing body’s own staff, as occured when FIA representatives responsible for the parc ferme area at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix were summoned over Esteban Ocon’s near-miss with a group of individuals who had been allowed into a live pit lane in the latter moments of the race.

You don’t have to look far to find others frustrated by inconsistent decision-making by the stewards. Last year Yuki Tsunoda stated that the FIA’s race direction and stewarding over the opening races had been “super inconsistent”. Mercedes’ George Russell, who heads the Grand Prix Drivers Association, said some things needed to be ‘ironed out’ with the stewards after the chaotic end to the Australian Grand Prix this year.

The decision which vexed Steiner was missing some key details, stating: “Hulkenberg caused a collision on the inside of turn six on the first lap.” Who and what he collided with was not specified, and where it might have happened was also open to question: He appeared to have made contact with Logan Sargeant, but that happened at turn five.

“The stewards considered that as he dived in and was unable to control the car and was not forced there by any other car this does not get the benefit of the doubt of a first-lap incident,” added the document, summarising the decisions of Monaco stewards Tim Mayer, Felix Holter, Danny Sullivan and Jean-François Calmes.

Three races earlier in Australia, Carlos Sainz Jnr was no less frustrated by his penalty, but got a more detailed explanation for it from stewards Nish Shetty, Loïc Bacquelaine, Enrique Bernoldi and Christopher McMahon.

“Car 14 [Fernando Alonso] was significantly ahead of car 55 [Sainz] at the first corner and nevertheless car 55 drove into car 14, causing it to spin and leave the track. We accordingly imposed a five-second penalty on car 55.

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“For avoidance of doubt, we took into account the fact that this collision took place at the first lap of the restart, when, by convention, the stewards would typically take a more lenient view of incidents.

“However, in this particular case, notwithstanding the fact that it was the equivalent of a first lap incident, we considered that there was sufficient gap for car 55 to take steps to avoid the collision and failed to do so.”

Nonetheless Sainz also had reason to question why others had been treated differently. At the same point in the race Logan Sargeant slammed into the back of the Alpha Tauri of Nyck De Vries, yet the stewards did not even investigate that incident. As Steiner pointed out last week, nor did the Miami Grand Prix stewards take action over De Vries driving into Lando Norris at the start of that race.

Report: Stripping Verstappen of 2017 US podium was “one of the toughest decisions” – steward
At its most extreme, some drivers have even accused stewards of taking against them. In 2017 Max Verstappen fumed at an “idiot” steward after he lost a podium finish in the United States Grand Prix when he was given a five-second time penalty for leaving the track while overtaking Kimi Raikkonen on the final lap.

“It’s just one idiot steward up there who makes the decisions against me,” said Verstappen after the race. This was interpreted by some as being a reference to FIA steward Garry Connelly, who had been part of the stewards panel in Mexico the year before when Verstappen received another penalty which cost him a podium finish. The late race director Charlie Whiting advised Verstappen to apologise for his outburst, which he did. Connelly, who is still a steward, later pointed out Verstappen’s corner-cut had actually been spotted by ex-F1 driver Mika Salo.

In the heat of the moment, drivers may not be inclined to own up to their mistakes and understand why they were penalised. Tensions between the competitors and referees are common to all sports. Steiner’s call for a permanent panel of stewards is not so radical, and others may well sympathise with his view, though if they choose to make that case publicly would do well to weigh their words carefully.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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10 comments on “Steiner’s outburst on stewards was a reasonable point poorly made”

  1. Proesterchen_nli
    10th June 2023, 12:41

    How fitting. The whole Haas F1 team is a reasonable idea poorly executed.

  2. They need to go to a body of all-paid stewards, because only then will they be able to pursue continuous improvement on refereeing consistency. They need to be doing the work in between races to formalize the evaluation process. And every steward has to be part of it.

    The idea that the stewards plucked from the old boys network that is the motorsport clubs bring independence to criticize the FIA itself is a bit absurd. They have more reason to please the FIA than someone who has to be fired to be removed. No other refereeing system that I know of works this way.

  3. The stewards, as per the regulations, are appointed “from among holders of an FIA Super Licence”; three by the FIA and one by the ASN (the host nation). So this limits who may be appointed. That said, I’ve always been a bit puzzled by this regulation because it doesn’t seem like many of the people chosen actually have an FIA Super License (and neither does the race director). Perhaps this means something different in this context, but it’s not explained in the regulations.

    Good to see the numbers being done on which stewards do which races; while there are indeed different stewards, most of them are stewards at multiple races. Especially the FIA nominated group isn’t that big of a pool. The problem isn’t so much that the stewards aren’t present at multiple races (they are), it’s more that their selection process is … skewed, let’s say. It’s the FIA regulations that they are supposed to be upholding. But the FIA picks stewards who they know will play along with the general trend in F1 to ‘let them race’.

    The most obvious recent example is the stewards’ blatant reluctance to penalize Gasly for basically any of his shenanigans and even crashes because doing so would trigger a ban. That’s why Tsunoda’s penalty in Spain was so refreshing; such driving has been allowed for far too long, leading to a sharp decline in driving standards and a general reluctance to battle for position around the track.

    1. it doesn’t seem like many of the people chosen actually have an FIA Super License (and neither does the race director). Perhaps this means something different in this context, but it’s not explained in the regulations.

      FIA officials (including via their affiliated national organisations) have their own specific licencing system, up to and including “super” licences – which allow them to work in certain roles and at certain levels of events. That’s exactly why the pool is limited.
      How they get those licences can be considered somewhat discretionary at times, though – but then, that’s not unusual for the FIA, is it…. Not when it comes to F1, anyway.

    2. From an Autosport article about stewarding F1:

      Then for every grand prix, a panel of stewards is appointed. It is their job to deliberate cases and make decisions based on F1’s rule book and the FIA’s own Sporting Codes.

      Three of the stewards, one of whom will be appointed a chairman, are nominated by the FIA from the international pool who hold the necessary FIA Super Licence (which is different to the driver superlicence).

      Seems there are licenses for officials also, and to steward F1 you need the top worker superlicense.

  4. I think the issue with consistency is less the different stewards and more how overly regulated things have got where they have ended up trying to come up with a penalty for every scenario and also trying to treat different situations the same to be consistent which just ends up making things less consistent.

    A permanent set of stewards wouldn’t fix this and we see in categories like Indycar that has permanent stewards that we still see inconsistent decisions for the same reasons you do in F1.

    1. I am not sure I understand your logic.

      To me, one of the nation reasons why we get such inconsistencies is precisely because it is not over-regulated. The stewards have massive flexibility in how to handle each incident, and nobody (that I’m aware of) reviews the decisions to ensure consistency.

      There is nothing to stop two near-identical incidents from being handled completely differently, with one “no further action” and one a severe penalty. There’s also nobody to look at those two incidents and figure out whether it was right for them to be handled differently, issue guidance of it wasn’t, or explain why if it was.

      If F1 was over-regulated, surely there couldn’t be such inconsistencies…

  5. “make that case publicly would do well to weigh their words carefully.”
    The downfall of civilization that is if you can’t speak your mind.
    If people feel offended by being called stupid or whatever, stay out of the limelight.

    If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

    1. Those is true to an extent.

      However, when dealing with human beings you must factor in the human element. If someone makes a mistake, especially someone in a position of power, and you march up to them and call them an idiot, that will put them immediately on the defensive. They will try to defend themselves from your verbal attack, and will not be receptive to your criticism.

      On the other hand, if you present your criticism in a more constructive manner, they are much more likely to listen and accept it.

      Nobody is suggesting Steiner should not speak his mind. They are saying they manner in which he expressed it was very unwise.

  6. VER driving outside track limits by meters with HAM outside of him and no investigation necessary says all you need to say about the lay persons acting as stewards.

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