For those who watched the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on the world television feed, it was not immediately obvious why the stewards had summoned Sergio Perez to speak to them shortly after the chequered flag dropped due to his “statements made on the radio”.
“The stewards are a joke, man. I cannot believe it. They have been very bad this year but this is a joke. That was really a joke.”
Perez was frustrated by the five-second penalty the stewards issued him for colliding with Lando Norris while trying to pass the McLaren driver. He made his remark on the radio after being told the upshot of the penalty was that he wouldn’t stand on the final podium of the season.
This was far from the first time anyone in F1 has been censured for criticising FIA staff. Haas team principal Guenther Steiner was reprimanded earlier this year for describing the stewards as “laymen” in an interview with print media. Two years ago, Perez’s team principal Christian Horner accused a “rogue marshal” of causing Max Verstappen to incur a grid penalty, and was given an official warning over his choice of words.
Despite having fallen foul of the rules in a similar way, Horner defended his driver’s reaction afterwards. “I think he was just voicing his frustration,” he said.
“The problem is, if you’re a football player and you have a rant, you haven’t got a microphone on your shirt. Whereas you can understand his frustration, he’s lost a podium, he’s driven a great race, so he’s had a vent. But unfortunately, that vent is has been broadcast. So hopefully the stewards will take that into consideration when I think he’ll be speaking to them later.”
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Horner also suggested the driver’s representative on the stewards’ panel, ex-Red Bull and Toro Rosso driver Vitantonio Liuzzi, should have been more understanding of Perez’s situation.
“The driver steward that is here this weekend is well known to have had a few rants in his day as well when he used to drive for me many years ago. So it happens. He was just fortunate that it wasn’t broadcast.”
When Liuzzi was racing, only a tiny number of radio messages were typically played on the world feed during a race. There was no F1 TV where fans could listen in on the drivers’ communications with their engineers throughout the race.
Nonetheless the line from the stewards on this point has been consistent. Criticism of a decision is accepted, but insulted directed at officials, however slight they may seem, will be met with swift action.
However had luck been on Perez’s side, he might not have got a penalty at all. While it is often assumed that a driver’s every utterance can be heard through their onboard channels on F1 TV, as of this year that has no longer been the case.
After Verstappen’s heavy crash at Silverstone in 2021, where it was clear from his audio after the impact that he was in some pain, Formula One Management decided it needed the capability to block a driver’s radio messages from being played out live. They then have the power to decide whether or not to broadcast them later.
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This has happened on several times this year involving different drivers, and has not been limited to the aftermath of crashes. FOM has pre-emptively censored messages when drivers have been become agitated and appeared likely to make a strongly-worded remark.
At the Australian Grand Prix, when Carlos Sainz Jnr was distraught to learn of a penalty he knew would cost him a points finish and repeatedly urged his team to lobby the stewards, part of his exchange was not played on F1 TV. It was played instead on the world feed.
It’s impossible to say how many other messages might have been censored from F1 TV and then not played of the world feed. In which case, whether a driver’s radio comments gets them in trouble or not comes down to chance – or the decisions made by technicians at FOM’s Biggin Hill base.
2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
- Mercedes’ team photo shows we still have a long way to go on diversity – Hamilton
- Why luck was a factor in Perez’s penalty for “joke” comment
- Bottas and Zhou see encouraging signs from overhauled 2024 car
- Only Verstappen got the best from his car every weekend, rival team bosses admit
- How Sainz suffered the worst season finale for a driver since Schumacher in 1997