Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024

Again the stewards are “too lenient” on drivers aiming their cars at each other


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The final minutes of final practice at the Circuit de Catalunya unexpectedly descended into road rage.

First Lance Stroll, then Charles Leclerc lost their heads after being held up by rivals at turn five. While drivers in their position are often content to fire off a few expletives on the radio and then press on, both took it a step too far.

Stroll squeezed Lewis Hamilton, after being held up by the Mercedes, at the exit of turn five and the pair made contact. This happened at relatively low-speed – Formula One Management’s data indicates it was no more than 60kph – and the damage was negligible.

Leclerc’s reaction was more surprising. After catching a dawdling Lando Norris at an inconvenient spot, the Ferrari driver swerved at the McLaren as they rounded turn six, provoking contact which damaged his rival’s front wing endplate.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024
Leclerc damaged front wing on Norris’ McLaren
This was a riskier move than Stroll’s, as Leclerc’s speed was visibly higher. He accelerated to around 246kph as he closed on Norris through the kink of turn six. Instead of following the racing line to the right of the circuit he continued to turn left, while braking, and the cars converged. At some point before Leclerc’s speed dropped to a minimum of around 126kph, they made contact.

It was striking that the stewards’ verdicts on both incidents made no mention of the speeds involved as they are clearly significant factors in how dangerous the incidents were.

The stewards’ judgements related the obvious similarities about the two incidents: Both drivers were unhappy at being held up by their rivals and both chose to express this by driving at the other cars.

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Both drivers avoided a meaningful penalty, such as a grid drop, and received reprimands instead. In both cases the stewards ruled the drivers had only acted “erratically”, not dangerously.

Nikola Tsolov
Report: FIA admitted F3 driver’s penalty for retaliatory clash was “too lenient” – Michel
But this was the wrong test to apply. In both cases collisions had occured and the instigators were those who lost their temper and pointed their cars at one of their rivals.

The stewards must be unequivocal in stating that this is never acceptable. But too often they shy away from issuing sufficiently strict penalties for collisions which only happened because one driver chose to point their car at another. And not even in a competitive session, but during practice.

The most troubling aspect of the stewards’ decisions appears in the judgement on Leclerc. Here they stated that his driving was erratic “irrespective of any possible intent.” Apparently the stewards do not consider it important whether or not Leclerc intended to hit Norris’ car.

Norris was clearly unimpressed when Max Verstappen told him of Leclerc’s reprimand. “That’s all he got?” the McLaren driver replied in parc ferme after qualifying. “My whole front wing was fucked.”

It’s not hard to see why Norris was so miffed. At the Australian Grand Prix the stewards handed Fernando Alonso a stiff penalty for his sudden reduction in speed when being pursued by George Russell, though the pair made no contact.

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That same weekend, in the F3 support event (which does not use the same race director or stewards as F1) two drivers collided during practice in similar circumstances to today’s two incidents. Alpine junior driver Nikola Tsolov hit Alex Dunne’s car after being held up by him.

The outcome was more dramatic than the incidents at the Circuit de Catalunya, but Tsolov’s driving was comparable to Leclerc’s. The stewards’ verdict on that incident reads like what should have been issued today:

“Car 25 [Tsolov] stated that his lap was affected by car nine [Dunne] and he wanted the driver to be aware of his presence and that he was being impeded. Car 25 deviated from his normal racing line to drive close to car nine to highlight his presence. He unfortunately misjudged this action and collided with car nine.

“Having considered the matter extensively, the stewards determined the actions of car 25, while unintended, caused the collision that was completely avoidable.”

Tsolov was given a grid penalty which, though a stiffer sanction than the reprimands dished out today, was widely considered insufficient as he lost only three places. According to F3 CEO Bruno Michel the FIA accepted the decision was not strict enough.

“I think, both [the stewards] and the FIA recognise that the penalty was too lenient and was not consistent, probably, with what had been done before in other similar issues,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans last month. “So this decision, from what I understand, will not create a precedent and it’s not being accepted as such.”

That decision was indeed “too lenient” – but today’s were weaker still, and utterly failed to set a precedent which will deter racers at all levels of the sport from driving their cars into their rivals.

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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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40 comments on “Again the stewards are “too lenient” on drivers aiming their cars at each other”

  1. Should have been a ten place grid drop at least for both. Maybe even a race ban. Using a car as a weapon to express anger is just a no-no anywhere.

    1. Stroll looked more clumsy than deliberate, in a short of “I’ll just go here and you sort it out” kind of way. A grid penalty seems fair.

      No idea what good old Charles was doing, though. As much as I like too see Ferrari do well, this swerve looked really bad. Wouldn’t have been surprised to see a straight up DSQ.

      1. MichaelN Maybe, but he could’ve perfectly avoided contact if he bothered to turn sharply right.

      2. Stroll has done this multiple times. He should not get any benefit of any doubt at this point.

    2. On a brighter note they did manage to penalize Sergeant for impeding with a 3 place grid drop for the next GP.

      1. @davedai The ‘next’ is GP, though, so zero impact.

  2. Scotty (@rockonscotty)
    23rd June 2024, 0:02

    This sets a very dangerous president that will end up getting some one hurt. Stroll and Leclerc should have been banned from any further sessions this weekend. It would send a clear message that using a car as a weapon is never acceptable and gave us and reserve drivers an amazing opportunity. Imagine how cool it would have been watching two drivers with no prep stepping into a qualification session on a well known track.

    1. Scotty (@rockonscotty)
      23rd June 2024, 0:03


    2. That precedent was set in Baku 2017.

    3. Totally agree. There should be some kind of rule that “intentionally driving erratically towards another car” is an immediate ban from the rest of the weekend, with further penalties applied depending on the situation.

    4. Not sure what happened to it. I posted earlier that one has to be facetious or not thinking if they think one of these incidents is actually going to them hurt. They crash into walls at 150+ all the time without a scratch.

      Why it should be penalized is that kids and juniors idolize these guys and they ARE in cars and karts where this kind of behavior could get them hurt. And it’s just the wrong message to send regardless.

  3. This really is nothing new.. I mean does anyone remember Maldonado? He did stuff like this in races, and I at least remember Monaco practise session where he swerved at Perez. Not to mention vettel who got off pretty lightly. As did vertappen in Jeddah.

    Nothing new, but I do agree if they don’t want it they should make it clear. Clearly they don’t!
    But welcome to F1. Where you can have a near miss at a certain corner called Dunlop in 1994 and then be a step behind wec and lose a life at the same corner 20 year later.

    Let’s not forget catastrophic mistakes by FIA employees who are then silenced with nda’s before being fired.

    I’ll stop now

    1. true fan detected

  4. I luv chicken
    23rd June 2024, 1:06

    Schumacher trying to put Rubens into the wall. Schumacher pushing HHF off the track, at turn 1 Montreal. Schumacher running into Hill, trying to get him off the track. Schumacher, trying to run j Villeneuve off the track.

    1. MSC – Barichello = MSC got penalty (10 places grid drop)
      MSC – Frentzen = MSC got penalty (10 sec stop and go)
      MSC – Hill = no penalty
      MSC – Villeneuve = MSC got penalty (DSQ from season)

      Your point is…?

  5. Seems a little strange to intentionally do something that could potentially damage your own car. I’m sure the TP and the rest of the team wouldn’t be impressed by this irregardless of the stewards decision.

  6. In football, there is a phrase “not every foul is a booking” which loosely translates as not every misdemeanor should be punished. In my opinion F1 spends far too much of its time finding ways to issue penalties and attributing small errors to a vague rule in order to appear as though it is taking action.

    My concern for a number of years has been than this makes a rod for the steward’s back. The list of infractions is too great to make penalties proportionate and the stewards come across as inconsistent. We saw it for years with the 5s penalty and it’s evident again this season with wildly varying punishments for small issues. Given the Alonso penalties in Australia and China – how can one argue this Leclerc incident can go without a serious penalty? Are the stewards incompetent, inconsistent or learning on the job and communicating ineffectively?

    I think 2 things should happen as a consequence of these incidents. Firstly, the penalty points system needs to be overhauled. Fundamentally, this is bad behaviour – it should warrant a higher punishment than a few track limit violations but should not invoke a sporting penalty as it was in a non competitive session. Secondly, there is clearly an endemic issue of blocking and the teams and drivers need to come up with a better (possibly AI automated solution) to cars approaching.

    1. @rbalonso AI will simply make decisions even less consistent than is already the case.

      1. AI wouldn’t make a decision – it would simply give a count down to cars within 10s when a driver is in harvesting mode. This is what engineers currently do but are distracted by other elements of their role. A simply driver tracker should make this an easy solution to create and implement.

  7. I already commented on this in an earlier thread, but in summary I could not agree more with the authors sentiment.

    I get that we are all human and may lose it now and then. I can’t even categorically state that I would never do a similar thing (as much as I hope that I wouldn’t). But if I did, I should not be upset if I were DSQ’d for it, as I honestly believe it would be deserved.

    Of course, I would prefer not to see a depleted field though I believe there could be ways of resolving that part of the problem.

    As it stands drivers can reasonably expect to be able to do the same and at most get a reprimand. That is until some further addendum to the rules are provided, which is a further joke unto itself. Forget the problems with flexi wings. F1’s Flexi-Rules are a bigger concern.

  8. Again, FIA standard is being no standard

    1. Yes, admirably consistent

      1. Consistently inconsistent is consistency of a sort I suppose

  9. I couldn’t agree more with this article & I was equally baffled when I found out about driving reprimand being the only sanction, especially for Leclerc who clearly aimed at Norris to cause contact on purpose.
    Simply impossible to be accidental, not to mention Norris was fully off the racing line, so more than enough space to safely pass him by simply staying on the racing line.

  10. Bobby (@shakenbake)
    23rd June 2024, 7:14

    The worst thing about the stewards decision is the message it sends to junior formula/categories.

    Are 7-15 year old karts racers now looking at this thinking it’s now slightly acceptable and they’ll just get a slap on the wrists if they do it?

    1. Not really. they live by their own standards and will push the rules accordingly from my experience. Don’t need whatever is happening in F1 to influence them. To some degree its what happens in karts that influences upwards over time.

  11. It’s a joke. Honestly, Leclerc shouldn’t be allowed to race this weekend. Deliberately hitting someone with a car should never be excused. Not to mention Leclerc has deliberately broken a rivals expensive car part. The stewards here have made an embarrassing decision.

    1. Except the stewards thought it was not deliberate. It was Stroll who said he’d done it on purpose.

      1. They didn’t think it wasn’t deliberate. They pretended they did in order to get away with not giving a penalty they thought would have been very unpopular and hurt the show.

  12. I’m surprised Charles did this and I’m bewildered that he escaped a penalty. Hopefully he pulls his head in for the race.

    1. Agreed. Seemed a very un-Charles like thing to do. I didn’t like, but it gives me hope he has more grit than I thought he did. However, it might have just been a tantrum rather than grit.

  13. Agreed, but all four drivers should have been penalised.
    Both road rage fools with a ten place grid drop and both impeders with a three place drop.
    Massive FIA f@#€% up.

    1. Disagree with impeders being being penalised in free practice unless they are regular offenders, driving dangerously, or (probably unprovably) doing it intentionally.

  14. I dislike all the penalties in F1 these days (as well as the safety cars for everything), hard driving should be allowed and a degreenof risk is inherent in motorsport.

    That said, deliberately driving into a competitor like Leclerc did should result in a severe penalty.

    Not sure about Stroll, with his situational awareness and car control he could feasibly claim it wasn’t intentional.

    1. Not sure about Stroll, with his situational awareness and car control he could feasibly claim it wasn’t intentional.

      Except he admitted it was intentional.

      1. Yeah, pretty sure what “Moi” said is known as a “joke” or “being humorous.”

  15. I find it disturbing you can get two penalty points for cutting a corner/chikane and no penalty points for using your car as a weapon, potentially ruining other driver’s cars. It is a primitive, potentially dangerous and expensive way to vent your anger. Poor sportsmanship.

  16. When Seb did something similar to Lewis in 2017 in the race, he received 10 second stop go and 3 points on his license – so would that be equivalent to a 5 place grid drop and 3 points?

    1. 10-place grid drop, but yes, that would be more in line with what I’d expected Stroll to get.

    2. There’s no excuse for not giving them penalties. The only difference in the incidents is that Seb hit Lewis even harder and under a safety car. But again, shouldn’t change things.

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