Consistency Killer: Why Vettel’s Penalty Shows F1’s Biggest Problem
Obviously, yesterday’s controversial penalty in Canada that played a major role in deciding the overall race outcome almost 20 laps before the finish has been met with strict debate amongst fans and drivers alike. Regardless of what side you’re on, I believe that we can all agree that the penalty ultimately denied us what was shaping up to be an amazing battle between two champions for the race victory. For this article, I will go through the penalty in detail and look at both sides of the argument and debate the point that the loss of consistency amongst decision making is what is killing F1 and the racing itself.
Now before I get into detail, I stress that I am neither a Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel fan so there is no deliberate favouritism on my behalf. I don’t particularly follow a driver or team, but if I was pushed to decide, I would go for Daniel Ricciardo. So my overall analysis of the incident is that basically, Vettel went wide and onto the grass at the turn three/four chicane due to losing control of the rear while entering the corner. He cut down the grass, obviously with no marked route back to the circuit as there is at the turn seven/eight chicane. As Vettel came back on the circuit, thanks to his 21 lap old slightly worn hard tyres now covered in grass, he suffered another slip of control on the rear and counter-steered the car to save himself.
At the same time, you have Hamilton behind, seeing what is going on and takes the corner as normal. Now, as you can see on Hamilton’s onboard, as he leaves the chicane, Vettel suffers his moment as he re-joined the circuit, to which Hamilton joins Vettel alongside and ultimately has to brake to avoid contact with the Ferrari. Vettel was handed a five-second penalty for this incident as he was deemed to have re-joined in an unsafe manner, thus pushing Hamilton off the circuit. I was confused at first but Hamilton does initially go all four wheels off the circuit as he braked to avoid Vettel, but this does not make sense. If Hamilton is deemed off the circuit here, why isn’t every other driver that constantly takes this line and goes that close to the wall deemed in going off the circuit and not getting their times revoked in qualifying for example? This is one of the many inconsistencies that I am referring to in this article.
Look at the penalty itself. Vettel was handed a five second penalty for the incident. Bearing in mind that neither driver made contact with each other, neither driver suffered damage of any kind, and both were able to continue to race. Initially, neither driver suffered anything that could’ve affected the race outcome. So why was there a need for a penalty? I thoroughly believe it was a complete accident on Vettel’s behalf and definitely that neither the mistake or the recovery was intentional. The stewards knew this would effectively end the race, which wasn’t fair for the thousands of spectators that paid hundreds or even thousands of dollars to attend the race. I know myself, as a fan who works hard to ensure that I can get to one or two races a year, would be disgusted if this was to happen in Barcelona or Silverstone. It wasn’t fair.
Going back on the terms of consistency, we all know by now as many people recounted a very similar incident between Hamilton and Ricciardo in Monaco in 2016, that Hamilton was not penalised. Why not? I cannot answer that. I even believe this to be a slightly worse incident as you can see from Ricciardo’s onboard that as Hamilton re-joined the circuit he pointed his car in a direction as to edge Ricciardo towards the wall. It was so that Ricciardo had to actually back out of the position and pull to behind Hamilton’s car, or clout the barrier. Again like Vettel, I believe this wasn’t a deliberate move on Ricciardo on Hamilton’s behalf, but why wasn’t this deemed a dangerous manoeuvre?
Even looking on incidents last year the inconsistency in stewards’ decisions is simply unacceptable. Remember France last year when Vettel and Valtteri Bottas came together in the first corner? Bottas sustained damage which hampered his fightback up the circuit, eventually settling for seventh whilst Vettel suffered a five second penalty. Fast forward two races later to Silverstone, Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen have a very similar coming together, Hamilton suffers no damage and recovers to second, what penalty does Kimi get? Five seconds? Nope a ten second penalty for the iceman. How can it be two different penalties for the same incident? I can’t particularly understand why Kimi got a harsher penalty for an incident that didn’t affect Hamilton as bad as Vettel’s collision affected Bottas?
There is only one solution. The FIA needs to sincerely look at the stewards and their decision making. I completely understand that rules and procedure was followed on Sunday, but the decision making is beyond unprofessional and is slowly killing the sport. Inconsistencies such as ones mentioned cannot be acceptable and cannot go on. I believe it’s time to get rid of the driver stewards and nominate a head steward and group of stewards that will attend every race. Much like the race director, they will spend time with and get to know each driver personally through briefings and meetings and consistency will improve so much more. Formula 1 is stuck in such a way its like awarding a penalty in soccer for an incident outside of the box. It doesn’t make sense. I would also call for the need to start determining when a driver has an unintentional incident such as Vettel’s in Canada, and when a driver deserves a penalty for their behaviour on track.
We cannot let these inconsistent decisions ruin our sport. I hope this backlash opens the eyes of the FIA and shows them that change is strictly needed. We need to let drivers off the leash and go for it, and stop punishing for such stupid things. This is F1, what is supposed to be the fastest most exciting form of motorsport, and it’s just not anymore. What a sad sight to see.