The real disappointment from the Saudi Arabian GP
An incredulous race that has left everyone stunned
Well, let's all take a breath. I've given it a whole 4 hours sleep and a decent amount of mulling. I think my issue, which I'm going to piece out in this article, is the complete and utter disregard for formal process throughout the race. This is entirely separate from whether or not anyone may be a Verstappen or Hamilton fan, the race starts and restart were probably the only points in the race where formal process was adhered to... oh and throwing the chequered flag, we can give them points for that. So, lets go from the top:
My personal view of a stewards job
I think this needs to be explained before really leaning into this. Somewhere, probably Canada 2019, a Formula One stewards job got a whole lot harder. There was a controversial stewarding decision that has since seismically changed Formula One's approach to stewarding, since that Hamilton, Vettel incident there has been this whole new discussion about the general aggression of stewarding. How harsh should the stewards be enforcing the rules. Whether the stewards should let the drivers sort stuff out on track or intervene.
The now infamous incident: https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.canadian-grand-prix-2019-race-report-highlights.4Jhsl7NERcdaUp4igw5vXi.html
Personally, this is complete and utter *&$"(£$")^!!?"$£
My opinion, which is where a lot of this irritation comes from, is that the stewards and race director owe absolutely no one an interesting or dynamic race. Their job is to ensure the safety of those racing, the safety of the spectators and enforce the sporting regulations.
If the cars/formula of the series is producing crap racing and you have drivers making moronic moves which happen to be vaguely interesting but undeniably dangerous, it's not the stewards problem if this means they have to enforce the rules and punish the moron (that's not a dig at any one driver just a generalised statement.) The stewards owe no one an interesting race, they owe no one feeling picked on if they are consistently being brought in front of the RD and stewards, their single minded job should be enforcing the rules and ensuring the safety of those present. And finally, being consistent in doing so.
Realistically, to me there should be no need to intervene if the drivers actually race within the realms of the sporting regulations, and if you are consistently breaking those rules, don't bother racing.
Harsh? Yes. But drivers, like Raikkonen (not perfect but the best example I can think of,) have proven you can be damn quick, successful, and not consistently driving others off the circuit and that should be what you are aiming for as a series owner and as a stewarding body.
The race, this year, and where this comes into play:
So, let's put this in the context of the Saudi Arabia GP and previous... incidents. Mick Schumacher's crash. The first red flag. This was fine, take off your tin foil hats, there has been form this weekend for red flags to be thrown for crashes at turn 22. The red flag was thrown at the point when Schumacher's car was removed and it was evident the barrier needed repairs.
This is all fine. It was a strategic gamble from RB, it paid off. No harm no foul everything within the stewarding world is as it should be. It's a little irritating how it happened but the safety of everyone and how racing functions it is normal to have a SC period before it being upgraded to a red flag for track repairs to be given the suitable space for them to happen, it means we get more racing, less trundling behind the SC.
The first restart and second red flag. Also follows form, the debris was across the entire width of the circuit, it was a nasty incident for all involved and a sensible decision to once again red flag the race. However as I think we're all aware the first restart involved an amount of controversy. What ensued I can only summarise as F1's poor re-enactment of Phil Wang haggling for Taskmaster prize tasks (very specific have a link:)
I didn't realise that somewhere along the way we had stepped into an alternate reality where penalty's and other stewards decisions could be negotiated over during the race. This is the single most absurd thing I've witnessed in my relatively short time of watching Formula 1 (2004-Present.) All process just decided to snap itself from existence and chaos reined from this point onwards in the race. Again, don't particularly care what the decision was, just, since when do we negotiate penalties? Either way, from here, chaos reined and it would've been simpler just to have everyone rock paper scissors for their finishing order given the amount the rules actually mattered.
On the topic of *THAT* incident from Saudi, the idea of 'strategically' giving a position back so that you short lose but long win out is a joke, it indicates that you do not respect the leniency that the stewards and race director offered in the first place (something again, which I was stunned by.)
Secondly, because of the 'strategic' nature of giving the position it meant it all occurred on the fastest part of the circuit where there's an argument that there is no clear 'off line' area given the weaving that has been on display all season.
And finally, the order in which you advise the teams was the wrong way round, basic logic indicates that the driver that will affect this manoeuvrer will be the car ahead, ergo the driver behind should be informed first so that they are aware whilst the driver ahead is also informed, so everyone has all the information before the cluster begins.
This collection of problems all culminated in a frankly outrageous display of dangerous driving from both parties. It was embarrassing to watch, wholly unsatisfying and disappointing because most of all, the incident probably encapsulates the themes of this seasons championship, which indicates this has been a systematic failure of the stewarding system throughout the season.
This is without even acknowledging either of Vettel's incidents and how nothing was said of either, any inquiry into the crash that caused the second red flag, and finally that it took three and a half hours to come to a decision on the focus point incident that meant nobody felt any sort of consequences from the incident.
Where does this all leave us heading into the season finale?
If we had a difference of opinion after Silverstone, an active issue after Brazil, we now have a set course for all out anarchy and an unsatisfying end to the season. Given the progression through the season I do not see how this championship is not decided by a stewards decision next weekend. Verstappens aggression, whether it should be allowed or otherwise, and the fact he holds the tiebreak will mean that if he is ahead at all, and is being pressured, Hamilton will not be getting passed on track, that was proved this weekend given we had no run-off and they still managed to get into a situation where Verstappen was forced to let Hamilton by.
It is never a good thing when you have drivers making remarks about changing their driving style to fit better with what is being allowed in the context of driving more aggressively. We've seen this to be true in the past and it's happening again.
I write this kind of stuff because I care about the integrity of the sport, and whilst Mercedes dominance has been boring, buy and large it's been refreshing to watch a team dominate fair and square. There have been so few points in the past 8 years where they have actually been questioned on the legality of their car, or the aggressive driving of their drivers. Even this year, there has been questions but at no point has Mercedes been forced to change the spec of anything on their car, not because they have the FIA in their pocket but because they just do a damn good job. And i'm concerned that in the eagerness to try and provide competition we've opened pandora's box on an issue that will not go away until someone actually grows a backbone inside the stewarding room.
Because until that happens in the past year we've accepted that driving your opponent off circuit is fine and that if you're in the championship hunt the stewards are so meek that they will not interfere out of fear that they might get the backlash of the public for a drivers misconduct.
This is not what F1 should be. And I am not looking forward to next weekend out of the simple fact that one of the two drivers fighting for the championship, for the first time in 30 years, genuinely feels like he could, and would, take his competitor off at the first corner, and nothing would happen, because the stewards are too scared of ruining the 'spectacle'.