Inconsistent decisions from FIA Stewards during the Japanese GP?
By Berthold Bouman
Although ex-Formula One driver Derek Warwick represented the drivers in the FIA Stewards panel at Suzuka this weekend, and although there have been a lot of improvements over the last two years, the FIA Stewards still don’t seem to have shed their bad habit of making inconsistent decisions.
After qualifying eyebrows were raised when Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne received a three-place grid penalty for “impeding Car 19 (Kovalainen) at Turn 16,” while Red Bull driver and pole sitter Sebastian Vettel was only reprimanded after “The driver of Car 1 (Vettel) impeded Car 5 (Fernando Alonso) at Turn 16.”
In Vergne’s case the Stewards referred to Article 31.7 of the Sporting regulations, which says: “Any driver taking part in any practice session who, in the opinion of the stewards, stops unnecessarily on the circuit or unnecessarily impedes another driver shall be subject to the penalties referred to in Article 31.6.” Article 31.6 says the Stewards are also allowed to give grid penalties to drivers.
Vettel, however, had according to the official FIA documents breached Article 16.1, as he was “Involved in an incident as defined by Article 16.1 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations.” Article 16 is about ‘Incidents’ and sub 1.g says, “Illegitimately impeded another driver during overtaking.”
A very strange decision, as both incidents took place during qualifying, but Vettel only received a warning while Vergne lost three places on the start grid. Vettel clearly, intentionally or not, impeded Alonso who was on a fast qualifying lap and thus hampered the Spaniard’s attempts to improve his time during his last run in Q3.
The next day during the race, Romain Grosjean received a ten-second stop-and-go penalty as he had “Caused a collision with Car 2 (Webber) in Turn 1.” One should keep in mind that Grosjean, who was banned from the Italian Grand Prix after his escapades at Spa two weeks earlier, certainly not had the intention to push Webber into a spin, but he nevertheless got the harshest penalty available.
Also Bruno Senna “Caused a collision with Car 8 (Nico Rosberg) in Turn 1” and received a drive-through penalty as he eliminated the German, who was forced to retire from the race after the Brazilian ran into the back of his Mercedes.
But Kimi Raikkonen in the second Lotus, did in fact the same and collided with Alonso who also spun as his left rear tyre was damaged in the collision, the Ferrari disappeared into the gravel trap and Alonso saw his chances of winning the championship disappearing at the horizon. But Raikkonen wasn’t penalised, he could continue and that was it.
Especially the decision to not penalize Raikkonen was a very nebulous decision, inconsistent and incomprehensible for spectators as well. If Raikkonen’s incident was a race incident, then why were the incidents with Senna and Grosjean not race incidents? Or were the stewards just afraid to interfere with the championship and therefore let Vettel and Raikkonen off the hook to avoid a public row?
At least one thing can be said, FIA certainly doesn’t mean ‘Ferrari International Assistance’ as many still mockingly say, because Alonso was the main victim and he was the one who lost the most yesterday at Suzuka, only four points now separate the numbers one and two in the Drivers’ Championship, Alonso and Vettel.