Another F1 weekend, another shopping list’s worth of penalties. The most recent driver who committed a felony was Max Verstappen, after he “stopped on the racing line in a potentially dangerous position”. Ignoring the fact that one would assume stopping on the racing line immediately implies stopping in a dangerous position, awarding him a penalty just doesn’t make any sense to me.
Verstappen said in his post-qualifying interview that he had lost all electricity in the car. He then tried to pull over to the side, but he was unable to use the clutch while in third gear, so he kind of ground to a halt right there and then. This explanation seems perfectly reasonable to me: it explains how his car ended up in such a weird position, and nothing in his story indicated he was intentionally trying to block the racing line.
And of course it wouldn’t have made sense to block the racing line, since he hadn’t set a time up to that point. If he tried to be a nuisance to the other drivers, he could have just as well stopped on the inside of the track, since that would also trigger a yellow flag for at least a minute.
And how dangerous was his stopping position anyway? The car stopped on one of the slowest parts of the track. Even without the aid of yellow flags, his fellow competitors, assuming they don’t have the eyesight of a mole, should have been able to spot the stricken Toro Rosso and take action to avoid Luciano Burti-ing into the back of him.
In conclusion: assuming he told the stewards exactly what he told the world in his post-qualifying interview, the stewards should have said “aaah so that’s why you didn’t pull over to the side. We get it now, good luck tomorrow.” Instead, they said “well it doesn’t matter that you weren’t able to get to a safe haven, the fact of the matter is you stopped on the racing line so we will punish you for it.” “But I just explained to you how this was beyond my control. Believe me, I know the protocol for when your car suddenly dies on you, I’ve pulled over a couple of times this year.” “That’s all well and good, but still you didn’t pull over to the side, so we’re going to give you a penalty.”
Joining Max Verstappen on the naughty bench is Nico Hülkenberg, after he collided with Felipe Massa in Singapore. In my opinion (and I believe this is a common opinion) is that Hülkenberg was indeed more to blame for that incident than Massa, although it’s only a marginal difference. After they collided, Massa was able to continue without any lasting disadvantage, until his gearbox failed 18 laps later. Hülkenberg on the other hand was launched into the barriers and retired from the race.
So Hülkenberg is to blame for an accident (which implies he ‘accidentally’ collided) that only really harmed him, as he saw a potential top eight finish go up in smoke. What did the stewards make of that? They gave him a three-place grid penalty for the next race.
Both penalties just don’t make any sense to me. Comparing this to soccer, there are two main reasons why a player would be penalised (yellow or red card): either he intentionally did something to disadvantage the other team (grabbing an opponent’s T-shirt, stalling the match etc.), or behaving aggressively (tackling another player). Applying these rules, it’s clear Max Verstappen would not have been given a card. Hülkenberg was being aggressive, but so was Massa. They were both fighting hard for the same piece of tarmac and eventually they collided. However, the only one to be disadvantaged was Hülkenberg himself, so again no reason to give him a card.
What’s the point of awarding drivers penalties anyway? It’s to make sure the competition between drivers is safe and fair. It’s to prevent a driver from doing the same dangerous/unsportsmanlike thing again. Especially in Verstappen’s case, what should he be learning from that incident? Is the FIA telling him he should pull over when his car fails, something he has demonstrated in the past he is capable of doing? Is the FIA trying to tell him he should always drive off the racing line just in case the electric system fails? Is the FIA just sour after they made a whole host of changes to prevent future Max Verstappens from entering the elitist of elite that is the FIA Formula 1 ® World Championship, and then finding out this scallywag is actually doing a great job?
Ok, so I might have got a bit personal there, but my point is: why award penalties when there is no purpose in giving penalties? Just give a driver a penalty when he made a clear mistake that he should learn from and stick to that.