It was a poor decision from the stewards to hand an in-race five-second penalty to Sebastian Vettel in Montreal.
I don’t believe a penalty was due, but even so they could have investigated it after the race with the benefit of more time and data, and after speaking with both drivers.
I am not going to beat up on the stewards, they have the regulations, knowledge, footage, data, process and precedents to follow. You have to have rules and a referee otherwise you have anarchy and the whole thing would fall over.
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Emanuele Pirro represented the driver element on the panel, and he is a passionate and knowledgeable racer who has given way more back to motorsport than he has taken and continues to do so.
Vettel did lose control of the car which instigated the whole issue. Whether it was turbulence from the backmarkers in front, something on the track surface, or carrying a fraction too much speed, the back of his car stepped out.
It was not a big error, and certainly no greater than Lewis Hamilton’s as he locked his brakes several times at the turn 10 hairpin and ran wide. Only a racing driver knows how it feels when a car unexpectedly snaps away like that.
In motorsport we do not have regulation pitch, court, net and ball dimensions. We have ever-evolving and widely-varying racetracks. A driver’s job is to drive to the absolute edge of the variable limit of grip depending on track, weather, fuel load and tyre conditions.
Especially in such a titanic battle as we were witnessing, a racing driver does not leave a safety margin in every braking zone and corner just in case the car unexpectedly slides. That’s road driving.
The geography of the track layout is all important here.
The T3/4 chicane in Montreal is unsighted, bumpy, slippery, downhill and effectively feeds into a narrow tunnel. The run-off area is rough grass, and Vettel was either going to end up back on the narrow track at some kind of angle, or in a heap against the wall.
Lewis knew that, and that’s why he did not hit the Ferrari, but he’s an instinctive winner duelling with a fast car and driver, and that’s why he looked to take possibly his only passing opportunity until the wedge closed him off.
What Vettel did to Hamilton was not as abrupt as what Hamilton did to Daniel Ricciardo at the harbour chicane in Monaco in 2016, or indeed many other incidents in such places, and without penalty.
Let’s imagine that run-off area was dusty smooth tarmac, in which case Vettel would have probably lost little ground. Let’s imagine the run-off area was dusty smooth tarmac with a penalty bollard you must pass around before rejoining, like five corners later, in which case Hamilton would have likely been through. But it was not either of those two, and that’s why geography matters.
The stewards have to be consistent where possible, and whilst they are rarely the same combination of people, they do have a very comprehensive and reasonably accessible database. But it still needs interpretation and common sense.
They certainly cannot make decisions based on whether it’s a close race or who might be winning, any more than a referee or umpire can allow or disallow incidents to help the show. But this duel should have been allowed to run and hopefully remedy itself, and then calmly considered post-race.
I cannot see how the penalty can be unravelled now, otherwise Mercedes will claim they would have pushed harder to overtake.
Just as with the famous Multi-21 Red Bull saga between Vettel and Mark Webber, I happened to be doing the post-race interviews, which was interesting to say the least.
Obviously Seb no-showed at the parc fermé party and the booing was intense as I spoke with Lewis. That was totally unfair, he neither made the error, nor the rules or decision. He just drove a stunning race in a car which was hurriedly put back together before the race.
Charles Leclerc looked slightly distant both on the grid and in parc fermé, and his race was a little lonely in third as they left him out in the hope of a Safety Car, at which point he dropped away from the top two. I was rather surprised to hear him say post-race he did not know Vettel had a penalty, because Seb was definitely getting the ‘push now’ and ‘everything you’ve got’ hurry ups to make sure he retained a post-penalty second place.
Just as I thought my interview role was over I was told Sebastian would be going to the podium and that I was to interview him after the champagne and if possible, get Lewis back into the debate.
So, in other words, chat with a very animated Seb who had been marching through garages and moving finishing position boards around, and invite into that conversation his arch rival Lewis, who was by now getting booed even more in fuller view up there.
I rather enjoyed Seb’s presence of mind in moving the position boards even if it was a bit churlish, but I absolutely admired his public call not to boo Lewis. He is a traditionalist, in many ways old school, and he would be joining many of us remembering the FIA declared a while back that ‘we will let them race’.
I’m not party to the processes and so I do not know what Charlie Whiting may have done, but I feel pretty sure I know what Niki Lauda would have said, even against his own team result.
I’m being romantic here, but Lewis and Mercedes would have done very well for the sport and themselves to effectively kick the ball into touch and say to Ferrari ‘get Leclerc off our tail and we’ll drop more than five seconds back from Vettel’. But why should they? Lewis drove a great race in pressurising Seb.
Vettel said after the race ‘it’s no longer about the title’ and they deserved the race win. Sadly for the spectacle, only seven races into the season the numbers rather support the fact that Merc are sailing to both titles again. But there’s still 364 driver points available.
In other news, Renault had a great point scoring day in sixth and seventh which appears to be setting up a duel with the similarly powered rivals McLaren, who had one to forget, and Lance Stroll drove a very fine race to ninth from 17th by banking great pace on used tyres to afford himself a new set of medium compound tyres to the finish.
Valtteri Bottas had one of his difficult weekends and hopefully he can recover from that and not spiral down like last year. It was only one slip up in qualifying, and nowhere near as big as the mistake Lewis made when hitting the wall on Friday, but it’s how you recover which counts.
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