This weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix featured yet another example of a problem that I feel has the potential to cause many issues for Formula 1 as a sport, and that’s the way that small infringements and the resulting penalties can decide the results of races.
When following teammate Mark Webber behind the safety car, Sebastian Vettel slowed considerably, backing up Alonso and the rest of the pack, allowing Webber to get a lead, which he needed for his upcoming pitstop. Quite rightly, this is against the rules, as it could be abused and, while Vettel and Red Bull have claimed that there were no team orders involved, it is right that a punishment was given. However, this penalty cost Vettel a likely win, and certainly cost viewers an exciting race.
The main issue I see with this is not with F1 die-hards, but more for casual fans, and particularly those who are fans of a particular driver. For fans of Sebastian Vettel, seeing him penalised on what may seem like a silly technicality would be a bitter pill to swallow, and would potentially raise accusations of favouritism and race-fixing. Seeing a race effectively decided in the stewards’ room, rather than on the track, is damaging for the sport in the long run.
Another example of this happened earlier this year at the European Grand Prix, when several drivers were penalised five seconds after the race for speeding under the safety car. Fortunately, this didn’t change the outcome of the race, at least at the front, but potentially could have done, which would have again made a mockery of the previous two hours fans had invested watching the race. And that’s before we even get to the inevitable jokes about racing cars being penalised for being too fast!
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t feel for a moment that these drivers shouldn’t have been penalised. After all, a footballer who has played well but fouls another player is still booked or sent off. The rules have to be enforced otherwise there is no point in having them, and these rules are there for important reasons, as outlined above. However, I do think there is a problem with how things stand at the moment, when F1 could seem to some to be all about the technicalities and the rules and less about the actual racing. So maybe the solution is to try and instil better racing into F1.
Which, of course, is a whole other problem. To which I certainly don’t have the solution.