Driving penalties: F1 is tying itself in knots
Two weeks after the controversy of Canada and the arguments over Sebastian Vettel’s five-second penalty for chicane cutting and Hamilton blocking, here we were again with more punishments at Paul Ricard. F1 is making everyone, including its most committed die-hard fans, groan with despair right now.
On the last lap in Paul Ricard a fantastic four-way fight played out as Lando Norris’s McLaren, hobbled by a hydraulics problem, valiantly defended from Daniel Ricciardo’s charging Renault, as Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa Romeo and Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault brought themselves into the mix. It was the best of F1 in a few corners.
As we know, it ended badly for Ricciardo. A signature late-braking move pushed him over the track’s white line at the Mistral chicane, although he scrabbled back to keep within the kerb on the second part of the complex.
Norris was now out of the picture having run wide on the exit, but Räikkönen got a run and was through to seventh. Typically, Ricciardo wasn’t done and scythed past on the outside, the Renault’s four wheels clearly over the white line and over the track’s limits. It had been a brilliant moment of pure motor racing.
But he knew he was bang to rights and had a penalty coming. To his credit, Daniel didn’t whinge about it as others might – because it had been “fun”. In the Australian’s mind, he’d gone for it as racing drivers must, and to hell with the rules.
The penalty for both infractions pushed him not only out of seventh, but out of the points, down to 11th. The stewards, just as they had in Canada, felt compelled by the regulations to punish him.
But it’s throttling the life out of the racing. Sporting regs have now become so regimented, following years of discussions with drivers on track limits at circuits no longer verged by grass, that there is no room for discretion of individual, case-by-case judgement. To hell with track limits – this had been why we watch F1 in the first place.
A solution is tough, because the rules have been written to create a code of ethics that is not only fair, but promotes safe racing. But F1 has backed itself into a corner on this one over recent years. Now a root-and-branch independent review of the system must be commissioned, with the aim of creating a new framework of regulations that have room for flexibility, discretion and human judgement.
Otherwise, as David Coulthard raged on Channel 4’s coverage, we might as well all go home.