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F1 preoccupied with penaltiesMaurice Hamilton June 13, 2014
Has the dishing out of penalties gone too far in F1?
I ask this question mindful of a blog written in September 2011 that criticised Italian Grand Prix stewards for not taking Michael Schumacher to task when he shoved Lewis Hamilton onto the grass at over 180 mph. It seemed to me that this had been a bad example for young drivers, not only because of the unnecessary risk but also thanks to officialdom refusing to even consider it as a subject for discussion.
Moving on almost three years, we have the case of Max Chilton in Montreal, the Marussia driver receiving a three-place grid penalty for 'causing a collision', as outlined in Article 16 of the FIA F1 Sporting Regulations.
I'd agree that Chilton was responsible for the driving error that had the unfortunate and embarrassing effect of taking out his team-mate Jules Bianchi. But am I alone in thinking that the incident should not have been considered, never mind adjudicated upon in such a heavy-handed manner?
Chilton may have been pushing too hard on the opening lap of his 26th Grand Prix, but surely this is what motor racing is supposed to be all about? Unlike Schuey at Monza, it's not as if the move was premeditated and had potentially lethal consequences. Chilton made a mistake in the heat of the moment. End of. It's what racing drivers do from time to time.
Unlike some I could mention, Chilton's record has been close to exemplary. If he does the same thing again in Austria and subsequent races then, by all means, let the officials have a word. But, from what I can see, F1 seems to be following the rest of the world in adopted a blame culture for everything and anything that deviates from the straight and narrow of dull textbook living.
When an incident of any kind is passed to the stewards, it's as if they feel obliged to finger the culprit and lay down a sentence. To be fair to the men in the white FIA shirts, it's easy to understand the need to justify their existence when they've been handed a list of possible penalties that runs to three pages. You can imagine the mindset: 'Jeez, that driver made a mistake! Hang on, there's got to be a penalty in here somewhere.'
Take it a stage further and you could have the reverse psychology of the footballing dive, already pathetically evident in the World Cup. Knowing the trigger-happy culture of race officials, drivers will be coming on the radio and saying loudly and dramatically: "Did you see that? He actually tried to pass me!"
It's tempting to wonder about the effect of homogenising racing in this way. Surely the attraction for youngsters looking on is the cut and thrust of competition; the wheel-to-wheel engagement that fires adrenalin and made motor sport attractive to us all?
With a weighty rule book being referenced with growing disregard for the sport's fundamental culture, is there a risk of drivers becoming afraid to make a move and do what they're actually supposed to do? If the factor of fierce combat is ripped away by a fear of being penalised, then we could lose much more in the long term. Zealous policing is in danger of disengaging motor sport's potential talent before they so much as sit in a racing car.
Give us a break. Let's go racing by intuition and not solely by the increasingly abused Article 16.
Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.