F1 stewards may give tougher penalties for incidents

FIA race director Charlie Whiting says the governing body is considering aligning Formula 1 driver punishments more closely with the consequences of their actions.

There was some controversy after the recent French GP when Sebastian Vettel received a five-second penalty for hitting Valtteri Bottas at the first corner, ruining the Finn's race by sending him to the back of the field with a damaged car.

Some drivers like Lewis Hamilton suggested that the penalty handed to the German was not sufficient, even though he was also badly delayed.

Whiting says that the stewards are not supposed to consider the consequences for the other parties involved in an incident, but suggested that they may do so in the future.

"The stewards don't normally look at the consequences of the accident," he explained. "Although in fairness it probably plays a little subconscious part.

"Let's just say Vettel had continued without any problem, I think the stewards may have thought that's not fair, he's ruined Valtteri's race, it's clearly his fault, and they may have thought slightly differently.

"But it's not a conscious thing to say, 'He's OK, he's not.'

"Or let's say had it been the other way around, let's say Valtteri continued, Vettel had caused the accident, but should you actually penalise him as well as the penalty he's already got? Self-punishment if you like.

"It's something that we're discussing. It could open the door to something that we're not expecting, although some could argue that it's a bit more common sense. So it's something that we're currently discussing with the stewards."

After France, some also questioned why Vettel hand been handed a five-second penalty, while Max Verstappen received 10 seconds for hitting the German in China.

Whiting said the difference was that the latter incident happened in the middle of the race.

"I think first corner incidents, or even first lap incidents, are looked at through a slightly different pair of eyes.

"You accept some of the things that happen on the first lap that you might not accept 10 laps later, for obvious reasons."

Whiting also stressed that the past record of drivers should not be considered when a penalty is assessed.

"Previous races are not taken into account. That's what the points system is for. That's a fact. That's one of the cornerstones of the stewards' decision-making process."

The consistency of decision making is now driven by a system called the Race Watch Stewards Review.

Introduced at the start of 2016, it sees all incidents investigated since then collated with video evidence and details of the outcome in a single online resource, to which all FIA stewards have access.

This allows them to study details of what happened at races at which they did not officiate, and to return to those incidents on race weekends when something similar comes up.

"Every steward has access to this system. We have regular meetings of the chairman of the stewards in order to go through the incidents and see if there's anything that can be learned from it. It's update for them immediately after every race.

"The stewards can go to any incident and see exactly what the decision was and what the reasons were and what the penalties were. This is all an attempt to try and make things more consistent.

"The whole idea is that the stewards are able look back very quickly. Like the incident today, when Vandoorne's car was released rather unsafely in front of the Ferrari, they were able to look back at previous incidents of that.

"There was one in 2016 I think with Lewis, so it was OK, that was the penalty then, similar incident, same penalty. That's the principle, anyway."

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