Formula One: On and off track - week 16

Formula One: On and off track - week 16

FIA's fourth steward, Once bitten, twice shy, A non-existing rift, and 25 races in one season? FIA's fourth steward The Federation Internationale de l'Automobile's initiative to appoint experienced Formula One drivers to assist the FIA...

FIA's fourth steward, Once bitten, twice shy, A non-existing rift, and 25 races in one season?

FIA's fourth steward

The Federation Internationale de l'Automobile's initiative to appoint experienced Formula One drivers to assist the FIA Stewards during a race has so far been a great success. In an effort to improve the consistency and credibility of the rule-enforcing process, which has been heavily criticized during the last few years, FIA President Jean Todt responded by reforming the FIA F1 Stewards Panel, and this season for every Grand Prix an experienced driver will be invited to join the official FIA Stewards. The fourth steward has full voting power, and he will represent the drivers. So far, four-time World Champion Alain Prost, Tom Kristensen, Johnny Herbert and Alexander Wurz have taken up the role of the fourth steward.

Two Formula One legends, Emerson Fittipaldi and Alain Prost.
Photo by

But the FIA doesn't want to invite just any driver for the job, they want the best and most experienced drivers. For the Spanish GP 55-year old Briton Derek Warwick has been invited, and 1996 World Champion and BRDC President Damon Hill will be present during the Monaco GP. The FIA wants 64-year veteran and two-time World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi to be present during the Canadian GP, while 1992 World Champion Nigel Mansell is scheduled for the British GP at Silverstone. Mika Salo also got an invitation, and it is believed he will be the fourth steward during the European GP at Valencia. Alain Prost will make a second appearance during the Turkish GP.

But although the imitative was welcomed by drivers, teams and fans, it seems not everybody is happy with the decisions they have sofar made. There was some criticism about how the stewards handled the Hamilton 'weaving case' in Malaysia when he was not punished but reprimanded for his actions. The same criticism has emerged after last weekend's Chinese GP, ex-Formula One driver and BBC commentator Martin Brundle stated that if he would have been the fourth steward, he would have pushed for harder decisions and penalties.

Brundle thinks Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel should have been penalized for their wheel banging actions in the pit lane, and Jenson Button should have been penalized for giving the whole F1 field behind him a brake test when the safety car pulled into the pit lane. Perhaps Brundle is a bit early with his conclusions, let's wait and see what will happen during the next 4 or 5 races, after all, consistency was the goal, and unnecessary harsh punishments won't help to achieve this.

Once bitten, twice shy

Despite having made several attempts to enter Formula One in the past, both Lola and Prodrive have ruled out applying for a 2011 Formula One entry. Lola and Prodrive were absolutely not happy after the FIA rejected their entry in 2009, and suggested that ex-FIA President Max Mosley favored other teams because they refused to sign a contract to use the new Cosworth engine. Both companies are respectable and very experienced car builders. Prodrive issued a statement in which they claim they are now concentrating on their return to the 2011 World Rally Championship, and they are also expanding their activities with Aston Martin in all categories of sports car racing. Lola owner martin Birrane: "Sadly our well developed 2010 F1 project, which included a significant wind tunnel programme, had to be frozen in June 2009. The recently announced applications for 2011 has left us with insufficient time to prepare for what would be a quite different programme."

Prodrive boss Dave Richards.
Photo by Chris Von Wieldt.

In 2009 the FIA never explained why certain applicants were selected, or perhaps it would be better to say, why certain applicants were turned down for the 2010 championship. The FIA claimed they used the proper procedures to determine which applicants had the best chance of survival in Formula One, the procedure was based upon several criteria: technical abilities and resources, finances and funding, experience and human resources. The FIA has announced it will use the same criteria again to determine which of the applicants will be admitted to the 2011 championship.

According to the FIA statement issued in March this year, there is another criterion in the selection procedure: "The FIA's assessment of the value that the candidate may bring to the Championship as a whole." Which means they can accept or refuse any application based upon sentiments, rather than based upon facts. Well, it is a fact that none of the new teams were able to impress sofar, they have a chronic lack of financial resources. The FIA has even announced they are also looking for a 'reserve' entry, which in fact means the FIA expects one of those three newcomers will not make it to the end of the season. Sofar two new applicants have taken the bait, the Spanish Epsilon Euskadi and the Italian Durango teams. The FIA will make a decision in July.

A non-existing rift

Ferrari drivers Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso had a sort of a private race when they entered the pit lane during the Chinese GP last weekend. Alonso overtook his team mate rather unexpectedly, and Massa was forced to take avoiding actions and had to steer into the gravel. The whole move looked a bit as if Alonso didn't fancy queuing up behind his colleague to score a new set of tyres, and according to some, forced him of the track. This move has now caused a lot of speculations about the relationship between the two Ferrari drivers.

Team principal Stefano Domenicale claimed he didn't see the move, and although it was visibly clear Massa was disappointed about his team mate's move, he insists it was a race incident: "The situation between me and Fernando is the one it always has been and an overtaking maneuver won't change it for sure." The Ferrari team also issued a statement and claim there is no rift between the two drivers. Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo also stepped in to defend Alonso's action: "There is no dispute between Alonso and Massa, they know well what they have to do and will continue doing it, because they know that they are racing for Ferrari and not for themselves."

Fernando Alonso, Scuderia Ferrari Felipe Massa, Scuderia Ferrari close call in pit lane.
Photo by

Alonso commented: "If he was not my team mate, there wouldn't be so much talk about it and for me it was a normal move and it definitely won't compromise our relationship." Yes, you nailed it Fernando, but the fact remains Felipe is your team mate and therefore it could indeed compromise your relation with Felipe. And if there's nothing going on, why are so many people trying to convince us there is nothing going on?

25 races in one season?

After speculations that the first Grand Prix in Korea would perhaps be postponed because work on the circuit had been delayed, Bernie Ecclestone reported to the media the race was not in danger and said he was 'absolutely sure' the circuit will be finished in time. Ecclestone also said that no races would be dropped from the calendar in the future, after there were rumors the Chinese GP and the European GP in Valencia were in danger. Ecclestone: "We are not dropping anything, get ready for 25 races."

Indeed, Ecclestone is again trying to expand his Formula One empire, and has several times expressed he wants a GP in Rome, New York, India and Russia. But the big question is of course, can teams handle so many races in one year? Especially the new teams already have financial woes, and logistically speaking it would be a nightmare to move the Formula One circus around the planet if they were to attend 25 races in one season. But Ecclestone always gets what he wants, and without a doubt he will be more than happy to share the extra revenues a 25-race season would generate with the Formula One teams, isn't that right Mr. Ecclestone?

Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".

See also: Formula One: On and off track - week 15

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Johnny Herbert , Tom Kristensen , Fernando Alonso , Luca di Montezemolo , Alexander Wurz , Mika Salo , Nigel Mansell , Martin Brundle , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Alain Prost , Damon Hill , Emerson Fittipaldi , Derek Warwick , Sebastian Vettel , Jean Todt , Bernie Ecclestone