Formula 1: Why the Stewards Were Wrong to Penalize Sebastian Vettel

Craig ChristopherAnalyst ISeptember 11, 2012

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 09:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing leads from Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari during the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on September 9, 2012 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images)
Andrew Hone/Getty Images

Sebastian Vettel's move on Fernando Alonso in Monza was almost certainly a deliberate payback for last year's identical move in which the roles were reversed. It was nasty, unnecessary and probably unsportsmanlike—but it just wasn't illegal.

The arguments about whether the stewards were justified in penalizing Sebastian Vettel for the incident in which Fernando Alonso took to the grass in Monza continue.

The voracity of the argument often depends little on any technical merit, but rather which supporters club you may have made camp in.

There is, however, a technical basis for the discussion and breaking it down it can be shown that the stewards got it wrong.

The whole rationale for Vettel being penalised this year when Alonso wasn’t penalized last year for an identical move is the rules clarification handed down by FIA Racing Director Charlie Whiting in July.

The clarification, as published by, states that,

“Any driver defending his position on a straight and before any braking area, may use the full width of the track during his first move provided no significant portion of the car attempting to pass is alongside his” (emphasis as in original document).

It was pretty clear that Alonso had a significant portion of his car alongside which satisfies that portion of the ruling, however, the incident happened in the middle of Turn 3—the Curva Grande—as indicated in the stewards report, also published on

“[While] defending his position [Vettel] forced [Alonso] off the track even though [Alonso] had a significant portion of his car alongside into turn three.”


That’s pretty definitive, the rule “clarification” doesn’t apply in corners.

Put simply, the stewards got it wrong.

Underneath it all, however, is something even more fundamental.

This is Formula 1 racing, the supposed pinnacle of world motorsport, are we really suggesting that drivers have to allow themselves to be overtaken?

We have DRS which takes a significant portion of the skill out of overtaking already, are we now suggesting that a driver has to pull off the racing line to allow another car to pass if that racing line goes near the edge of the track?

That’s ridiculous.

Vettel was following his normal racing line as could be seen by watching laps before and after the incident. There was a degree of variation between laps depending on traffic and his line out of the previous corner, but he did not take a significantly different line in this incident.

He threw a small feint at Alonso when he saw that the Spaniard was looking to the outside. It was a twitch designed to slow Alonso down, not run him off the road, but it is being reported that telemetry showed Vettel made a sharp move to the left.

Watch the footage to see what really happened.

There was also distance between Vettel and the edge of the track; granted, it wasn’t a full car width, but it certainly didn’t warrant Alonso taking the detour that he ended up taking.

Of course, the whole argument is moot thanks to Vettel’s alternator issue, but there is a principle in play here.

In the same race, Paul di Resta ran Bruno Senna off the road in exactly the circumstances described in Whiting’s clarification and nothing came of it.

A little consistency would also help.