The FIA and Consistency
Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix was overshadowed by an incident involving old sparring partners Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso.
Due to the spectacular crash between Karun Chandhok and Jarno Trulli at Rascasse corner, the Safety Car was called upon three laps from the end. The flash point came when the German veteran slid up the inside of Alonso at the final Anthony Noghes corner after the Safety Car had peeled into the pitlane for the last time.
The Formula One paddock now finds itself in the situation where Schumacher has been given a retrospective 20 second penalty and dropped to 12th position in the final classification. Fernando Alonso was reinstated to his sixth position, and we head to Turkey with the Spaniard still in touch with the seemingly untouchable Red Bull duo of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.
However, the justification for this penalisation is hard to distinguish. It is true that Article 40.13 states: "If the race ends while the Safety Car is deployed, it will enter the pitlane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking". The clarity of this rule is not in question.
There have been previous examples of this rule being enforced. The Australian Grand Prix of 2009 being one such example, where the Brawn cars of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello led the field across the line after the Safety Car had pitted following an accident between Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica.
In this case, the job of the trackside marshals was to signal to the drivers that there was to be no overtaking and that they were to stay in formation. This was signified by the continued use of yellow flags and Safety Car boards at each marshal post until the Start/Finish line.
Fast forward a year and five races, and we find ourselves in a similar situation. What seems incomprehensible is that following the end of the Safety Car period, green flags were waved and a green light was shown on the overhead light gantry of the last corner. Such a contradiction in actions seems confusing to say the least.
Under FIA Sporting Regulations, a green flag signifies "that any previous danger has been attended to. The track is now clear, and drivers may proceed at racing speed and may again overtake". Why was this signal given? The green flag completely contradicted Article 40.13, and Schumacher acted accordingly.
Based on principle alone, a driver that sees a green flag or a green light is perfectly entitled to proceed at racing speed and make an attempt at an overtaking manoeuvre. It is worth noting that the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg also attempted an overtake after Alonso slid on the kerbs of the final corner, but was unable to.
Such a baffling decision decreases the credibility of the FIA stewarding panel, which had proved itself to be more than capable with a string of sound decisions so far in 2010.
The accusation that Damon Hill was central to the decision-making procedure does not work, as his responsibility was to ensure a fair conclusion to any racing incidents. This was a decision based on the law of the FIA.
Neither is the common misconception that the stewards could have put Schumacher back into seventh position, as under Article 16.3 of the Sporting Regulations, only three possible sanctions are legally allowed; a drive-through penalty, a grid drop for the following race, or a ten-second stop and go penalty.
It appears that Schumacher has been penalised for a communication mix-up, which is why Mercedes have attempted to appeal the decision.
Based on the precedent set by the Lewis Hamilton decision at Spa in 2008, time penalties cannot be appealed. The only conceivable outcome for Mercedes is that they can lodge a protest of the result to the FIA. A 2,000 Euro fee is attached to this and is the only option that resembles an appeal procedure in this instance.
The two underlying themes are that the large reaction to this incident reflects more on the bland nature of the race itself, and that the nonsensical decisions taken by those working in this arm of the FIA are still commonplace.
Perhaps if there was no need to interpret so widely the rules that are put forth by the FIA, decisions like this would not cause such debate. With the spectacle provided by the racing being put on the backburner, the spectacle of events off track have reared their ugly head once again.
Those who believe in Karma, your time has come.
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