After watching a fascinating Japanese Grand Prix I read on the news that Sebastien Bourdais had been penalised and had 25 seconds added to his race time. This was because he hit Felipe Massa when exiting the pitlane on lap 50. Subsequently Sebastien was demoted to 10th place after an excellent race to sixth.
At the time I saw it as unlucky for Bourdais as he had driven very well to score three points and in doing so beat his teammate. It was an excellent drive for a man who is under serious pressure to retain his seat for 2009. However I also saw the penalty as fair because, from the TV screen, I felt that Massa had been hit by Bourdais while trying to take the racing line.
It seems however that I am in the minority in this viewpoint as some people are claiming that Massa should be given a penalty. In this article I analyse whether the penalty was just and whether claims that Massa acted illegally are unfair.
In a word: Yes, I do still feel that Bourdais was in the wrong. After all he was:
a) At the very best alongside Massa when turning into the corner.
b) Off the racing line and thus Massa had the right of way into the corner.
c) Although at the time racing for position, Massa had still to pit and thus Bourdais had no reason to risk his position in the race by dicing with a much faster car who was a pistop behind. This makes his move up the inside of Massa even more baffling.
These are the three main reasons why Bourdais was rightly punished. Bourdais however claims that Massa was to blame for the collision: "I did everything I could not to run into him and he just squeezed and turned and behaved like I didn't exist, like I wasn't there. What am I supposed to do?" (Autosport.com)
My main argument to explain why Bourdais was in the wrong is that for Sebastien to have spun Massa he would have to have been behind the Ferrari. Had they have been side by side it is logical to say that they would have banged wheels like in Jerez 1997 (Villeneuve vs Schumacher).
Had that been so Massa would have been to blame. However because Bourdais tapped Massa the way he did, Massa was therefore ahead. Couple this with the fact that Massa had the racing line, I came to the conclusion that Felipe had the right of way into the corner.
Surely it is little different to the Massa/Hamilton incident where Massa was given no room by Hamilton, was behind the Mclaren and was forced off the circuit in order to pass Lewis, just as Bourdais was. Would you argue that Hamilton was at fault because he was rightly ahead and did not give Massa enough room? I wouldn't...
But it seems that to many there is little similarity between the two incidents. Some even claim that it was Massa's fault. By that logic you can now be penalised in F1 for being taken off by another driver.
This has obviously developed from the "nanny state" F1 seems to have turned into after Spa, but seriously, how many times have we seen drivers being spun by another in the exact way and it being put down to a racing incident?
Maybe that shows that my own position is not so much attacking Bourdais, as I feel he was merely part of a racing incident, but defending Massa from allegations of bias.
In essence therefore I only back the penalty because I want to defend Felipe from ludicrous assaults. I don't believe that what Bourdais did was particularly illegal. What I do believe is that Felipe Massa was perfectly entitled to take the racing line and in doing so try to keep his title hopes alive.
Quite frankly if an incident where a driver is taken out and some argue is at fault, F1 needs to take a good look at itself.