Over a decade after his retirement from Formula One racing, Damon Hill has walked straight back into controversy by handing his former nemesis, Michael Schumacher, a ridiculous penalty in the wake of an otherwise forgettable Monaco Grand Prix.
Hill, the man who ended his career by pathetically retiring his fully functioning car because he was “so far down the field, there was little point in me carrying on” in his farewell race. Hill, the man who was denied his first World Championship by the win-at-all-costs ruthlessness of Schumacher. Hill, the steward?
To be fair, Hill was only a quarter of the panel that decided if a breach had occurred and the penalty to be applied, but we have seen that the former drivers have added a moderating influence to the normally draconian stewards panel.
Reprimands have been the penalty of choice so far this year, and while it can be argued that these penalties have, at times, been far too lenient, this decision seems like a return the insane days of 2008, where every transgression was a metaphorical hanging offence.
So, what’s different?
Overtaking under safety car conditions is dangerous and unforgivable, but so is driving side by side down pit lane, and that only received a slap on the wrist for the drivers involved. That was a clear breach of the rules; this one isn't quite so clear.
There are many examinations of the rules and their implications in this case, but it seems quite simple. The stewards point to the fact that section 40.13 applies and that “If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.”
In reality, however, section 40.11 applies: “When the clerk of the course decides it is safe to call in the safety car the message 'SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP' will be displayed on the timing monitors and the car's orange lights will be extinguished.” This is exactly what happened in Monaco.
From this point on, the following applies: “As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the yellow flags and SC boards will be withdrawn and replaced by waved green flags with green lights at the Line. These will be displayed until the last car crosses the Line.” The cars were racing; the race did not end under safety car conditions.
If we are to believe Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari drivers were told that the race was finishing under safety car conditions and they couldn’t be overtaken. Why then, did Fernando Alonso accelerate so hard that he lost control of his car? Surely, if he was cruising to the flag, there was no need for such acceleration.
Everything at the track pointed to the race having restarted. The SC boards were in, green flags were being waved, and all of the drivers were looking for that final opportunity to pass. Schumacher alone was successful.
If this penalty is not overturned, there will be a huge outcry from fans of the sport the world over and yet another example for the conspiracy theorists to argue that FIA stands for Ferrari International Assistance.
If nothing else, it’s added an element of drama to a race that was yet another formation procession, interrupted occasionally by a Williams throwing itself at a wall or moment of madness from Jarno Trulli.
I suppose we should be thankful that we have something to talk about.