Sunday, October 12, 2008

Don't know what to say anymore...

I'm not about to start making threats about no longer watching F1 (I don't think I could quit if I tried at this point), but it's really not very easy to be an F1 fan at this point. I'll start with this: if you recorded the Japanese GP and have not heard the results but are planning on watching the race, uh, there are going to be spoilers below.

Spoilers below!

I'm beyond frustrated with the FIA, and now I'm bordering on angry. I was vehemently opposed to last year's $100 million fine on McLaren for receiving data from another team, when there has been plenty of evidence that that was far from the first time that sort of thing had taken place (or that it would be the last, since the FIA basically let Renault off the hook for a similar transgression of stealing data from McLaren later in the season). Even in the days when I was more of a Ferrari fan than a McLaren fan (this would be in the early-Schumacher days, before they were an unbeatable team-order-giving juggernaut), I thought it odd that Ferrari was let off for certain things, like the barge boards that were out of spec at Maylasia in 1999. At the time, I was happy to look the other way, since it made for a good story with the championship coming down to the last race, and Ferrari was still something of an underdog.

However, this year's events at Spa and now Fuji make it completely obvious that the FIA is biased toward Ferrari. I can even sort of understand the penalty on Lewis Hamilton at Spa. He did, no doubt, derive an advantage by shortcutting the chicane, and only by doing that was he able to be close enough to Kimi Raikkonen to attempt a pass at La Source hairpin. However, a 25 second penalty, after McLaren had been told twice by race director Charlie Whiting that he'd done enough to make up for the shortcut, is just out of bounds. An actual drive through penalty at Spa would cost a driver roughly 20 seconds, so why should the penalty be 25? My money is on "because that would drop Lewis behind Nick Heidfeld and therefore cost him two extra points." On the other hand, I'd basically been able to move on since then, since Ferrari seemed intent on making things right again with Felipe's engine blowing up at Valencia, and then the pitlane miscue at Singapore which cost him any chance of scoring points.

This weekend's Japanese GP at Fuji may have contained several of the most puzzling penalties I've seen levied on racing drivers in my 18 years of watching racing. In that amount of time, I've probably watched several hundred races; you may draw your own conclusion on how much of a life I might or might not have.

For starters, Lewis Hamilton's drive through penalty for "forcing Kimi Raikkonen wide" at the first often has that sort of incident happened in the history of F1? 200? 500? How many penalties have previously been handed out for that before, in cases when no contact was made between cars? I'm going with...none. Until now. That is a brilliant precedent to set. It's basically saying, "You may not intimidate another car or take a position on the track such that it inconveniences another driver."

Later in the first lap, there was a completely toothless penalty given to Felipe Massa after he blatantly attempted to take Lewis Hamilton out of the race. Lewis made a great move inside of Felipe, causing Felipe to carry too much speed into the corner and then slide wide. Lewis completed the pass, only for Felipe to make a stab back at Lewis. Not only did Felipe go over the curbing on the inside of the chicane, he put two wheels over the grass inside of the curbing and drove directly into the side of Lewis's car. Patrick's excellent race notes at Too Much Racing indicate that Martin Brundle on the ITV coverage claimed that Lewis had not given Felipe enough room, don't have to give any room at all when you're fully ahead of somebody and there's no realistic chance of an overtaking maneuver! Felipe was given a drive through penalty for this, but the damage was done: Lewis spun and had to wait for the entire field to pass by before resuming. Mission accomplished for Felipe. The fact that Lewis was handed his drive through penalty at exactly the same time as Felipe only served to reinforce that Felipe had gotten the better of the whole exchange, as the two drive throughs would cancel each other out, but leave Felipe further up the road from Lewis. During the Saturday qualifying show, Bob Varsha spent some time talking about how much Felipe Massa has been able to learn from Michael Schumacher over the years. I couldn't agree more.

The final "coup de gras" came late in the race, as Sebastien Bourdais was coming out of the pits after his last pit stop, directly in front of Massa. Felipe did manage to get fully alongside (though on the outside of ) Sebastien going into the first corner, but then Felipe obliviously turned into the apex, even though there was another car there. It appeared to me on the replays that Sebastien went over the inside curbing and even slowed down a little extra in order to give Felipe some more room, but in that instant, there's only so much you can do (I think F1 cars don't get a "beam up" feature until the 2025 regulations come into effect). At the time, there was no question to me that Felipe was in the wrong in this altercation, but I see that after the fact, the FIA gave Sebastien a 25 second penalty for "avoidable contact". I don't think that any even semi-impartial observer could make a claim that this was more than 50% Sebastien's fault, so where's the matching penalty for Felipe? I guess that the moral to this part of the story is "if you can even see a Ferrari anywhere near you, you probably ought to pull over and let him by before the FIA gives you a penalty for failing to do so".

This championship has been tampered with by the FIA. There is no doubt about that anymore. If there is any justice in F1 at all, Lewis will still pull it out in the end, and Ron Dennis will be accepting the Constructor's Championship trophy from Max Mosley at the FIA awards banquet. Lewis and McLaren have had far from a perfect season, and Lewis has been responsible for a lot of his own problems (ahem, Canada), but right now he's not just trying to beat the Ferrari team. He's also trying to beat the FIA Stewards and rulemakers, who've done a masterful job this year of making up new pro-Ferrari rules as they go. It's going to be an interesting last month of the season, but let's just hope that it comes down to what happens on the track, and not in the race control booth.


Too Much Racing said...

Thanks for the link and comment..

Massa was still moving and he was always going to try and make the corner to avoid a 'skip the chicane' penalty. The difference in opinion really is whether he accelerated and turned toward Hamilton's car, or whether he was going for the corner, got it wrong and slid into him.
If this was Schumi I'd completely agree with you. Massa... hmm.. not sure.

The Bourdais penalty was nuts.

Pablo said...

TOTALLY agree with you - it seems like none of the points happen on the track anymore!! Why did the stewarts need the rest of the race to figure out the Masa incident? To see where he ended up to figure out how much of a penalty to give Bourdais?!

Uggh... at least there is some good driving to be seen. Fun to see Alonso and Renault get somewhere... it already has me hoping for good competition and great racing next year! The final races sure will be interesting!

One thing that keeps me entertained... the pit lane shenanigans at Ferrari!! Did they really have to go that far to bring the lolipop back again?! Awesome...

Pablo said...

Just saw this and HAD to post it!

BBC Sports

Bourdais, demoted from sixth to 10th, was mystified as to why he had been given a penalty.

"What was I supposed to do?" he asked. "Roll out the red carpet?"

ASpeed said...

Very good call on the delay on the Bourdais penalty. As I was watching the race, I thought it was kind of fishy that something would happen with 20 laps to go and they weren't going to try to investigate it until after the race. Why wait? Oh, because then they can levy a non-appealable time penalty of whatever amount they will benefit Massa...

2009 should be pretty good if Renault can stay on their current trajectory. It'd be cool too if BMW can step up just a bit more and then we have 4 top teams. However with the introduction of KERS, I have a feeling that things are going to shuffle somewhat. I read on today that Ferrari isn't even planning on track testing their system until January...