Sebastian Vettel calls for drivers to be the judges after F1’s longest day | Giles Richards

Max Verstappen won the Austrian GP but by the time he was declared the winner after a stewards’ inquiry into a late overtaking incident there was almost nobody left at the circuit

For a sport in which speed and quick reaction go hand in hand, the torturously slow wait for the winner of the Austrian Grand Prix to be declared seemed almost wilfully perverse. More than three hours passed after Max Verstappen had taken the chequered flag before he was officially confirmed as victor, by which time everyone bar the packer-uppers and journalists had left the track.

The sport appeared to have become embroiled in the interpretation and minutiae of its own regulations. The stewards, as always, copped the flak but the way Formula One works did not make their job any easier.

Football fans frustrated by VAR must be thankful that for all their complaints the system operates with swift efficiency compared with the glacial process of reviews in F1. The race in Austria had been a thriller. Red Bull’s Verstappen, who had dropped to seventh from second on the opening lap, made a superb comeback until he was vying with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for the win. Two laps from the end at turn three they touched. Verstappen went up the inside and pushed Leclerc wide and the Dutchman took the lead and the flag.

The stewards announced almost immediately that the incident would be investigated after the race and the process duly began. The race concluded at 4.32pm local time, the FIA announced the decision of the stewards at 7.47pm. How did it take 3hr 15min to come to the conclusion that neither driver was predominantly to blame and that it had been a racing incident?

Certainly the stewards at the Red Bull Ring did not lack the skills to reach a decision. The driver representative was the nine-times Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, as wise and experienced a head as one could ask for to make calls on close racing. He was accompanied by Silvia Bellot, another hugely experienced race steward across a variety of disciplines for more than a decade who had started her career marshalling aged 16 in 2001. Any fine interpretation of rules or indeed precedent would have been handled by Nish Shetty, a judge on the FIA international court of appeal and a national steward at the Singapore Grand Prix.

How quickly they could act, however, was dictated by the reality of how F1 functions. With the incident occurring with only two laps to go, the decision would be deferred until after the flag, given they would need time to examine the case and speak to both drivers.

However, immediately after the race the top three drivers have to perform their post-race interviews in a secure area, parc fermé. They must then also go through the podium process, the anthems and the champagne. This is required by broadcasters who build schedules around a strict pre-planned post‑race procedure. After that the top three will then attend the TV pen, to do a host of interviews. This, too, is required by the commercial rights holder – F1 management – who concluded the deals with broadcasters.

These can last up to 45 minutes or longer and then the top three are obligated to attend a further FIA press conference. On Sunday this meant Verstappen and Leclerc were not free to put their cases to the stewards until 6pm. Only when the incident had been discussed with both drivers will the process of reaching a decision have begun. This is not new in F1. Post-race adjudications, specifically involving drivers in the top three, often conclude several hours after the meeting has finished.

In Austria, however, the process then still took a full hour and 45 minutes to conclude, longer than the race itself and illustrative of the other problem facing the stewards. The racing is now so highly prescriptive, governed by swaths of detailed rules that their interpretation and implementation has become immensely complex, requiring exhaustive examination of multiple sources of information. Simply, as many drivers and team principals have been saying for some time, the sport is over-regulated.

As Sebastian Vettel argued after Austria, perhaps it was time for the action on track to stand for itself. “I’m not a fan of passing on these decisions to people somewhere sat in a chair,” he said. “I think we are the best to judge, in the car, and it’s racing, you know, we’re not fighting for the kindergarten’s cup. We are all adults. Some older, some younger. But they should leave us alone.”


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

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