18 Ottobre 2023

The Verstappen case in Singapore: why the FIA must move forward


Immagine dell'articolo: <span>The Verstappen case in Singapore: why the FIA must move forward</span>


This article, starting from an explanation of what happened during the qualifying session of the 2023 F1 Singapore Grand Prix, aims to point out why this kind of episodes are a threat to F1's credibility and what are the weakest points of FIA's regulatory system: rules enforcement and its standards.


What happened during Qualifying in Singapore?

Qualifying is one of the most thrilling moments during a Formula 1 weekend. The excitement and rush during that hour is intense but, on the other hand, also the pressure is high and can lead to mistakes by teams and drivers. Some of these will only harm the driver who made them, but others can offend other drivers and ruin their laps or force them to retire.

One of these examples, is related to the Q1 session of the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix and involves the n.1 driver of Red bull Racing teamMax Verstappen. During this session, the Dutch driver was the protagonist of three different episodes, two of which were related to the same infringement called “Impeding”. The first one happened at minute 9:14 pm, when Verstappen was exiting from the pits and decided to stop before the pit exit line, blocking everyone behind him. As a result of this action, the other drivers were unable to rejoin the track until he started driving again. The second episode, and the less relevant one, occurred at hour 9:17 pm when, in turns 17 and 18, Verstappen and two other drivers were preparing their qualifying lap meanwhile Sergeant was completing it. Max Verstappen was the only one who did not go completely off the racing line, but he was just as far from it to not hinder the lap of the American driver. The last episode happened in turns 3 and 4 with Yuki Tsunoda. In this case the Red Bull driver, who was on a cool down lap, completely blocked the racing line of the Japanese driver who was on a qualifying lap and that was an evident violation of the Impeding rule. After the first episode, FIA stated that the conduit of the driver would be investigated after the session and, as the rule states “Unless it is completely clear that a driver committed a driving infringement any such incident will normally be investigated after the relevant session”[1].in accordance with this rule the decision of the stewards to investigate all the infringements after the session must be considered a good call.

Everyone in the paddock was convinced that the Red Bull driver would be penalised, given the relevance and the number of offences that occurred in the same session.


The FIA decisions and why they are not right

The documents related to these issues are the n. 30, 31 and 32 of the Singapore Gp. All these acts, dedicated to different situations involving the driver n.1, ended with the following results: no major penalties, two consecutive reprimands, a “fine” of 5,000 € and a “no further action” decision for episode n.2 of the list.

Such a decision is tantamount to taking no action at all, considering that reprimands have no negative impact on the driver and a fine of this quantity is more than irrelevant for an F1 team.

It's important to point out some passages from these official documents to understand why they are not correct and why they are also bad decisions for F1’s credibility.

In Document n.30[2] stewards state: “The potential for this to negatively impact other drivers warrants a penalty. Whilst it is noted that the car behind could have overtaken car 1, it is preferable that cars depart the pit exit in an orderly manner.” From this sentence, it is possible to realize how contradictory is the steward decision, admitting a fault by the driver n.1, but also suggesting (and at the same time not suggesting) other drivers to overtake in the pit lane, a manoeuvre that could have dangerous consequences in such a hectic moment as qualifying.

Continuing, document n.32[3] states that “The Stewards reviewed a number of impeding and alleged impeding incident from this current season and consistent with previous decisions in relation to the severity of the breach, impose a penalty of a Reprimand on the driver and a fine on the Competitor.” Unfortunately, this statement is completely false, as there is no consistency whatsoever in the stewards' decisions, and this is easy to prove. An example for all is document n.40 of the  F1 Monaco Grand Prix 2023, where for a similar infringement (one impeding during qualifying, not three, and on a track where it is very difficult to leave space to other competitors) the driver n.16 was penalised with a 3-position grid drop. The same document also states that “It was noted that the representative of Car 22 chose not to attend the Hearing”. This circumstance, which might seem unimportant, is in fact particularly important. The reason is related to the fact that they were the only ones able to show how much the impeding caused a damage in their driver’s lap, but so, why where they not present? The reason is simple. Formula One is a sport where the political power of the teams can really influence decisions, and Alpha Tauri is the “B Team” of Red bull, so they would never go against the “A team” and the stewards simply ignored this aspect and instead used it as a way of making the alleged infringement less relevant.

Finally, it is fair to recognise that the stewards' decision regarding the alleged infringement in Document n.31 is correct, and that the verdict of no further action is appropriate to the facts that occurred on the track.


Is it necessary to change something?

Such a macroscopic error could significantly undermine certainty and confidence in FIA’s decisions, but the story does not end there. During the next racing weekend, in an online article [4], the same stewards admitted that they have made a wrong decision, and that Max Verstappen should be penalized for two of his three infringements. Even if admitting a mistake is an act of courage that should be encouraged, it is not appropriate for the pinnacle of motorsport to make this kind of mistake, which is really easy to avoid given how clear the situation was and how differently similar situations have been handled. Such an unstable standard of decision-making will not only alienate fans from the sport but will also distort sporting results and create an aura of distrust toward the FIA.

Ultimately, there are many different solutions that could ease this issue [5] (e.g. the introduction of an organic amendment to Appendix L of the International Sporting Code', with the aim of defining the various infringements in detail, thereby reducing the margin of discretion available to the stewards), but the most important thing is to act as soon as possible for avoiding the constant controversy that could lead F1 to a point of no return.


[1] Art. 37.4 Lett. A, FIA Sporting Regulation 2023, FIA.
[2] FIA official document n.30 of F1 Singapore Grand Prix, 2023.
[3] FIA official document n.32 of F1 Singapore Grand Prix, 2023.
[4] https://www.reuters.com/sports/motor-sports/f1-stewards-accept-they-erred-not-penalising-verstappen-2023-09-22/#:~:text=SUZUKA%2C%20Japan%2C%20Sept%2022%20(,not%20serve%20as%20a%20precedent.
[5] For a focus on the topic: https://www.4clegal.com/vivi-lacademy/forcing-another-driver-off-the-track-cosa-consiste-perche-applicata-modo-difforme-f1

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