Mark Blundell has hit out at Formula 1's authorities for 'losing the plot' and 'political correctness gone mad' in the wake of the string of controversial penalties handed out by the sport's stewards in 2008.

Three contentious punishments were meted out in the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway last weekend - F1 World Championship leader Lewis Hamilton for his dangerously late-braking into the first corner that sent the field scattering wide, Ferrari title rival Felipe Massa for having tipped the McLaren-Mercedes star into a spin just a lap later and Scuderia Toro Rosso's S?bastien Bourdais for his coming-together with the Brazilian late on in the grand prix.

Whilst most in the grand prix paddock agree that Massa's drive-through was a deserved one, there is less consensus that the similar drive-through received by Hamilton and post-race 25-second demotion for Bourdais were merited - both being deemed more 'racing incidents' than anything of more deliberate intent.

The Bourdais penalty in particular has provoked widespread condemnation, and it subsequently emerged that in that case the race stewards had acted against prior advice from FIA race director Charlie Whiting that the driver exiting the pit-lane has priority [see separate story - click here].

"In the 20 years I've been involved in Formula 1 as a driver and spectator, I don't think I've seen so many penalties in one season," former McLaren, Ligier and Tyrrell F1 star and current ITV-F1 pundit Blundell wrote in a column for the Daily Telegraph.

"It's political correctness gone mad. An important point is being missed - these guys are racing tooth-and-nail. Things happen when racing at 200mph.

"I understand the concern about safety, but this is getting ridiculous. We might as well dig two grooves around each circuit, put two cars side-by-side like a Scalextric set and let someone control the action from the pits. The authorities are losing the plot."

Blundell's views have been echoed by former triple F1 World Champion Niki Lauda, who backed up McLaren team principal Ron Dennis' contention that 'we've all seen similar first corner incidents that triggered no such penalty' [see separate story - click here] by insisting that Hamilton deserved no punishment for his opening lap error.

"All Lewis was doing was brake late into a corner," the Austrian told The Guardian, "which he is perfectly entitled to do.

"The worrying thing for me is that the stewards are really getting too involved in trying to control what the drivers are doing. The stewards should only start getting involved when something really serious occurs."

STR co-owner Gerhard Berger, meanwhile, has stepped in to defend his driver Bourdais - who is under pressure to maintain his seat at the small Faenza-based concern in the top flight in 2009 - and claims 'too many penalties' are being handed out this year.

"Bourdais was on the inside, Massa on the outside, and if [Massa] had given him two centimetres more space, they both would have effortlessly made the corner," the ten-time grand prix-winner is quoted by F1SA as having told Dutch website racefreaks.nl.

"It is a matter of fact that nothing particularly happened to either of them. Two cars touching each other is nothing peculiar in the world of racing."

Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management company has released in-car footage of each of the incidents at Fuji. Watch it by clicking here

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