Nick Heidfeld has backed those who are demanding greater consistency in the way penalties are handed out in Formula 1 in the wake of the controversial Japanese Grand Prix last weekend, by suggesting the sport should return to having one permanent race steward season-long.

The stewarding system has come in for a wave of criticism following the three penalties meted out at Fuji Speedway, most contentiously to Scuderia Toro Rosso's S?bastien Bourdais [see separate story - click here], and Heidfeld admitted that he did not understand the reasoning behind the Japanese punishments.

"I am sure it will be asked and discussed what was going wrong there," the experienced German is quoted as having said by international news agency AFP. "As I have said before, and as we had last year, I would like to see it come back where we have one guy.

"The consistency was a lot better last year, and it is easier than if there are just some guys who are coming to a few races. They don't have the insight compared to a guy who is always there.

"It is not that easy to [maintain] consistency because each accident is different in each case, but I don't understand what happened there [in Fuji] and I don't even think you (the media) do.

"Until the last race I wasn't worried, but in the last race I think the penalties were not justified."

Aside from Bourdais, Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa were also penalised in Japan, the former for his first corner late-braking and the latter for tipping the McLaren-Mercedes star into a spin. Both received drive-through penalties for their indiscretions, though there are many in the paddock who feel that whilst Hamilton's error was just that - a simple mistake and tantamount to a regular racing incident - Massa's had an air of more deliberate intent about it, and as such should have been more heavily punished.

There is also anger that Massa escaped scot-free from his clash with Bourdais whilst the Frenchman received a 25-second post-race demotion that dropped him outside of the points and actually benefited the Ferrari ace - when most believed the coming-together to be the Brazilian's fault.

That, allied to Hamilton being stripped of his Belgian Grand Prix win and Massa escaping any sanction for Ferrari's bungled pit-stop in Valencia, has led to accusations that officials are interfering with the world championship battle in order to favour Maranello. FIA President Max Mosley has previously stated that Ferrari is the most important team in F1 [see separate story - click here].

Last year, Tony-Scott Andrews stood down from the role of permanent race steward at the end of the campaign, with a restructuring taking place for 2008 in which three temporary stewards are appointed for each grand prix, presided over by Alan Donnelly, the on-circuit representative of the FIA and a man whose company - controversially - was revealed to list Ferrari amongst its clients.

The topic is due to be discussed with permanent race director Charlie Whiting on the Friday of this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.