Almost two weeks on from the chequered flag falling in Canada and Sebastian Vettel losing victory due to a controversial stewards’ ruling, the dust is showing few signs of settling in the debate.

The decision to hand Vettel a five-second time penalty for unsafely rejoining the track during his fight with Lewis Hamilton led to widespread criticism from many former drivers, champions and pundits in the F1 world. At a time when the sport is trying to capture the imagination of fans, to hit the headlines in such an officious manner was seen as being harmful, proving its over-regulated modern nature.

Up and down the paddock at Paul Ricard on Thursday, the majority of the current drivers were asked for their views on the incident, with most offering a similar thought: that the penalty was harsh but, going by the rulebook, correct.

“There was a penalty? I did not notice that in the press!” Nico Hulkenberg deadpanned when asked for his thoughts on it by Crash.net in Thursday’s FIA press conference.

“I think my opinion and view of that is just that it’s racing. It is tough to control a car on the grass, and how you then make the entry to the race track because we are simply not in full control and we don’t have normal grip. For me, it seemed like a racing incident.”

“I think like any other Formula 1 fan I was disappointed when I saw a penalty,” said McLaren’s Carlos Sainz. “As a driver I think I would have done exactly the same as Seb. I would just rejoin the track and try and keep first position independently of where the car is.

“Was it dangerous? Potentially. But what’s not dangerous in Formula 1?”

“If you are going to give penalties like that, why don’t you just put a wall there?” pondered Max Verstappen.

“Then of course, if he made a mistake, the race is over for him. I’m not a fan of penalties, I’ve had them myself many times, so I’ve tried to stay out of the stewards room now, I just go in and say hello! It’s maybe not good for F1 as well, but what can you do about it?”

One potential solution a number of drivers raised was to take a look at the rulebook to allow for greater leniency and more autonomy for the stewards in each case.

“I believe there are too many guidelines with penalties that are applied, and sometimes two incident  that can be very different end with the same penalty,” said Romain Grosjean.

“I crossed the pit exit line in Monaco with part of my wheel, got a five-second penalty and one point on my licence. Verstappen got an unsafe release in the pit lane and had a touch with [Valtteri] Bottas and it was a five second and one point penalty, because that’s what is written.

“I think sometimes it’s hard for the stewards just to decide where they want to go, because everything is written [out].”

Added Sainz: “I think there was no reason to give a penalty, but the rule is written and the stewards applied the rule. So I also don’t understand all this criticism that the stewards have received over the last few weeks, because they are just trying to do their job and they have a rule which they need to interpret and they need to apply and that’s what they did.

“It’s the fault of the stewards. It’s not the fault of Seb, I think. It’s not the fault of Lewis either - it’s just that there is a rule that I don’t think should be there, which is a bit too drastic and a bit too black and white and doesn’t interpret well the rules of racing - that is to race hard and enjoy.”

Verstappen knows better than most how difficult the stewards’ job can sometimes, having spent a day with the Formula E officials earlier this year in Marrakesh as punishment for his altercation with Esteban Ocon in Brazil last year.

“I think they do realise what’s happening, but sometimes they can’t give another penalty because it’s written in the rulebook exactly like that they have to give this penalty,” Verstappen explained.

“Sometimes they don’t even want to give this penalty, but they have to. I read some stewards got some bad language messages on Twitter and stuff, which I think is not fair.

“At the end of the day they’re trying to do their job in the best possible way, so it’s not fair to say they did not do their job.”

The need for intervention in incidents was something Valtteri Bottas questioned: “I’m wondering why there’s always the need to give a penalty to one party if there is, for example, a collision between two cars.

“Obviously there are rules and you need to stick to those. But, in general, in my view, I like hard racing and, sometimes, it would be nice to see fewer penalties.”

“My view is that we should think about letting us race more and get it on with it ourselves,” echoed Kevin Magnussen.

“It’s fine to have some rules, but I think we can ease it up a lot because the cars are so safe these days and the tracks are very safe also that it is not a question of safety. There is room to take a step back and let us get on with it.”

With 2021 marking a break point for F1 in pretty much every area, it is likely this case will act as the catalyst for a closer look at the rulebook, and particularly the application of penalties.

 

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