SEPTEMBER 11, 2008
Thoughts after the yelling and screaming
There continue to be different opinions about Lewis Hamilton's penalty in Spa, including some rather bizarre comments from Surinder Thatti, the Tanzanian steward (who represents Kenya), who was part of the decision-making process. He would do well not to get quoted too much if he wishes to profile on the grids in F1 in the future. The job of being an F1 steward is one of discretion and not talking about how decisions were made. Former permanent steward Tony Scott-Andrews was exemplary in this respect.
However, this does not detract from a very clear desire on the part of the F1 world to know how the decision was made, particularly when the Race Director Charlie Whiting twice told McLaren on the radio that the move was "OK". What changed Whiting's opinion? And what did he write in his report that went to the stewards?
It is also worth asking how much the stewards are free to make rulings and what if any restrictions they have. There are various FIA bodies that have a right to accept or reject things but they cannot make modifications. It would be good to know whether this true of the stewards as well.
It would also help to know exactly what role was played in the process by the stewards' advisor. He is a man who knows the rules, but should he not also be aware of the implications of decisions and, it could be argued, should he have advised a different course of action. There was obviously a margin of doubt in this respect - as Whiting's reactions underline - so we need to know why the stewards' advisor did not advise caution.
Answering these questions would help to diffuse the affair.
The key point in all of this, however, is not specifically about the manoeuvre in Spa. It is more to do with the perception of the FIA. Any governing body of any sport should be worried when the immediate reaction to any decision is for the whole world to instantly cry "Foul!"
Perceptions are reality in F1 and so the FIA spin doctors obviously have their work cut out if they are to change the views that exist. On paper there seems to be a long trail of anti-McLaren decisions and, some argue, a similar trail of pro-Ferrari decision-making. One cannot deny that these perceptions exist and, similarly, one can be forgiven for asking whether the furore after Spa was in part due to the damage done to the FIA's reputation by the Mosley Scandal, which did nothing positive for the federation.