Who are these guys?

Start, Malaysian GP 2002

Start, Malaysian GP 2002 

 © The Cahier Archive

IN the last few days there has been a lot of discussion about whether the FIA Stewards at Grands Prix should be replaced by some form of permanent judge (or judges) who have experience of top-line racing. The FIA argues that the stewards are all men with huge experience in motor racing and also have a good understanding of legal procedures (an important point).

But while there is a lot of criticism of the FIA Stewards there is rarely any analysis of who these people actually are and what right they have to do the job they do.

The current system of race management was introduced at the start of the 1996 season when the FIA announced the appointment of a Race Director who would report incidents to the stewards. In order to guarantee an element of stability, it was decided that there would be four permanent stewards, each of them attending four (or five) races each year.

The four men chosen to be the permanent stewards were India's Nazir Hoosein, Switzerland's Paul Gutjahr, Bryan Brophy from Ireland and Venezualan Leopoldo Barbosa. Brabosa has since died and his place was taken by Sweden's Lars Osterlind.

Hoosein is 56 and started racing and rallying in India in the late 1960s while also building up a garage business and running a cinema. This grew into a successful film distribution company and this enabled Hoosein to spend more time concentrating in his passion for motorsport. In 1980 he established the Himalayan Rally Association and he became the president of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) in 1984. Even before that he had represented India in the FISA - the international motor sports federation. He was elected to the World Motor Sport Council in 1993 and continued to represent India until 1999 when he was ousted by the club. In 2000 the FMSCI was deprived of its sporting power by the FIA and replaced by the Motor Sports Association of India headed by Hoosein although for the last couple of years he has sat on the World Council as the representative for China. He is the most important FIA official in Asia but this did not stop him being forced to hand in his stewards licence after the bungled British GP of 1998 after "serious errors" were made. Hoosein was the chairman of the stewards in Malaysia which decided to penalise Juan Pablo Montoya after Michael Schumacher drove into the the Colombian.

Bryan Brophy of Ireland is a less controversial figure and has twice dealt successfully with fatal crashes in races: at Monza in 2000 and in Australia in 2001. A solicitor and longtime member and competitor with the Galway Motor Club, of which he was the treasurer for 21 years. He went on to represent the Royal Irish Automobile Club in cases at the FIA International Court of Appeal. Brophy became the first Irishman to ever act as an F1 steward at Monaco in 1993.

Paul Gutjahr emerged from the world of Swiss hillclimbing (there is little other competition in the country where motor racing is banned) and has been president of the sporting commission of the Automobile Club de Suisse in Berne for more than 10 years although he has never been on the World Council. He has been involved in a couple of embarrassing incidents for the FIA notably the outrageous decision at Jerez in 1997 that Michael Schumacher's attempt to drive Jacques Villeneuve off the road in the European Grand Prix was "a racing incident". That decision was later overturned by the FIA World Council. He was also chairman of the stewards last year in Indianapolis when a decision had to be overturned by the International Court of Appeal because one of the stewards had departed.

The fourth permanent steward is Sweden's Lars Osterlind who enjoyed a career in languages and management before going to work for the Swedish Federation of Employers. A racing and rallying fan, he joined the Svenska Bilsportforbundet - Sweden's national motor sporting authority - and in 1982 he became its president. Three years later he won a seat on the World Motor Sport Council. He was one of Max Mosley's chief allies when the Englishman ran against FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre in 1991. When Mosley took over the FIA, Osterlind became a Vice-President although he lost that position in 1998. He is able to find the time for his FIA activities as he runs a successful book and video distribution company.

The nominaton of the second steward is decided upon by the FIA and the position tends to be rotated between FIA politicians with mainly World Council members being given the role of steward once a year. Most of the individuals involved have long experience in the sport and the majority of them have competed although not admittedly at Grand Prix level. They include men such as Derek Ledger of Jordan, a multiple kart and rallying champion in Jordan - a man who played an important role in the growth of rallying in the Middle East; Shekhar Mehta of Kenya is a wellknown rally driver and a multtiple winner of the Safari Rally; Ron Frost of New Zealand was the organiser of the Tasman Series in the 1960s while Australia's John Large was a national rally champion in 1975 and now runs the Targa Tasmania. American Burdette Martin raced cars and motorcycles before setting up a racing importation business. He has been a steward in the US since the mid 1960s and head of Automobile Competition Committee for the United States for the last 20 years. Rafael Sierra of Argentina on the other hand was a rally co-driver before becoming professor of the automobile at Buenos Aires university and at the national military technical college, where he was head of military vehicle research and development. Finland's Kari Sohlberg was the mentor of Mika Hakkinen and ran a number of kart teams under the Blue Rose banner. His son Mika Solhberg is a leading Finnish rally driver.

Most of these men do the job without drama but there have been a couple who have stood out over the years because of unusual decisions: Canada's Roger Peart lost his licence with Hoosein after the debacle at Silverstone in 1998 and was again in trouble at Indianapolis last year when he departed before all the necessary decisions had been taken, while France's Jacques Regis came in for considerable criticism as one of the stewards, alongside Gutjahr, at Jerez in 1997.

The third steward at events is nominated by the local automobile club and they tend not to be political figures within the FIA. They are also less likely to rock the boat as they do not have the international stature of the two FIA-nominated men.

While there is no doubt that politics does play a role in the process it is fair to say that the FIA has tried hard to find the right men for the jobs. One or two changes might be necessary but the federation argues that while former F1 drivers might be available they would probably not have the same grasp of the legal aspects of the job.

The quest for continuity is the biggest issue and while the federation has tried a couple of people over the years to be advisors to the stewards (including former Team Lotus director Peter Warr) it never found someone who truly fitted the bill.

The issue in question is to gain the respect of the drivers and team managers. This takes time and, to some extent, takes a little trial and error as well.

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