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OCTOBER 1, 2003

Was the stewards' decision in Indianapolis fair?

There has been much talk in Formula 1 circles since the United States Grand Prix about the drive-through penalty which effectively ended Juan Pablo Montoya's World Championship hopes at Indianapolis.

Montoya had been able to get alongside Rubens Barrichello at the start of the third lap but the Ferrari left him enough room to avoid an accident.

"I was hoping that I would have better traction than him out of the corner," Barrichello explained after seeing a video of the incident later. "I don't know if he touched the kerb and it was wet and he slid into me or whether he did not want to lift off because the space was there. But whatever happened he hit me and I spun and that was that."

Montoya left quickly after the race and did not give any real interpretation of how he had seen the accident.

It is clear however that Barrichello's initial attitude was not to condemn Montoya but rather to justify his own actions, indicating perhaps that he had some doubts about whether he had left enough space. It is also clear that the incident was not a deliberate act.

Clearly the decision to punish Montoya was not an easy one for it took around 10 minutes before it was announced that there was an investigation into the incident and then a further 17 minutes before the FIA Stewards (Lars Osterlind, John Large and Steve Earle) took their decision. One can only assume that the reason for the delay was a discussion about whether the penalty was suitable for the crime. It is worth noting, of course, that Barrichello's retirement mean that Ferrari had only car left to score points in the Constructors' Championship and this may have weighed heavily on the decision. As it turned out soon after the announcement of the penalty Ralf Schumacher crashed because of the wet conditions.

The timing of the penalty was unfortunate as it coincided with a rain storm and meant that Montoya had to pit for his penalty and then had to stay out for a lap when the track was very wet before coming into the pits for rain tires.

"It started to rain hard just when I was given my drive-through penalty and that forced me to delay by one lap my pits stop to change to wet tires," said Montoya.

This cost the Colombian an additional half a minute, the equivalent of a second drive-through penalty. By the time he was back up to speed he was a lap behind and his World Championship hopes were over.