Thoughts on a strange week in F1

I can use that heading in any week of the year, yet this week seems more even more bizarre than most.

The 25-second post-race penalty applied to Sebastien Bourdais in the hours after the Japanese Grand Prix has been universally panned, in fact I haven’t seen a single person agree with it. (In the interests of balance I haven’t been able to find any Ferrari quotes). This is actually quite unusual despite what the English-speaking media might pretend after other penalties going in favour of Ferrari. There are usually a few (or more) ardent Ferrari fans arguing in favour of the penalty. I can’t find any in this case.

For example, after Belgium this year there was plenty of opinion from elsewhere in the world agreeing with the penalty, although you might not believe if from reading a lot of the British-based press corps.

This penalty does nothing to reduce the belief that the FIA stewards have an inherent Ferrari bias. Neither do the continued rumours that Jean Todt, team principal of the race team until he was promoted higher up the company some 12-18 months ago, will be taking over from Max Mosely as FIA President or joining the FIA in some other high-ranking capacity.

Until last year the FIA had a permanent steward at each race, Tony Scott-Andrews. He brought much needed consistency to the rulings and was widely praised by all in the paddock. This ended when he departed at the end of 2007 after only one year in the job. We are now back to the earlier situation with three different stewards at each meeting. One is from the national sporting body of the host country. Consider the countries which host F1 races these days, they are not the hotbeds of motorsport that some of the other countries are, and other former host countries still are. There are some pretty inexperienced guys making these calls and none of them have ever sat in a Formula One car.

The FIA has rules about which drivers are allowed to drive F1 cars in races. They have to have had F1 race experience, or have finished in the top 3 in selected championships the previous year, or have completed 300km of testing. That gets you a Superlicence which allows you to race in a Grand Prix.

I propose a Superlicence for race stewards. I want these people to have had experience officiating F1 Grands Prix, or have performed a similar role in another top line or feeder championship for at least a year. I want there to be a permanent steward who attends every GP and chairs the stewards’ meetings, as Tony Scott-Andrews did.

Other News
Just a week after the FIA pulled the Canadian GP, the French themselves have cancelled the French Grand Prix for “economic reasons”. Remember that France has struggled to get on the calendar for the last two seasons, that 2007 was supposed to be the last ever race at Magny-Cours. The same was said in 2008 before the 2009 race was announced. The promoter for the French GP is the French national motorsport federation, the FFSA, and technically another promoter could step in.

As things stand we’re now down to 17 races next year. Canada and France have been financially unstable for a while so I don’t think this is the start of a domino effect. On the other hand, I didn’t expect them to actually go…
Perhaps with France gone that re-opens the door for a new deal with Canada or the US? Maybe under the current global financial climate Bernie is willing to renegotiate? I’ve seen rumours floating around that Chris Pook of Long Beach fame is working on an F1 venue on the Western coast of the US.

Max & Bernie have been talking this week about changing the engines to a spec formula provided by a single manufacturer. ‘Cos that’ll persuade the car companies to stick around, right boys? Maybe they actually want to drag us kicking and screaming back to the 1970s with Ferrari vs Everyone Else using Cosworths. Maybe because they were successful as team owners in that period they think it’s the only thing that’ll work now.

The new FOTA organisation of team representatives has suggested a ban on refuelling and a reduction in race length. And I thought Max Mosely was crazy…

I finally caught up with the Japanese MotoGP on Tuesday. Belated congratulations to Valentino Rossi! Now there’s a guy dominating racing who I actually like – and that doesn’t happen often. They have a race in Malaysia this weekend at Sepang. I need to watch the Australian round first…

My F1 Chinese GP preview will be up tomorrow.

* UPDATE 16/10/08 *
Formula1.com has uploaded video of all of the contentious issues from the Japanese Grand Prix:
http://www.formula1.com/news/headlines/2008/10/8530.html
After seeing this, I’ve changed my view.
#1 Hamilton initiated the two Ferraris leaving the track by locking up, however Kovalainen was the car who pushed them wide simply by following Lewis around.
#2 Massa’s onboard camera clearly shows him accelerating toward Hamilton at the chicane. He was pulling a Schumi. Not good.
#3 This is as blatantly obvious as it was watching it live. Massa turned in on him. Just as an aside, that last angle shows the incredible stopping power of these cars… its easy to forget just how good they are at braking.

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