When young drivers battle on race tracks, it’s obvious that there will be questionable moments at times as they are trying to show hard that they are worth of getting a seat in Formula 1. Unwanted accidents between two or more drivers happen in every motorsport series including F1 and that’s a part of racing. Then there are question, what if there are drivers who consistently get into these troubles? What to do with these drivers? Should there be a change in approach of these young blood? And are they ever going to learn?
The 2013 GP2 season is on it’s half way mark and other than the championship battle, driving standards and penalties have been a big topic to talk about. GP2 is Formula 1’s strongest feeder series and it’s important that the drivers get experience from factors that are really close to the pinnacle of motorsport, which is very important part in learning and preparing for the future. One of the main objective for drivers to learn are the driving standards, which should be taught from the initial stages of the career. Having respect for rivals on the track is a must and the drivers need to know the limit on when they can attack, defend, and how successfully can they make a move. Formula 1 should be a series for the best drivers which means these things must be taught before taking the big step.
When the season started in Malaysia, there was already a questionable move during qualifying when Arden’s Johnny Cecotto forced Russian Time’s Sam Bird off the track by moving his car straight into Bird’s car, which meant that Bird needed to move to avoid a contact. Cecotto defended himself by questioning Bird’s driving standards and pointed out that Bird came in his way and interrupted his qualifying lap. Even if Bird came in his way, it still doesn’t give Cecotto the right to make such a move. Imagine somebody doing a move like that on high speed, it can prove to be very costly. The stewards excluded Cecotto from the qualifying but he allowed him to start the race, while Bird received a grid penalty of 3 positions for interrupting Cecotto’s lap.
It wasn’t the only time this year when a driver was pushed off the track, however, drivers weren't deliberately causing the accidents or colliding with the rivals. Although it might look that way. Some drivers were punished with drive through penalties during races, while some situations didn’t go for investigation. One of the moves which was never investigated was Cecotto’s move in Barcelona, this time against Sergio Canamasas. It happened during the race when the duo were fighting for position and Cecotto seemed to lose his cool again, forcing Canamasas out of the track in a similar way he did to Bird. It was clearly shown on the World Feed but there was no information if the situation was under investigation and therefore no penalty was given.
When GP2 went to Monaco, there was a huge crash at the start of the first race. Cecotto approached Sainte Devote a bit too quickly and crashed into the walls. There wasn’t much space around and a heap of drivers crashed into him resulting in massive pile up which eventually brought out the red flag. Stewards reviewed the crash and decided to ban Cecotto from the race two in Monaco. Who knows if this penalty was given only for the Monaco accident, or everything that had happened with him till then. The decision was approved by many even though what happened in Monaco wasn’t something done purposely, but it was a very costly mistake. After the race ban there has been no bigger drama for Cecotto and it will be good for everyone if he can continue that way. It’s not only Cecotto who had some questionable moments on the track, but his are the ones people mostly remember as there has been drama and question for respect.
Another silly situation happened during the British GP weekend in Silverstone during the 2nd race. Sergio Canamasas had dropped to the back of the field as he had to visit pits to have his front wing changed. The wing broke when he was fighting for position with Jolyon Palmer who was now behind him again but this time Canamasas was going to get lapped. Palmer tried to overtake but Canamasas didn’t give any space even though he was one lap behind. Finally it seemed like Palmer was able to pass, but Canamasas didn’t move and the duo went together and ran off the track. Canamasas continued his way but Palmer had to retire. Canamasas received a 10 second stop-and-go penalty for the situation. Palmer told on his blog for Sky Sports that after the race he went to Canamasas to talk about the situation. Canamasas told him that he knew he was a lap behind but didn’t see Palmer in his mirror. Palmer wasn’t pleased and called the Spaniard idiot with an f-word. Later on Palmer was summoned by the stewards but the former thought it was Canamasas who was under investigation.
But no. It was Palmer himself who was under investigation. A track worker heard the conversation between Palmer and Canamasas and reported it to the FIA. Palmer had to explain the situation to the stewards and stewards made a decision: they gave Palmer a 12,000 € fine and warned him of a possible race ban. It’s strange to see something like this happening as it’s understandable a driver is furious and unhappy when he has to retire because of someone else’s moves on the track. For sure it isn’t the first time when a driver has talked to another in this way. What might happen on the track in a questionable situation can be dangerous, while words are just words. You can’t injure anyone by using them.
The latest strange situation happened in Germany in the first race as the Safety Car came to the track on the first lap. Plenty of drivers were going to be under investigation by stewards after the race. Surely, it was going to be challenging as it was the first lap and there were many drivers who passed other cars. In the end there were no penalties for anyone. Many drivers discussed this on Twitter later after being unhappy as no penalty was given despite drivers overtaking under the Safety Car.
Stewarding in GP2 should also teach for the drivers what’s allowed and what isn’t by punishing a driver for wrong moves on the track. This way the drivers should understand the limit. You can’t let these drivers make the move into Formula 1 if they think they can do anything on the track. Looking at decisions the stewards have made, (or didn’t make at all) it looks like one day it’s completely fine to turn your car straight into your rival on purpose and on the other day you might get punished. On one day you can overtake cars while Safety Car is on the track, while on the other day you might get banned because you are angry on your rival because of his illegal movements, which is a normal act. There needs to be a change in stewarding. Further it needs to be more consistent during the second part of the season. In GP2 it is especially important to punish drivers for illegal moves and one can’t just let them be. Some of the drivers are mature enough to not to get into trouble, while some of the drivers need little reminders at times. Still, being fair and consistent with penalties is something that this series needs. The FIA must realize there is something wrong when the drivers aren’t happy when the stewards don’t take necessary action. They are the stars of the series, the ones who want safety and fairness even though the fight on the track is hard.
Sometimes GP2 might look like a playground of kindergarten, but it actually should be a fair playground of a school where the drivers are preparing for future, for maturity, and for taking the big step into their biggest dream. It can be fair school only if the rules and punishments are clear for everybody. Let’s hope this changes in the future and the season continues with fair and consistent stewarding decisions, and will continue that way in coming years.
by Sini Salminen