Main image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media
It is a story of despair, one of highs and lows. In just 2 hours, Sebastian Vettel and the Aston Martin F1 Team found themselves with a podium at hand in Hungary, and then left with nothing.
It is without a doubt a great shame – a great drive after a dismal start for a lot of drivers, meant that Vettel could climb up the podium places, and then fight for the win with Esteban Ocon, losing out in the final laps.
However, it should be mentioned that the offence he and his team had done was punished not severely, but according to the rules.
Being unable to provide 1 litre of fuel after the qualifying session and the race is almost always a violation of the rules worthy of a Disqualification￼ from the results. This litre must be retrievable by the FIA and the technical officers in order for them to take a sample and test it on the laboratory for potential illegality regarding the fuel.
And it’s one of those rules that are not to be interpreted by the stewards. The punishment is set, and the stewards are there to award it.
This fact sits especially hard with the Silverstone team, which is in a close fight in the constructors’ standing with AlphaTauri and Alpine, and with Vettel’s 2nd place points (which he may not get after all) they could close the gap from their rivals.
Since the team lost its right of appeal after yesterday’s hearing, the FIA and the stewards justified their decision, with the following exempt from their statement being particularly telling:
“For the assessment of whether or not the one-litre requirement was broken, it does not make a difference why there was less than one litre.
“There may be a couple of explanations why at the end of a race the remaining amount is insufficient. In any case, it remains the sole responsibility of the Competitor to ensure that the car is in conformity with the regulations all times (Art. 3.2 FIA International Sporting Code) and it shall be no defence to claim that no performance advantage was obtained (Art 1.3.3 FIA International Sporting Code).”
All of the above suggests that the FIA does not take into account the reason that the team did not have the 1 litre in its car’s tank (this time, it was a fuel pump malfunction, a rare but possible failure).
Which, as a fact, makes the DSQ punishment even harsher. This is not to say that not having the required fuel in the car after the end of the race is not a reason not to be punished for, but it’s another thing to hand out the same penalties for every type of illegality.
It was clearly not intended by the team to not have the required quantity of fuel to present to the technical officers, and still they got disqualified. And from that failure, they lost a miraculous podium finish.
FIA knows this system of hard, not flexible penalties in some aspects of the technical rulebook has to be somewhat amended in the next years.
From the dawn of F1, all rules are there to deter the teams from making dangerous decisions, and that is the reason that sometimes they are so severe in their impact. That means that sometimes, they are unfair as well.
Not all offences are equally severe, and not all of them are the same. It is one thing to not have 1L of fuel because you decided to burn it all to gain some advantage, and another to have a fuel pump failure and lose some fuel that you did not want to.
Although, it should be mentioned that the stewards are consistent in those types of punishments. Their life gets easier in that regard, because they go by the book, quite literally.
And they should not get more severe in their decisions in other occurrences just to make up for the harsh punishments in other incidents.
Dr. Helmut Marko compared Vettel’s DSQ with Hamilton’s 10 second penalty in the Silverstone accident:
“It is clear why Vettel almost ran out of petrol, because a normal race had been calculated and then he simply used more in the fight with Ocon – no driver saves petrol in this situation. Where is the relation there compared to Hamilton’s offence?
“Then there is Hamilton’s statement about Fernando Alonso’s dangerous driving. [Alonso] drove sensationally, defended optimally, and then this statement from someone who shoots out a competitor a race before.”
This seems an unfair comparison. Race control has ”wiggle-room” in those type of incidents, with Hamilton & Verstappen or the Hamilton & Alonso battle – that’s why they are completely inconsistent.
But, we should first change the severity for some type of offences, if those offences have been a result of a malfunction, or an accident.
Let’s be more flexible. Especially in the budget cap era, no penalty should be given without taking into account all the factors.