F1 | Vettel case: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

The world wide web and the social networks are literally overflowing of comments and posts about the Sunday controversial decision of the race stewards, which gave to Sebastian Vettel a time penalty of 5 seconds. You can read literally anything, from imaginative interpretations, to actual trials at every level, and then various insults to the stewards and to FIA.

Credits: Tuttomotori

What we want to do here, is to try to clarify the most common mistakes which we found on the internet, giving the most objective explanations we can and trying to provide the best means to allow to make a correct opinion on what happened.


The document of the Stewards Decision

Let’s first see the official document of the Stewards

The decision of the Stewards


In the document two things immediately catch the eye:

  • There is no reference to telemetry data nor to the team declarations, so the decision was taken only watching the videos from the track cameras and the onboards;
  • There is no direct reference to the rule broken by the pilot, but his faulty behavior is described directly


It is there fore necessary to understand which rule the Stewards are referring to, taking in considerations directly their words. It is easy to deduce that the rule is about Article 27, so the “Driving” part of the regulation (so the driver’s conduct rule). In particular they are referring to the last paragraph of rule 27.3.


The Rule

Here is the rule in question

Article 27 of the sporting regulations

So, what aspects played a role in the Stewards evaluation? Let’s see them together

Hamilton takes the chequered flag in second place but as the GP winner

The immediate decision

In the past it often happened that in occasions such as this one, where the victory of the GP is at stake, that the Stewards decided to investigate the incident after the race. This in order to listen directly the point of view of the drivers and to analyze the telemetry data provided by the teams. In this case this did not happened and it’s easy to wonder why. To this we reply with what we deem a likely hypothesis. We believe that the directions received by the Stewards are to avoid at all costs to have sub judice podiums, for obvious image and economical reasons. So, even though that meant to have less information available, it is likely to believe that the Stewards had great pressure about this.


Sebastian Vettel switching the boards for first and second place

The voluntary action

We read in a lot of pages and comments that the rule doesn’t talk about a voluntary action, so it is enforced for both voluntary and involuntary actions.

This is an error:

The involuntary actions, being involuntary are not punishable. If the rule wants to punish an involuntary action, it should specify this clearly in order to eliminate at the origin any argument for this line of defense.

In this case it is not specified that the pilot shall rejoin the track with a voluntary or involuntary action, therefore only the voluntary actions can be sanctioned under the rule.

But this is also logic, to make an example: if involuntary actions were punishable, in case a car was involved in an accident and spun, leaving and rejoining the track spinning, the driver should be sanctioned for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner. This shows that only voluntary actions make sense within the rule, so only the conscious decisions of the pilot are punished.


The “literally” enforcement of the rule and the “tied hands” of the Stewards

Another comment that we often found around is that the problem is actually the rule itself and that the Stewards with such a rule have their hands tied and are obliged to apply it. Others say that the penalty was given because the Stewards applied the rule literally and they were just too strict.

Also this is formally wrong.

A rule can be applied “literally” when it defines precise parameters of application, without underlying an interpretation by the judging entity.


Emanuele Pirro and the other Stewards in the difficult moment of the decision


Let’s make another example: the rule of the minimum time to respect in case of a red flag. In case there is a red flag, also in free practice, all drivers must respect a minimum time set by the FIA in the in lap. If the pilot does not stay above that minimum time shall be sanctioned. It happened in Austin last year to Sebastian Vettel. This is a case where the rule must be enforced “literally” and the Stewards have “their hands tied”. As a matter of fact, in that case there was no real danger situation, but the rule is the rule and cannot be interpreted, and the Stewards were obliged to give that penalty.

The case of the last paragraph of article 27.3 is very different. It only specifies is that the pilot may rejoin but only when it is safe to do so.

The evaluation about whether the pilot took a voluntary action rejoining the track in that point and at that moment and that the manner in which he rejoined was safe enough is entirely on the Stewards. So the decision about the penalty (correct or wrong) was a Stewards’ decision, who did not merely applied a rule but made their evaluation about the situation.

The legal advise

We also have a legal advise that confirms this, we report it here in Italian for those who are interested

In realtà, rispetto alla regola richiamata dai commissari, ha poco senso parlare di applicazione “alla lettera”, trattandosi di una disposizione che fa rinvio ad un concetto generale che è l’interprete a definire di volta in volta attraverso le proprie valutazioni.

Non siamo, cioé, di fronte ad una prescrizione che pone un criterio oggettivo quale, ad esempio, un limite di velocità, per cui l’attività dell’interprete si limita a verificare se sia stato superato o meno, esitando in un giudizio che sarebbe identico per chiunque fosse chiamato a formularlo. […]

È dunque questa una norma che, per la stessa tecnica con cui è scritta, non lascia spazio ad alcuna applicazione “alla lettera”, perché obbliga l’interprete ad effettuare una valutazione, un giudizio, sul grado di sicurezza della manovra.[…]

Per concludere, i commissari in Canada non avevano a disposizione alcuna regola da applicare “alla lettera”, ma, per decidere se penalizzare Vettel, sono necessariamente dovuti passare attraverso una valutazione discrezionale del grado di sicurezza della sua manovra di rientro, compiendo un giudizio che è tecnicamente scorretto definire “imposto”, “dovuto”, o “obbligato”, ma che è pienamente ascrivibile – corretto o meno – alla loro scelta e alla loro responsabilità.


Mistake or not, respect and politeness for the Stewards

We want to open here a small but important page. The Stewards are professionals who works without any doubt in good faith. They know that the biggest issue at stake is safety and they have the (noble) mission to ensure it at all costs. For this they must be respected and they deserve civil behavior from people. If the decision of Sunday was a mistake, it is necessary to remind that everyone can make mistakes in his job and he does not deserve to be insulted or threatened. Seeing what was written on the Emanuele Pirro’s page in this days we can just express our solidarity to him, being his decision correct or wrong.


The previous similar episodes

In the recent history of Formula 1, two somehow similar episodes come to our mind.

  • Hamilton vs Ricciardo – Monaco Grand Prix 2016. In that situation Hamilton was under heavy pressure by Ricciardo and went long at the port chicane, cutting it. He rejoined the track with a deviated trajectory and Ricciardo plunged into the open gap. But Hamilton slammed the door on him pretty hard, almost putting him into the wall. Ricciardo complained but Hamilton was not penalized.
  • what is similar: both situations come from the pilot in front who makes a mistake and goes off track and then force the other driver close to the barriers.
  • what is different: in that case Ricciard was not “forced off track” as it was pointed out to Vettel. We must say that since in Monaco there are the guard rails it is literally impossible to push another driver off track, but it should be considered “towards the wall”. So who states that the difference between the two cases is this one, in our opinion, makes a mistake


  • Verstappen vs Raikkonen – Japan Grand Prix 2018. In that occasion Verstappen went long at the last chicane and went off track. He then followed the track and rejoined going wide and hitting the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. The dutch was sanctioned with a 5 seconds penalty.
  • what is similar: as in the previous case the driver in front makes a mistake and goes off track. Also, the “encounter” with the other driver happens directly at the moment that Verstappen rejoins the track so by the concept is very similar.
  • What is different: In this situation Verstappen after the lock out never lost control of his car. The point of the track where he went off also allowed him to choose where and how to rejoin and watching the video it seems quite clear that he came back on track in a hurry trying to cover his position as much as possible. The other big difference is that in that case there was a contact between the cars with damages. This from Verstappen appears as a voluntary action: he chose when and where rejoin the track. If the Stewards considered an analogy between the two cases in their decision, means that they deemed the Vettel’s action as much as voluntary.


The Appeal

Another thing we heard is that “FIA let Ferrari appeal” often together with “probably due to the wrong decision of the Stewards”.

Also this is formally wrong.

The sentence included in the Stewards decision is a standard sentence which just reminds that “the teams have the right to appeal certain decision from the Stewards”. Simply this decision is not one of those. The appeal is not an option that can be given or not. Everyone can make appeal to any decision, it is on the court then to deem the appeal admissible or not. If the court rule that the appeal is not admissible it just doesn’t go any further.


Is the Appeal the right thing  to do for Ferrari

La flag hoisted in Maranello- Foto MP

Trying to be objective and to put ourselves in the shoes of Ferrari the answer is: yes, they are doing the right thing, for a pure political reason. It is quite clear that the political weight of Ferrari is at its historical minimum and to make a bit of noise showing that they are not accepting passively any decision is the right choice considering the global environment.

…and does it have any hope?

The other answer is that at 99.99% it doesn’t have any hope to go any further. This because, aside from the quibbles that the Ferrari’s lawyer are probably studying right now, this kind of penalty is explicitly stated as not eligible for appeal.

In any case it would be very difficult to make the court to change the Stewards decision: it would discredit their job and, more important, it would create a dangerous precedent. Should Ferrari win the appeal it would become automatic then that any decision with a margin of doubt will end up in an appeal making all the races sub judice, waiting for the court to rule…

So, unless the lawyers of Ferrari are capable of making a miracle even greater than the one that Seb made on track, it is correct to think about this appeal as a pure political move and from the sport perspective to look forward to the next Grand Prix, in France.

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Federico Albano

Ingegnere Navale, appassionato di Formula 1 e tifoso Ferrari da oltre 25 anni