Christian Horner learnt the hard way to be careful what you say. At last weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix, the Red Bull Team Principal was given a warning by the stewards after calling the marshal, who waved the double yellow flag at the end of qualifying, a “Rogue Marshal”.
With his tail between his legs, Horner apologised to the marshal and will now take part in the FIA International Stewards Programme in February 2022.
Funny thing is, drivers and teams complain about the FIA all the time, especially when penalties are awarded. So it begs the question – what exactly can you not say about the FIA?
It all comes down to the FIA’s International Sporting Code, which defines what a breach of the rules means. In Horner’s case, he broke two of the FIA’s rules. Naughty, naughty!
Firstly, Article 12.2.1.f states that “Any words, deeds or writings that have caused moral injury or loss to the FIA, its bodies, its members or its executive officers, and more generally on the interest of motor sport and on the values defended by the FIA” could get a competitor into trouble.
He also broke Article 12.2.1.k which doesn’t allow “any misconduct” towards officials, FIA staff or other teams’ staff amongst others.
Interestingly, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko was outspoken after Max Verstappen was given a five-place grid drop for failing to slow for double yellow flags but wasn’t called to the stewards over it.
Calling the system “ridiculous”, the Austrian told DAZN that “the FIA can’t organise a proper marshalling system and they are hiding their incompetence on the shoulders of the driver. Unbelievable.”
It’s unsurprising that they wanted to make an example of Horner, as his comment directly targeted and damaged the marshal’s reputation, as opposed to Marko’s general criticism of the FIA.
In reality, the FIA are not going to punish teams or drivers every single time they say something bad about the FIA. Honestly, they probably haven’t got the time for the amount of slating they get and it wouldn’t look good if all criticism of them stopped.
However, there’s a fine line to tread, where a comment becomes a personal attack which can seriously damage the FIA’s reputation. For example, Max Verstappen telling Sky that he never gets presents from the stewards is acceptable. If he were to outright accuse them being biased and trying to influence the championship fight, then he could find himself in a lot of trouble.
Going forward, Race Director Michael Masi has made it clear that comments like Horner’s are not acceptable in F1, so don’t expect such a lenient punishment if someone pushes it too far next time.
Horner’s got company in the naughty team principal club. Haas’ Guenther Steiner was fined €7,500 for slagging off one of the stewards at the 2019 Russian Grand Prix because Kevin Magnussen had be given a five-second time penalty for re-joining the track incorrectly.
After the race, an unhappy Steiner told the Dane over the radio that “If we didn’t have a stupid, idiotic steward we would be eighth… You know who is the steward. You know him. It is always the same. He just does not get any more intelligent…”.
The outspoken Guenther later apologised for what he said, claiming that it was in the heat of the moment. The FIA on the other hand, were less than forgiving, judging the comments to be “an insult to the stewards of the event and calls into question both the skills and the integrity of those stewards”.
In their ruling, the stewards welcomed criticism based on facts in private, but public attacks against any individual were inappropriate and they would not tolerate them. Steiner was warned that if similar comments happened again, the team could be penalised.
You’d think being given a warning would be enough to stop Christian Horner in his tracks, but he’s made it clear he’s got no regrets about his behaviour.
“I’m not an overly-emotional person, I don’t rant at camera and I think the way I have conducted myself, I have no issues with it and would do exactly the same,” the Red Bull boss said.
Why do we have the feeling someone’s going to end up in the stewards’ office again.
Are the FIA’s rules too strict? Let us know in the comments below.