The latest controversial decision over Formula 1’s racing rules has prompted fresh discussion over whether those in charge of policing the sport are making consistent decisions.
Among those who see room for improvement, some believe having the same stewards in charge at every event would be a step in the right direction. At present the stewards for each weekend, who rule on matters ranging from driving infringements to technical matters and more besides, are drawn from pools of multiple chairpersons, driver stewards and others.
But according to Lewis Hamilton, FIA F1 race director Michael Masi recently told drivers similar incidents may be handled differently by different stewards. This appears to leave room for inconsistency.
Has the time come for F1 to appoint permanent stewards who accompany the series from venue to venue? Would this change be more likely to produce decisions which are viewed as being consistent and fair?
Sharing the responsibility for such vital decisions between groups of people ensures that different views are applied from weekend to weekend. However closely all involved in taking the decisions study past incidents, variations are inevitable when those taking the calls change from event to event.
Introducing permanent stewards would ensure every decision is taken by those who’ve made similar calls over the course of the championships. Instances of similar decisions attracting widely differing reactions would therefore be less frequent.
There are other potential benefits from having the same stewards at every race weekend, such as reducing the length of time it takes for decisions to be made, which has been a concern in recent races.
There’s no certainty that having permanent stewards would have changed how many of the controversial decisions which have attracted attention in recent races were handled.
For example, Max Verstappen is believed to have avoided a penalty for allegedly forcing Hamilton wide at Interlagos because there was asphalt on the exit of the corner, an interpretation of the rules which surprised, among others, Lando Norris, who was penalised for a similar incident involving Sergio Perez in Austria where there happened to be gravel on the outside of the turn.
This suggests the cause of what some consider ‘inconsistent’ decisions is not that different stewards made the calls, but that the standard being applied is unclear, not obvious or disputed.
The call for permanent stewards has always felt to me like one of those ‘the grass is always greener’ debates. I agree there’s a problem and I think a change is needed, but while I see the logic of the argument for permanent stewards I’m not entirely convinced it will successfully address the problem, or at least fully solve it.
I have some sympathy for the stewards, especially in the current circumstances, where the championship is coming down to the final races and the stakes are sky-high in a way they haven’t been for years. Nonetheless, I shared the surprise many have expressed here about how some recent decisions were handled.
One argument against permanent stewards is that it would increase the possibility that decisions could regularly be taken to the advantage or disadvantage of a particular driver or team. I suspect such overt bias would actually be easier to spot if the same people were making the calls week-in, week-out, compared to the current situation. But I doubt this happening to begin with anyway.
That leads me to think permanent stewards might be an idea worth trying, but I’m not convinced it’s the whole solution. Giving coherent explanations and fair justifications for what drivers may and may not do would surely do more to convince everyone that the same racing rules are being applied to all competitors. Particularly when it comes to the vexed matter of drivers exploiting track limits on asphalt run-off areas, a matter F1 has done a poor job of policing fairly this year and previously.
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Do you agree F1 should have permanent stewards?
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