Sunday 24th August 2008
In a ruling eventually published almost two hours after the end of the European GP, Felipe Massa has been fined and reprimanded for being released into the path of Adrian Sutil following his second pit stop.
No further explanation was provided, leaving PF1 to ask three questions about the ruling:
Why Did It Take So Long?
Having announced they would investigate Massa's pit stop release within a few minutes of the actual incident occurring, only three more laps had passed before they announced that a judgement would have to wait until the end of the race. Why the wait? It could be for only three reasons:
1) The evidence was complex and required detailed analysis as well as the testimony of numerous witnesses.
2) The stewards were too busy dealing with another case to consider a separate incident.
3) The incident took place near the end of the race, leaving the stewards with insufficient time to make a ruling.
It was none of those things. There was nearly a third of the race still to run, no other incidents were under investigation, and, courtesy of the television cameras, there was ample evidence immediately available on which to base a ruling. Ferrari were clearly guilty of failing to abide by article 23.1 of the FIA Sporting Regulations 2008 that states, "It is the responsibility of the competitor to release his car after a pit stop only when it is safe to do so". The only decision the stewards had to make was determining the extent of their punishment. There was no justification for the delay - especially not when it meant that a television audience was still left to wonder whether the result stood long after coverage from Valencia had ended. Bernie Ecclestone, accountable to the television executives who fund the sport, will have been livid at such an unsatisfactory conclusion.
So why the delay? Bereft of any viable alternative, the explanation must be that the stewards wanted to wait until the result of the race was in and they could impose their punishment accordingly. Suspicion is rife that, in the expectation of a convincing Massa victory, they wanted to add ten seconds to his time in the knowledge that it wouldn't actually change the result. Only when Massa crossed the line just six seconds ahead of Hamilton did they have to reconsider.
Why Punish Massa?
Although the competitor cited in article 23.1 is apparently the driver and not the team - note 'his' car rather than 'their' - it is perplexing that it is Massa rather than Ferrari who suffered a punishment. This was the team's offence, not his.
Amid the confusion about the process in which Ferrari drivers are released back into the pit lane after their stops, the stewards were arguably also entitled to demand clarification from the team. If the problem is the process then 'reprimanding' Massa -a passenger rather than a driver - is as pointless as fining a multi-millionaire 10,000 euros.
Did The Stewards Consider Massa's Testimony?
In attempting to deflect blame towards Sutil for daring to pass the Ferrari garage, Massa's ludicrous post-race commentary inadvertently confirmed that the crime was worse than depicted.
Consider some of his remarks: "It was a little bit of a shame to fight with him in the pit lane because he would have had to have let me pass. We came so close to the wall and I had to back off which cost me a bit of time. Fortunately the gap was enough."
The extracts particularly worth emphasising are "fight in the pit lane", "fortunately" and "close to the wall". Anyone who argues that this was an insignificant incident whose danger was exaggerated by television should think again. It is difficult to commensurate the imposition of such a meaningless punishment with a crime that wasn't only clearly committed but also subsequently revealed by its perpetrator to be serious and potentially catastrophic.