Japanese GP: penalty confusion

You don’t need to be a genius to guess the points of discussion in the paddock here. Choose any one of three incidents which drew the attention of the stewards. Whether they’re the sort of thing that the officials should be bothered about is arguably a more important question.

Two of these controversial decisions would not have been necessary if Lewis Hamilton had made a proper start and raised more questions about his ability to deal with pressure as the championship closes in. You could also argue that, having made a mess of his getaway, Hamilton should have tucked in behind Kimi Raikkonen instead of beginning his banzai dive down the inside.

But the question is not about Hamilton losing his cool or attempting to go racing at the wrong moment in terms of the championship. It is about whether the stewards were right to penalise him for the sort of thing that happens regularly. At the time, and in the light of suggestions that Hamilton is overly aggressive, I thought the stewards had a point. But now I’m not so sure.  Well, not when the same penalty is handed out to Massa for appearing to drive into Hamilton on lap 2.

The problem is that the stewards do not have a more flexible tariff of penalties. A drive-through is the least they could apply, much the same as a 25-second penalty was the least they could give Hamilton at Spa when, in the view of many, it did not fit the crime. Of course, Hamilton’s drive-through in Fuji was largely irrelevant because, by that stage, he had been spun to the back of the field by Massa and was already out of the equation.

What about Massa scoring an extra point thanks to Bourdais being landed with a 25-second penalty for causing the collision as the Toro Rosso left the pit lane? It looked, from the only television angle available, as if Massa had squeezed Bourdais as they reached the first corner.

But the stewards reasoned that Bourdais had been given the flashing blue light at the end of the pit lane, warning of the approach of a car at 190mph on the track. The onus was on Bourdais to avoid a collision, even though they were both racing for position and the Toro Rosso had left the pit lane. Apparently, Bourdais ‘did not back off enough’.

How much is ‘back off enough’? And what is this doing to cramp drivers’ style and kill off adventurous spirit in motor racing?

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