Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2019

Stewards usually persuade drivers their penalty decisions are correct – Salo

2020 F1 season

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FIA driver steward and former Formula 1 racer Mika Salo has given insight into how the sport’s often controversial penalty decisions are made.

The ex-Ferrari and Toyota driver has worked with the stewards since 2012 and was on the decision-making panel at last year’s Monaco and Singapore Grands Prix.

He said F1 drivers were initially sceptical about his role. “It took a while before drivers understood that I’m actually on their side,” he told the Motorsport Dream podcast. “Every time I have FIA logo on my shirt [they think] I work for the FIA and it’s not true.

“But nowadays it’s much easier and now the guys come and talk to me, asking about opinion.”

Although drivers often publicly criticise penalty calls which go against them, Salo says that behind the scenes they are usually persuaded by the amount of evidence the stewards can present.

Mika Salo, Baku City Circuit, 2019
Salo last raced in F1 in 2002
“Often when two drivers have a problem with each other they come to our office, very quickly they realise what was wrong,” he said. “So even in the heat of the moment they might say something stupid for the press but they can see from our evidence that we are right.”

Salo also addressed the criticism stewards have faced for the length of time they can take to rule on some incidents, such as in Austria last year.

“It depends if it’s not clear,” he said. “A lot of times it’s very clear: If it affects the race we have to do the decision immediately.

“But sometimes if two cars crash, for example, and they’re both out, [there’s] no point to investigate it any more. We can leave it [until] after the race. So quite often we do that.”

Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Red Bull Ring, 2019
F1 cannot take three hours to say “no foul”
The sheer amount of information the stewards have at their fingertips can slow the decision-making process, Salo added.

“It’s a very busy two hours for us. We have a lot of camera angles, we have to investigate a lot of things that’s going on.

“It’s not only driving standards it’s also about the technical issues, what the teams are doing, there’s so many things. We have over 300 camera angles in the stewards room, also we have live data, we have live radio from each team. And we are only three guys there so it’s a very busy time.”

Asked whether fans’ criticism about incorrect decisions carries weight, Salo gave a deadpan response: “We have access to everything. We are never wrong.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 31 comments on “Stewards usually persuade drivers their penalty decisions are correct – Salo”

    1. Also the Azerbaijan GP last year, so a total of three events, which has been more or less the annual average for him. Nevertheless, I agree with everything he said. ”We are never wrong” – Mika Salo 2020.

      1. I’ve noticed that the only reason that the stewards are ‘wrong’ is because they don’t penalise the drivers that i don’t like and they penalise the drivers i like. Fans treat this topic so subjectively and i sympathise for the stewards when they have to deal with that crap. Salo seems to have it right in it that he doesn’t pay attention to them, the stewards are doing a very good job. F1 is light years ahead of football on that sense

        1. @xenn1 there have been instances where stewards have admitted that they made incorrect decisions though, admitting there have been times they’ve missed some incidents where they should have applied a penalty or, when looking back at a particular decision, would make a different decision based on what happened.

          It’s not to say that they are wrong all the time, but it is to note that, as in every other form of sport, there are times when the officials might make a decision that in retrospect they might concede was flawed.

          1. I don’t remember reading about race control doing that under Charlie Whiting, but in 2019 Michael Masi did indeed admit to some mistakes after races. The caveat there being that Michael Masi is the race director and not a race steward. Stewards don’t have the power to initiate an investigation, they just investigate what the race director sends their way

            1. @xenn1 the stewards do have the power to undertake an investigation on their own initiative – before the 2017 season, the Sporting Regulations were changed specifically to state that “The stewards may also investigate an incident noted by themselves.”. https://www.racefans.net/2017/01/24/stewards-get-new-powers-to-investigate-incidents/

              Whilst the Race Director still has the right to ask the stewards to look at an incident if they see something that the stewards didn’t spot, the stewards have the right to initiate their own investigations if they suspect something is not quite right.

        2. I don’t agree. I always use Monaco 2012 as en example where race-control messed up at the end of the race and the stewarts penalized Mercedes and Schumacher to cover it up.

          Also, many inconsistent decisions mean they must have been wrong at some point.

      2. Rule #1 – The stewards are never wrong
        Rule #2 – If the stewards are ever wrong, refer to Rule #1

    2. Pedro Andrade
      25th May 2020, 7:50

      “But sometimes if two cars crash, for example, and they’re both out, [there’s] no point to investigate it any more. We can leave it [until] after the race. So quite often we do that.”

      True, but this was not the case for Brazil (Hamilton vs Albon) or Austria (Leclerc vs Verstappen), which had the potential to alter podium places. In those cases they really should be quicker to make the decisions.

      1. I surely can’t be alone in thinking the way F1 stewards operate is ridiculous. What happens on track is spur of the moment stuff, the way they analyse things doesn’t always reflect that.

        I know from pretty much everyone I have spoken to in person (bearing in mind commenters on this website are not always very representative), including a few people I know who work in F1, the vast majority of people think Canada was wrong. Everybody knows it, the FIA included, but obviously they’re never going to publicly admit that.

        And the accident in Brazil that you have mentioned, it should’ve been a really easy call – watch the onboards from both cars, compare it with a normal line. It’s clear that it was Hamilton’s fault, so decide which penalty to give, job done before the podium ceremony. Obviously not every incident will be that straight forward but you get the point…

    3. Saying “We are never wrong” is the reason why you are often wrong.
      I don’t know if he is behind that call on the header but if that shot proves anything is that anyone can find their own angle on any argument. Trying to convince the drivers you are correct sounds like brainwashing. “I like pineapple on my pizza” Salo – “You are mistaken pineapple is wrong”

      1. @peartree It looks like you’re actively trying to disagree with him ‘just because’. Context is in any case very important and reading the article you see that he does say that after they show the drivers the proof and the data that the stewards have and work with, drivers are convinced that the stewards were correct in handing, or not handing, a certain penalty. So, to the surprise of nobody, instead of throwing childish tantrums when they’re told they’re wrong, the drivers act like grown ups and accept facts for what they are: the absolute truth.

        “I like pineapple on my pizza” Salo – “You are mistaken pineapple is wrong”

        This makes no sense in whatever context you put it. ‘I like pineapple on my pizza’ is not an objective statement with a scale of truth/lie, it’s a food preference that some people have. Liking something does not mean you’re wrong, and it’s a very childish stance to have on a topic.

        1. This makes no sense in whatever context you put it. ‘I like pineapple on my pizza’ is not an objective statement with a scale of truth/lie, it’s a food preference that some people have. Liking something does not mean you’re wrong, and it’s a very childish stance to have on a topic.

          I understand from this you have never been to Naples :D

          1. Ps. Oh and there is only one absolute objective truth in F1 and that’s the stopwatch, everything else is subjective BS.

            1. You presumably have never heard of March and their way of cheating the timing system to get pole once – even the stopwatch can be cheated if you are ingenious enough.

          2. Never been myself, but i do have friends who grew up in northern Italy and they do take offence at the bare mention of the idea. I find it amusing to say the least

        2. @xenn1 triggered much. Stewards make mistakes, drivers disagree with stewards, statistics are used to twist facts. There this saying “agree to disagree” I would suggest you consider it before disparaging any opinion that is not your own, xenn salo.

          1. @peartree not at all, might i direct your attention to this handy article, statistics (absolute truth) can’t bend facts (another absolute truth), that is, of course, if they are seen objectively and unbiased. I’d like you to try that before you throw assumptive accusations about my identity and personality my way

    4. Magnus Rubensson (@)
      25th May 2020, 8:34

      He was wrong only once (at Hockenheim…).

      1. Magnus Rubensson (@)
        25th May 2020, 9:16

        Actually I must correct myself. I’m the one who is wrong.
        Nothing new under the sun there! :)

        This article by Dieter Rencken really opened my eyes as to why F1 has seemed so different in later years. Many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place when I realised what really happened in 1998:

        The German GP where Salo was leading was in 1999 … and the DNA of F1 had already been changed.
        It changed from being a sport (á la Hemingway) – to being a show.

    5. Salo says that behind the scenes they are usually persuaded by the amount of evidence the stewards can present.

      There’s been times when it looked to me like the evidence was scant and the Stewards filled in the gaps with their own theory. For example, both Renault drivers were Disqualified from last year’s Japanese GP because of some minor electrical problem in the wheel hubs. The Stewards said the cars were cheating and using vast amounts of electrical power. Electrical power is based upon voltage and current, but they based their assessment upon only voltage, no measurement of current was taken or considered, and the Stewards completely ignored the fact the voltage was present in microsecond durations.

      1. Jonathan Parkin
        25th May 2020, 11:08

        Michael Schumacher’s disqualification from the Belgian GP in 1994 was the same situation. The regulations apparently said when there is more than 1mm wear on the plank the plank must be weighed and if it is below a certain weight then exclude. But according to Ross Brawn the plank wasn’t weighed

    6. He forgot the color of the car.
      If $car = red, then $reduce_penalty_chance = 90%.

      We’ve seen great examples of this.
      Red Bull unsafe release Verstappen in Monaco: time penalty, with no chance of overtaking
      Ferrari unsafe relaase Leclerc in Germany: no penalty, later upped to a fine.
      Verstappen defending against Bottas in Monza 2018: 5s penalty.
      Leclerc defending against Hamilton in Monza 2019; including corner cutting and blocking: no penalty.
      Leclerc batters Verstappen off in Japan 2019: no investigation at first, only after a lot of noise was made, he was investigated. Never mind racing with a broken front wing in the aftermath and not getting the meatball for laps on end.

      Vettel received similar treatment for hitting Hamilton in Baku and his many unpunished clumsy start moves in the pack. He got away with much more other drivers got penalized with.

      1. You are forgetting Leclerc got away with weaving on straights in order to prevent towing at Italian GP along all the other times MaFIA goon getting away with crimes. For Japan he should have been black flagged with a race ban atleast.

    7. I wish the interviewer asked him for an example of when an obvious penalty had been given immediately. That’s my biggest problem, even if it’s a speeding penalty it seems to take three laps to assess

    8. We are never wrong

      It’s not even misplaced Finnish humour, this is really how they think and that’s the scary part.

      The stewarding is by and large atrocious, at times putting the sport in disrepute. The sooner F1 realize it has a problem, the sooner it will be fixed, but it’s difficult with arrogance like this.

    9. One of the biggest changes that evolved throughout the 70-year history of the Formula 1 World Championship is its relationship with penalties. In the 1950s and 1960s, penalties were extremely rare…there were more drivers disqualified (almost always for push-start) than penalized for circumventing the rules. It was quite similar during the 1970s and 1980s, few more penalties were dished out for jumped start or other infractions, but it still was rather infrequent…maybe because they were quite severe, usually one minute and on few occasions exclusion from races. With the introduction of ‘stop-and-go’ penalty in the early 1990s, things began to change, and every year there were given roughly as many penalties as per whole decade in the past. At the same time, the cars and circuits became much safer than ever before, which led to development of previously intolerable driver habits, and when drive-through penalty was added to the menu some years later, number of penalties exploded. There was hardly any race without some penalty or another being given to a driver. Then, introduction of grid penalties for engine and gearbox changes took the whole thing to yet another level…way up! In Abú-Dhabi 2011, Pastor Maldonado became the first driver to be penalized before, during, and after the race! And that is where we basically are still today, although maybe things are beginning to calm down…slightly. Virtually every race is afflicted by litany of all sorts of penalties, and, if anything, driver habits seem only getting looser. On top of everything, the FIA (under pressure from the teams) adopted a system where it needs to be determined if a driver gained an advantage, and how much, before any penalty is applied. Then there are cases where the driver gained advantage, but was allegedly avoiding an accident…so that’s OK. Combined with the absence of permanent race stewards, the situation reached the point where it is practically unfathomable to the outside world…and I suspect to few of the circus insiders as well.

    10. Vettel vs hamilton in canada in recent times was race changing and unlike salo says it was NOT a fast decision at all.

      1. Or correct.

        1. I looked in the race results and I see 1st Hamilton, 2nd Vettel. Have they changed?

          1. Jon Bee, the fact that the poster in question has a rather prominent picture of a Ferrari on his profile is probably an explanation for why the two of you are unlikely to be able to agree on that particular penalty.

            1. Well, I personally am not a ferrari fan, just a fan of the sport, hence a mercedes hater, but it doesn’t change the fact that the penalty ruined the race and dare I say was excessive, although later the stewards showed a new angle where it seems vettel straightened the steering wheel and then turned towards hamilton, indicating he did on purpose, if so then it makes sense.

              But the point here was it took way too long, it disagrees completely with what salo just said; good driver, bad steward.

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