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