The decision not to take further action against Sebastian Vettel from his deliberate collision with Lewis Hamilton behind the Safety Car in Baku is a very poor one, as I have expressed. I accept that some people disagree with me and think that it is acceptable (or unimportant) that we see such things from top F1 drivers, but I cannot agree with them because a sport has to have rules or else there is chaos, and rules should be applied in a sensible and even-handed way and not in way that weakens the rule of law, or favours one party over another.
I entirely agree with a statement made in the FIA press release (the real one) by FIA President Jean Todt.
“Top level sport is an intense environment in which tempers can flare,” he said. “However, it is the role of top sportsmen to deal with that pressure calmly and to conduct themselves in a manner that not only respects the regulations of the sport but which befits the elevated status they enjoy. Sportsmen must be cognisant of the impact their behaviour can have on those who look up to them. They are heroes and role models and to millions of fans worldwide and must conduct themselves accordingly.”
The word ‘must’ implies an obligation and the real question is what should happen when they fail to do what they must do. Vettel has gone off the rails in this respect twice in the last year but there been no comeback on either occasion. Is that really the best way to handle the situation, or is discipline necessary in order to teach Vettel that there are natural and logical consequences of his actions. Discipline is meant to be a positive thing. The world cannot change if we only have carrots. We need carrots and sticks.
And this is where I struggle to understand. There are implications of this decision that Jean Todt must understand. He was a Formula 1 team principal for years. He knows how F1 is. He knows that teams will exploit everything that might give them an advantage. If drivers only get a slap on the wrist if they drive into one another deliberately, will we not see it happening more often because they no longer fear punishment? And how can the FIA argue against this when they have set such a precedent? A new FIA President can set new standards, but as long as Jean Todt remains in office he will suffer from this decision because he has created a rod for his own back.
It has also raised questions about governance. The FIA press release refers to “a panel” but it is not clear what this panel was – and what status it has within the FIA structure. The press release refers the FIA International Tribunal which clearly underlines the fact that this panel was not the Tribunal, which in any case consists of legal people. Why not? Why was this matter not dealt with using the structures that exist to solve the FIA’s problems? The panel consisted of three FIA employees and one of Jean Todt’s running mates in FIA elections. Thus it is fair to say that it is hardly independent. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, do they? Was Jean Todt on the panel? The press statement says that “FIA President Jean Todt decided”, which suggests that he was either on the panel or overruled it. So it is fair to say that this decision is ultimately down to Todt, one way or the other. But why was this the case? Why is he making decisions that should be made by a Tribunal, or not made at all. His role is to decide if a Tribunal is required and to act as prosecutor if he believes it is, not to decide what should (or should not) be. How does that work when one looks at the FIA governance structure? It is all very woolly with more grey areas than a multiple storey car park.
The press release is also a real high-wire act with Todt wobbling one way and then another. It says that the FIA is “deeply concerned by the wider implications of the incident, firstly through the impact such behaviour may have on fans and young competitors worldwide and secondly due to the damage such behaviour may cause to the FIA’s image and reputation of the sport” and notes “the severity of the offence and its potential negative consequences” but it (or he, depending on how you consider it) chose to do nothing.
The press release also mentions that Scuderia Ferrari is “aligned with the values and objectives of the FIA”. If you read the rules, Ferrari has to be. When it enters the World Championship one accepts that one will abide by the rules. So why does this need to be stated? What is it trying to achieve?