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Formula 1

‘Journalists are in love’ – but is F1’s review system right?

by Edd Straw
7 min read

Amid the maelstrom around Red Bull’s failed attempt to make stewards reconsider Lewis Hamilton’s British Grand Prix penalty, the validity of Formula 1’s right to review system itself has been questioned.

As Alfa Romeo team principal Frederic Vasseur explained during a Hungaroring press conference that featured 15 questions related to the unsuccessful review request, while “journalists are in love” with the story, he doubts whether it is right for F1 given the endless headlines it has generated.

Jul 29 : Red Bull case rejected as F1 war of words escalates

He has a point, insofar as the ongoing disagreement has arguably not portrayed F1 in a positive light – although you can argue perhaps more convincingly that it’s been the perfect fuel for the championship fire.

But just because the way the right to review has been used on this occasion might be unpopular in some quarters is not an argument for eliminating it.

“We used in the past the right of review, but it is true that it’s never easy to have a clear opinion on what is the new evidence and how you have to come with the new evidence because when the decision is made during the race the stewards don’t have access to all the data in two or three laps,” said Vasseur.

“On the other hand, I am convinced that it is very important to close the chapter of the race on Sunday evening. OK, for a technical reason it could be another story, but I am not sure it is good for the show for F1 in general to have a two-week discussion.

“For sure, journalists are in love – and we can see it in today in the press conference – with this kind of story but I’m not sure it is the right side of the business.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Practice Day Budapest, Hungary

The right to review is enshrined in the FIA’s international sporting code, meaning it applies to all of its championships. It’s an essential mechanism, conceived only to be used in exceptional circumstances and with a high bar to clear if it is to lead to an investigation being reopened.

As Vasseur mentions, knowing that the result at the end of Sunday isn’t an illusion is important and it’s rare that F1 cannot deliver this. The right to review is there to allow redress for miscarriages of justice or decisions that were made without the full facts available. And by allowing a window of 14 days after the event in question, it means that there is time for such new evidence to surface.

It’s important to note that the hurdle Red Bull fell at was effectively a pre-hearing. This was to decide if Red Bull had met the required criteria to green-light the stewards reviewing the penalty.

The international sporting code states that for the review to be granted, it’s necessary that “a significant and relevant new element is discovered which was unavailable to the parties seeking the review at the time of the decision concerned”.

Last year’s Austrian Grand Prix, where stewards did not have onboard footage from Hamilton’s car available from the end of Q3 where he potentially ignored yellow flags, is the perfect example as that case was reopened when Red Bull brought footage from a 360-degree camera on the Mercedes to the attention of the stewards.

That was an unusually quick turnaround for discovering new evidence, but it proves the system works.

Allowing a two-week window to seek a review will discourage potentially guilty parties from attempting to hide potential evidence until the end of the event in the knowledge that there’s effectively a statute of limitations that kicks in after a matter of hours. And sometimes it does take time for evidence to surface from unusual places.

The stewards explained very clearly how they tested the submitted evidence against the wording of the international sporting code in their verdict on Thursday evening and it was clear that what was submitted did not fit the bill.

A sense of injustice, disgruntlement, unhappiness with the penalty and – in this case – your own analysis of the incident based largely the same data originally available to the stewards and Alex Albon driving around in a 2019 Red Bull in an attempt to simulate Hamilton in a 2021 Mercedes are not admissible.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff mentioned the rationale for the review process existing even came up as a result of Red Bull’s failed attempt.

“The right to review was created, and we heard that directly from the people involved, to allow for a team if new evidence were to pop up during the competition to bring that forward after the decision has been made on that weekend,” said Wolff.

“I think it’s a correct process. Sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it goes against you but the stewards have an incredibly tough job. They need to, within the time that is allowed, come up with a verdict and potentially a penalty and we don’t want to have this drag out with new evidence that is being created after the event because then we wouldn’t have a single race result.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner underlined another important point, that the right to review with its 14-day window also prevents changes to the results down the line.

That might sound like a fanciful situation, but there have been cases where results have been expunged outside of that window – most famously when Tyrrell was retroactively disqualified from all of the 1984 races. So this is not just about extending the period for potential change but closing it off thereafter.

Stefan Bellof Tyrrell 1984

“The purpose of this review, if you follow it back to why it was introduced, was to avoid an event taking place at any point in the year and it being challengeable until after the championship,” said Horner.

“I think the purpose of the review was brought in so that by the time the drivers’ and constructors’ championships are awarded, each and every incident has been dealt with and can’t be drawn back from an earlier race in the year.

“The right of the review is correct and it’s a fair process that the competitors have that ability to challenge.

“Maybe having gone through that and understanding what some of the definitions are, some of those perhaps could be altered slightly. But I can understand the FIA’s process that they don’t want every single incident to go into a review. But I think that when there is a significant incident that does warrant a review it’s good to have that opportunity to exercise it.”

“The process is good enough. It doesn’t need to be reviewed” :: Mattia Binotto

Horner’s point about the potential for altering slightly what the definitions are is a fair one. Broadly speaking, the right of review is a good system but any such mechanism should always be open to improvement if necessary.

That said, the understanding of what constitutes new and relevant evidence was clear and it was no surprise when what Red Bull had assembled was thrown out. Too lengthy a definition of such evidence could risk excluding valid sources, which is important not to do as this system is designed to be used only in unusual circumstances.

Mattia Binotto, whose Ferrari team unsuccessfully sought a review of Sebastian Vettel’s 2019 Canadian Grand Prix penalty for rejoining unsafely in front of Hamilton after all seven of its tenuously assembled pieces of evidence were rejected, believes the system is right as it is.

190052 Can

“The process gives the opportunity to the teams to ask for it and then it’s only a matter of judgement if new evidence is there – yes or no,” said Binotto.

“If new evidence has been obtained then review the decision.

“The process is good enough. I think it doesn’t need to be reviewed.”

Red Bull always faced an uphill battle to get the penalty increased even in the unlikely event that the review was given the go-ahead. If it had produced genuine new evidence, it would then have been necessary to prove Hamilton’s driving was outright dangerous in order to have any hope of escalating it to a higher tier of penalty.

Often when controversy engulfs F1, it is caused or contributed to by systemic problems. But in this case, the right to review is fit for purpose and it functioned correctly.

If there is a problem in this case, it’s simply that Red Bull’s raging sense of injustice blinded it to the nature of the review system, which does not exist as a mechanism to change a judgement that you don’t like except if there is compelling evidence that changes the stewards’ view.

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