The penalty that cost Lando Norris and McLaren a points finish in Formula 1’s Canadian Grand Prix was a rare invocation of a rule against “unsportsmanlike” behaviour.
Norris was hit with a five-second penalty in Montreal, which meant he dropped from ninth to 13th after the chequered flag.
The Canadian GP stewards penalised Norris for slowing to allow a gap to form between himself and team-mate Oscar Piastri behind the safety car, so that they could pit on the same lap.
This tactic is hardly uncommon when teams attempt to pull off a ‘double stack’ – pitstops for both cars in quick succession.
But the stewards did not look favourably on Norris doing this in Canada with Charles Leclerc and Alex Albon close behind him.
They noticed a significant difference in speed between Norris and Piastri between the hairpin and the final corner of “approximately 50km/h”, which created a gap to Piastri and delayed the cars behind at the same time.
In the past, on the rare occasions this has been investigated it has been on the grounds of an alleged sporting rules breach – namely the regulation governing driving unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person at any time whilst the safety car is deployed.
Unusually, the stewards have decided that what Norris did constitutes a breach of the FIA’s International Sporting Code.
They specifically cite article 12.2.1.l, referring to “any infringement of the principles of fairness in competition, behaviour in an unsportsmanlike manner or attempt to influence the results of a competition, in a way that is contrary to sporting ethics”.
Previously, teams have freely acknowledged the importance of making a gap between their cars so that the first car can be serviced in the pitlane and the second one can slot straight in, without fear of punishment.
After Norris was involved in a similar incident in 2020 at the Italian Grand Prix (pictured above) and investigated using the aforementioned part of the sporting regulations rather than the ISC, he was cleared of any wrongdoing – but there was a suggestion that the FIA had subsequently decided it needed to be clamped down on in the future.
But it has continued to be a known practice in F1. A recent example was this year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where Lance Stroll backed off behind Aston Martin team-mate Fernando Alonso so much that George Russell attempted to overtake him in the pitlane entry.
Norris’s penalty hints at there finally being an explicit change in how this action will now be viewed and dealt with, or that there was something specific about this incident that made it unsporting when other cases are not.
The stewards’ verdict does not explain this. The FIA has been approached for comment.