2012 German Grand Prix – Was Vettel Made An Example Of?

EngageSportMode won’t lie about being a fan of Red Bull and, in particular, Sebastian Vettel when it comes to Formula 1. Ever since that victory for Toro Rosso at a rain-drenched Monza, it has been clear the young German is an extremely talented racer. But his penalty following yesterday’s German Grand Prix smacks a little too much of him being used to set an example for motorsport drivers across the world. I would recommend watching the video on the BBC Sport website if in any doubt as to what incident I refer to.

The issue of drivers exceeding the white lines marking the edge of the track is something Autosport has made reference to numerous times this year. In addition, Jonathan Palmer founder of MotorSport Vision which own various tracks throughout the UK has pushed for harsher penalties for drivers who run beyond the lines; not least because of the cost of repairing damage done. Whether this is directly related or just pure coincidence to Sunday’s events isn’t really important. The fact that Vettel received what could be considered a harsh penalty is.

Throughout the course of the race numerous drivers left the track and ran wide onto run-off areas beyond the white lines at the edge of the track. This included eventual race winner Fernando Alonso along with Vettel and others. The rule under which Sebastian was punished is Article 20.2 of the FIA 2012 F1 Sporting Regulations. If you’ve just finished 50 Shades of Grey I can strongly recommend this as your next bedtime reading.

Article 20.2 states that:

Drivers must use the track at all times. For the avoidance of doubt the white lines defining the track edges are considered to be part of the track but the kerbs are not.

A driver will be judged to have left the track if no part of the car remains in contact with the track.

Should a car leave the track the driver may rejoin, however, this may only be done when it is safe to do so and without gaining any advantage.

 A driver may not deliberately leave the track without justifiable reason.

The stewards argued that in going onto the run-off area, Vettel went off the track and gained an advantage in passing Button. Undoubtedly, this is true to an extent; had the run-off area not been there, but been a solid armco wall such as Monaco, Seb would have crashed into it and most likely had to have retired. But the same could be said for all other drivers who crossed the white lines and used the run-off area to carry extra speed through corners. At Monaco, they would have been in the wall and out of the race.

You could also make an argument that Button’s driving could technically fall foul of Article 20.4:

Manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are not permitted.

Had Vettel remained on the circuit, given Button’s lack of rear grip he would have slid into the German and probably put them both out of the race. With the comparative speed Sebastian had towards the end of the race, it was inevitable he was going to pass the poster boy for Head & Shoulders sooner rather than later.

It’s also worth considering the penalty the stewards handed out to Vettel. His overtaking manoeuvre on Button enabled him to gain second position. However, the 20-second time penalty, essentially in lieu of a drive-through penalty, dropped Sebastian from second to fifth, much to the delight of Raikkonen and Kobayashi I’m sure. This seems somewhat heavy-handed and essentially unfair.

The stewards applied Article 16.3 (a) of the Sporting Regulations which, had there been more than 5 laps of the race remaining, would have resulted in Vettel having to make a drive-through penalty. With less than 5 laps to go, 16.3 (a) instead results in 20 seconds being added to the penalised drivers time at the end of the race; thus dropping Vettel from 2nd to 5th.

What seems stupid, and genuinely unfair, is that the stewards have the option 16.3 (c) to issue an unspecified “time penalty” instead. Why not simply add on 5 seconds to Vettel’s time, drop him to third, and thus negate the advantage gained from going off the circuit? As admitted, I’m certainly not the most partisan fan when it comes to F1, but this penalty does leap out as being over-zealous in its application. I would also imagine that, whether intended or not, it will certainly make drivers think about running beyond the white lines in future.

On a side note, Button’s attitude about the whole thing only served to irritate me more. Whilst waiting for the podium ceremony, Jenson chided Vettel with the comment of “they are going to investigate your overtake by the way”, sounding a lot like a school pupil telling another they’ve just “told” on them to the teacher. Perhaps JB should concentrate on trying to salvage what’s left of his season, and career, before sticking his oar in again.

 Oh well, let the fun continue in Hungary!

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