Charles Leclerc set pole in Monaco last weekend before crashing and ultimately removing his Ferrari from contention before the start of the race, immediately sparking a debate that rears its head once every few years in Formula 1: Should a driver’s qualifying laps stand if they’ve caused an incident that effectively prevents their time from being beaten?
Other series have rules that say not. IndyCar, for example, deletes the offending driver’s two best times. Now the FIA is apparently entertaining the introduction of such a rule in F1, according to a statement made by race director Michael Masi to Autosport on Tuesday:
“Like everything when everything arises, the FIA, Formula 1 and the teams look at everything and consider it on its merits,” Masi said.
“Yes, I know the IndyCar rule, which is also a rule in a number of other FIA international series and domestic championships around the world.
“We’ll look at it and, together with all of the key stakeholders, determine if it’s suitable or not.”
While Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff evidently thinks F1 should consider enacting such a rule, saying it would help “avoid confusion,” it would seem the sport’s leading drivers don’t want it. Max Verstappen, who lost out at his chance to confirm a lap that likely would have beaten Leclerc’s, and Valtteri Bottas both opposed it in an interview after qualifying on Saturday. I don’t think that’s just because Leclerc was sitting between them and they wanted to be nice. Racing drivers usually aren’t like that.
Here’s what Verstappen said in that post-qualifying press conference, saying that you can tell the difference between a mistake and a cheat:
I think there is a difference when a guy makes a mistake and hits the wall, or doing it intentionally. I think had Charles just parked with a broken front wing, it’s a different story. But of course he just clipped the wall, initially, and then ended up where I’ve ended up twice! So, it’s just unfortunate. Of course, I’m disappointed to not have a shot at pole but that’s life. Sometimes you can’t do it. It’s fine. I don’t think his lap should have, or should be deleted in the future if possibly they want to make rule changes. I don’t think that would be fair – because we’re all trying so hard – and it’s not so easy around here, especially on the limit. It’s easy to make a mistake.
There’s a reason this and Nico Rosberg’s similar incident in 2014 both happened at Monaco. The street circuit is tight, with no runoff and zero margin for error. Pushing hard is extremely likely to end in a session-halting mistake. In retrospect, Michael Schumacher’s 2006 shenanigans when he intentionally parked his car at Rascasse to ruin Fernando Alonso’s lap did more to undermine the credibility of drivers simply trying their hardest than anyone realized at the time.
To Wolff’s point, I don’t think there’s any “confusion” about the fact Leclerc genuinely screwed up, and it’s easy enough for everyone to see that. A rule that would’ve deleted Leclerc’s time would also stand as a major deterrent to drivers running on the edge in qualifying, especially in Monaco, and in turn make an already boring grand prix weekend a hell of a lot more boring. Besides, with F1 cars’ tires and energy deployment systems already forcing drivers to hold themselves back from pushing most of the time, the last thing the sport needs is another rule or mechanical change to disincentivize racing.