Formula One Has a Penalty Problem

Image: AP Images

In spite of the fact that Max Verstappen was finally able to break Mercedes’ stranglehold on the 2019 Formula One season victories and score the first race win for a Honda engine in over a decade, there is a larger story in the paddock today; F1 is quick to consider any form of contretemps penalty-worthy. With three of the last four races decided by penalty, or in this case lack thereof, the penalty process has become more important and more talked about than the drivers, the teams, or the cars. That’s not an indicator of a healthy sport.

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If you didn’t catch the pass that decided the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday, check it out from multiple angles above. Within seconds of Verstappen’s pass on erstwhile race leader Charles Leclerc, the stewards let everyone know that the pass was under review. With three laps to go in the grand prix. And the decision to take no further action, thus allowing Verstappen to keep his well-earned victory, took more than three hours to mete out.

While I commend the stewards to ultimately coming to the correct decision, that neither Verstappen or Leclerc were to blame for the contact, or at least equally to blame, it hurts me to my core that the sport has devolved to a series of stewards decisions and off-the-track fighting. By delaying the decision until most of the fans had left the circuit, and perhaps some had even arrived back home, the high of the great battle between Red Bull and Ferrari was allowed to fade and the doldrums of waiting for a steward to balance the scales give this a sour taste.

Call me an old-fashioned fuddy duddy, but I vehemently believe in letting the racers race. I’m generally opposed to most penalties for contact, blocking, or passing outside the bounds of the track. If one driver makes it to the finish before the other, they’ve won. And while I’m hardly a NASCAR fan, I wholeheartedly agree with that series’ policy to declare a winner and let that victory stand. Let the fans see a winner. Don’t even cast the doubt.

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While many agreed with Verstappen’s penalty for unsafe release in the pit lane at Monaco, I’m not sure I did. While many agreed with Vettel’s penalty for returning to the race course in an unsafe manner in Canada, I definitely did not. Let racers race, trust that they know what they’re doing. Stewards shouldn’t treat the sport as if it’s competitive holding the door open for the person behind you at 7/11. There’s no room for polite on the track, it should be a knock down drag out. It should be what we saw this sunny Sunday in Austria, and then some.

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About the author

Bradley Brownell

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.