Formula E

"Stewards seemed overwhelmed" - Comment on controversial decisions during the Formula E season finale

Tobias Wirtz

Tobias Wirtz

After it had been quiet for some time in Formula E about the decisions of the race officials, heated discussions were sparked again at the London E-Prix. While race director Scot Elkins was expressly praised for his way of working, the race stewards and the team of the technical delegate in the British capital did not come off well. Several controversial decisions caused much criticism among the drivers. A commentary.

In the absence of Achim Loth, who has been acting as chairman of the steward at most Formula E races for several years, Xavier Bone, Eric Cowcill and Michael Schwägerl took on the task of judging rule violations and handing out penalties. They were supported by ex-racing driver Paul Belmondo. However, this resulted in some highly questionable decisions, particularly in Saturday's race. Viewed from the outside, the FIA race stewards seemed overwhelmed.

The start was made by Stoffel Vandoorne: The champion, who was still reigning at the time, braked his way past Norman Nato before turn 1 on the fourth lap. However, he hit Edoardo Mortara, who was driving in front of Nato, on the left rear wheel. The Maserati driver spun and dropped to the back of the field. He also had to pit shortly afterwards for a repair stop.

The incident was investigated, but to everyone's surprise, the race stewards' verdict was, "No further action. The Stewards reviewed the video evidence and concluded that no driver was wholly or predominately to blame."

If neither driver is "wholly or predominately to blame" in an accident involving two cars, that means, by implication, that both drivers did something wrong and bear about 50 percent of the blame. Where Mortara, who was driving at normal racing speed on the racing line in this situation, is supposed to have done something wrong, however, is beyond anyone's comprehension here.

According to Maserati team boss James Rossiter, speaking to The Race, Vandoorne was therefore not penalized because "if Mortara hadn’t been there, he would have made the corner." An adventurous line of reasoning. Sam Bird in Hyderabad might also would have "made the corner" , when he crashed into his teammate Mitch Evans during an overtaking attempt against Sacha Fenestraz - for the accident was reminiscent of this scene. Bird, on the other hand, received a five-places grid penalty for the next race and two penalty points at that time.

Felix da Costa: precedent of not being allowed to continue if you have a puncture?

It continued: shortly before the end of the race, Antonio Felix da Costa received an unprecedented three-minute time penalty for falling below the prescribed minimum pressure on his right front tire. Unlike some cases in the past where teams experimented with pushing the limits of legality and beyond when it came to tire pressure in practice, however, a slow puncture was the trigger in the Portuguese's case.

The tire was slowly losing air due to damage after Felix da Costa had probably driven over debris. He grumbled afterwards about what he saw as an unfair decision: The stewards were "not good enough". There is no question that his right-front tire pressure was below 1.2 bars, as supplier Hankook stipulates as the minimum pressure.

But isn't a damaged tire a reason to rule on "force majeure"? If one follows the reasoning of the race stewards, every driver who suffers a tire damage would have to park his car immediately if the pressure falls below the limit of 1.2 bar, or else receive such a big penalty. After all, the car must be legal at all times! Even if the driver is already in the pit lane to have the tire changed there.

Broken front wing only a safety issue for some drivers

But that wasn't all: during the second race suspension, one of the FIA's six deputy technical delegates went to Nio 333 and instructed the team to change the damaged nose on Sergio Sette Camara's car for safety reasons. The team responded by saying that the nose had already been damaged at the first race suspension and was not objected to there, the car was in a safe condition in the team's opinion. In fact, Sette Camara had already lost his front wing after contact with Robin Frijns, who had spun immediately in front of the Brazilian on the sixth lap of the race.

The team resisted the order, and not without reason: a repair would have ensured that the Brazilian would be relegated to the back of the field. So Sette Camara returned to the track with his unrepaired car, for which he was disqualified following the race. "Following" is relative, by the way: the decision came the next morning, a full 14 hours after the race ended. The stewards' reasoning for the disqualification: the team had failed to follow the instructions of an official.

Several drivers, including Pascal Wehrlein and Rene Rast, also had to have their damaged front changed on the instructions of officials, while others, including Sam Bird and Norman Nato, were allowed to continue without their front wings. What criteria were used to decide which drivers had to have repairs carried out and which did not? A clear line was not discernible here either.

Nissan driver Nato also received an incomprehensible penalty: Four laps before the finish he attacked Sebastien Buemi, who had previously slowed the pace by almost ten seconds per lap so that his six minutes of attack mode had run out by the time he reached the finish line. This is required by the regulations. Buemi defended himself against the attack by changing the line while braking and pushing Nato, who was already driving next to him, into the wall. Both were clear violations of the rules by the Swiss.

As the cars became wedged into each other, and several drivers behind them hit each other, the race had to be suspended again. Nevertheless, Nato, not Buemi, was given a five-second time penalty for causing a collision. "Super dangerous and unacceptable," was how Sam Bird, who was driving immediately behind the two, described the action. However, not Nato's, but Buemi's. "When you cause a red flag, you shouldn't be allowed to just go on and celebrate a podium," Bird told e-Formula.news.

When Nissan insisted on its right to review the penalty, a reassessment was rejected because new, relevant evidence would have to be presented for this. However, Nissan did not have this, consequently the decision of the race commissioners stood. However, it is interesting to note another detail from the document that related to the process of imposing the penalty: "It was decided, with the help of the Driver Advisor, that Car 17 (Nato) was wholly to blame for the collision."

Appointment of driver advisor should be reconsidered

You could now argue, with reference to Vandoorne, that Nato would surely have made the corner if Buemi had not been there. But in my eyes, the verdict highlights a different problem: Those responsible should reconsider whether a 60-year-old who, according to my information, had his last driver assignment in professional motorsport 18 years ago and even drove his last Monoposto race more than 29 years ago, is really a suitable driver advisor for Formula E races.

I could think of a few dozen (ex-) drivers right off the bat whose qualifications should be rated higher. Especially since just about all of the drivers keep emphasizing the special driving style in Formula E cars compared to driving other race cars.

The inconsistency in penalties has been an issue in Formula E on and off for years. However, as an official FIA world championship, higher standards should be applied than was the case in the season finale, and personnel changes should also be considered if necessary.

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