Another race, another controversy involving Lewis Hamilton. Only this time it isn’t the Englishman’s driving which is in the spotlight but that of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher.
Michael’s ‘robust’ defence of third place for more than 20 laps as Lewis tried again and again to pass him during Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix has attracted criticism and praise in equal measure; it was ever thus with Michael.
There will always be those who question his sportsmanship even when he produces moments of true genius, while others will defend him blindly even when he’s caught with a smoking gun.
So let’s look at the facts. Article 20.2 of sporting regulations says: “Manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as more than one change of direction to defend a position, deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are not permitted.”
'My view was that his behaviour was right on the limit but arguably not over it'
There were two particular instances on Sunday – the first on lap 16 when Lewis was squeezed onto the grass (which resulted in Jenson Button overtaking him) and the second four laps later when Michael appeared to change direction twice heading into the first Lesmo – which were highly questionable.
There may have been others, but we rely on the international race feed in the commentary booth, so we cannot watch every move made on track.
My view, based on the images we saw, was that his behaviour was right on the limit but arguably not over it. It was classic Michael; he knew exactly what he was doing and took it as far as he could.
I mean, it’s not often you hear a team principal repeatedly reminding his driver to leave another driver enough room, as Ross Brawn did following conversations with race control (just to be clear, as I know this was a talking point afterwards, such conversations are standard procedure; this was not special treatment for Michael).
Others feel differently, of course. Jenson (who had a prime view and who knows better than I what is agreed upon in the drivers’ briefings these days) felt Michael had consistently made more than one change of direction. Perhaps he is right. I’m not sure we will ever know for sure, and this is my problem with Article 20.2. It is not an exact science. It says that “one defensive change of direction” is allowed but does not specify how large that change of direction might be. And if you then drift back slightly towards your original line, how much is too much?
'The problem is that every race has a different set of stewards'
I wrote a column after the Malaysian Grand Prix back in April, when Lewis was hit with a 20-second penalty post-race for ‘weaving’, saying that the FIA had set a dangerous precedent by punishing the Briton and must now apply the rule consistently. I fear that is not happening.
The problem is that every race has a different set of stewards and a different drivers’ representative, so the interpretation of the rules is likely to be different too. I can well understand Lewis’s frustration in Italy, although he bit his tongue admirably.
The only way to be consistent would be to measure Michael’s exact level of deviation from the racing line on Sunday compared with Lewis’s in Malaysia.
In fact, that is what I believe they should look at doing. Just as football should get in the 21st century and embrace goal line-technology, so F1 – supposedly the pinnacle of technology – should use every tool at its disposal in an effort to be consistent.
It’s only fair on the drivers. And the resulting graphics showing how and why key decisions are made can only be good for fans too.
'Jenson's battle with Lewis for McLaren top dog status is becoming compelling viewing'
All in all, though, the Italian Grand Prix was another stunner; further proof that these regulations are working. The start, when Sebastian Vettel, Lewis and Fernando Alonso duelled three abreast down to the first chicane, was thrilling; Seb then showed that he is a racer as well as a driver with a phenomenal pass on Fernando at close to 200mph.
He didn’t need to – he is so far ahead in the title race he could have played it safe – but credit to him for being so aggressive.
Likewise Jenson, who looks so confident within himself at the moment. His battle with Lewis for McLaren top dog status – Jenson leads by nine points heading to Singapore next week – is becoming compelling viewing. Who said this season is over?
David Coulthard writes for the Daily Telegraph in the UK, and as well as being co-commentator for the BBC’s Formula One coverage, he is an ambassador for Red Bull Racing.
- F1 Italian GP at Monza – event page
- More from DC at davidcoulthard.co.uk
- Official Formula One website at formula1.com