Anything But Transparent

Ladies and Gentlemen, as part of Viva F1 blog’s swap, Under Pressure of Some Sort, is pleased to publish a blog from the lovely and talented Saltire of Viva F1.  I shall now leave you in her hands as I see the people in the back row getting already restless of my presence…

A long time ago in a country far away, (well France 2008, but that’s beside the point!) the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile decided that it’d be a good idea to be more transparent in the reporting of stewarding decisions affecting FIA accredited motorsports championships. Gone would be the permanent race stewards and in their place would be a panel of three stewards, including two international stewards and one a representative from the (ASN) National Sporting Authority of the host country.

At the time, the FIA noted in their In Focus magazine that “To improve transparency, a short CV of each steward will be posted on the FIA website before each Grand Prix. Following the race, a short written explanation of steward’s decisions will be published on the FIA website. This will supplement the formal steward’s decision which largely defines the breach of the rules. And where appropriate, additional film evidence that the public may not have seen but which was reviewed by the stewards, will be made available on both the FIA and FOM websites.” Funny then that 3 years later we have even less transparency than ever before with neither extracts of stewards decisions nor video clips being routinely provided.

Indeed, the recent Hungarian GP sees no penalties recorded on the FIA site (or at least the section the general public gets to see) even though Hamilton and Perez received drive through penalties. Let’s not blame Hungarian officials for failing to provide data to the FIA; not posting details of penalties is now the norm at most races – even the Technical Reports have gone AWOL, but don’t get me sidetracked onto that. So much for greater transparency.



For a sport which likes to pride itself as being at the cutting edge of technology, keeping fans in the dark even after a race has ended seems ludicrous and leads to potentially innacurate speculation; it doesn’t have to be like that, especially in an age of instant communication. The FIA’s Race Contol uses pioneering digital audio-matrix systems from German communications company Riedel to link real-time networks of audio, video and communications data. Racewatch software which integrates GPS positioning with video feed, live timing and tyre data can accurately pinpoint the location of any incident, the system is so sophisticated that it automatically flags up incidents (like setting fastest sector times under waved yellow flags) that would normally be difficult to spot by eye. Once a potential transgression has been noted, Race Control notifies the stewards who investigate and decide if penalties are warranted.

“Then we started to analyse the data to pick out incidents, The software creates alerts and that automatically takes the Riedel technicians to the right cameras, instead of them having to find them, as used to happen. Within a few seconds Charlie [Whiting] can be looking at the incident: either for safety purposes or to refer it to the stewards. It is automated, using the data available and algorithms based on the interactions in that data.”

Gareth Griffith, Racewatch

For all the advanced technology we have we still have to wait occasionally until after a race to find out if a penalty has been given; that’s not ideal but sometimes complicated incidents will need input from those involved. Late decisions that influence the provisional race result can lead to resentment amongst fans who perceive favouritism (or victimisation) of a team or driver in a penalty decision. I’m sure we’d all accept that we need the right decision rather than a timely decision (ideally both timely and accurate) and systems like Racewatch help to achieve the right balance. Whilst automated systems ensure fairness is applied to most situations it’s still down to human input to trigger some investigations, as Gareth Griffith points out, “It is still Charlie’s [Race Director Charlie Whiting] decision whether to refer incidents to the Stewards and their decision as to whether the driver is penalised or not.”

Would it be better to have a panel of permanent stewards than the “open-to-interpretation-on-the-day” decisions we have with race by race stewards? I’d argue that it would; whilst most decisions will be cut and dry and it’s a simple yes he did – gets penalty situation, sometimes it needs that element of experience to achieve consistency. If you’ve dealt with a similar type of incident before and know that the outcome was a “drive through penalty” then next time it should be the same, that can only come with the internal consistency a permanent panel of stewards can provide. Only then can you truthfully answer the question “Is it coz I is black” with the retort “No, it’s because you broke a rule”.

Additional reading:
March 2006 Issue, FIA Automotive
August 2011 Issue, FIA IN Motion Magazine

Image credit: FIA In Motion, August 2011 issue.