• Chris Kato

Austrian GP a Case of Fair Penalties or Just Hard Racing?

Are these penalties ruining the racing or a fair application of the rules?

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Spielberg, Austria - The FIA and race stewards have been a lighting rod for controversy and criticism in the past couple of seasons and the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix has put them in the spotlight once again. While Max Verstappen was coasting to his 3rd straight victory in front of the Orange Army, drivers further down the field were getting their elbows out and rubbing paint with their rivals. It was Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez who started the on track battles as he lost out to Lando Norris on the safety car restart in Turn 4. Norris was handed a 5 second penalty for forcing another driver off track as Perez tumbled down the order. Oddly enough, Perez was then involved in two more incidents later in the race both with Charles Leclerc. He was slapped with two separate 5 second penalties for both incidents as he ended up coming home to finish 6th. The FIA certainly weren't shy in dishing out penalties in Austria but were some of them just too harsh? Was the racing we saw in Austria not what the fans and drivers have been asking for? In this video, we'll take a closer look at all three incidents and whether they were hard racing or harsh penalties and why we don't want to see F1 racing become sanitized in the future.

Norris vs Perez - Turn 4

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What started the penalty fest in Austria was a squabble between McLaren's Lando Norris and Red Bull's Sergio Perez. This incident took place on Lap 4 after the safety car restart as Perez had a run on Norris going into Turn 4. As you can see, they were side by side as they braked for the corner but Norris owned the inside line as they reached the apex of Turn 4. Perez kept his nose in and ultimately paid for it as he went wide into the gravel. Now it is my opinion that this penalty given to Norris was too harsh. Norris was the lead driver who owned the inside line as they went into the apex. Drivers should know that Turn 4 in Austria is a difficult place to overtake, especially on the outside due to the downhill braking and large gravel trap run-off. Norris did not make contact with Perez and kept his racing line throughout the corner so why should he be penalized for making the smarter move? I think Perez made a mistake by committing to that overtake knowing how narrow the margins were and he should've backed out of it and tried at a different point in the circuit. As the driver who is behind and on the outside, you should expect to be squeezed out of room and I don't see how this is anything more than good, hard, and fair racing. Post race, Norris was clearly not happy with the penalty but offered up a good summary of what many fans thought of as an unfair penalty. "I expect Sergio knows there’s gravel on the exit of that corner, it’s downhill, easy to run wide and that’s just what happens, Norris said. "So he took the risk and not me. He didn’t commit to his overtake the way he should have done and he put himself in the gravel. So I don’t feel like it was my mistake, but I don’t make the penalties.” Even Perez's bosses were in agreement with McLaren as Christian Horner and Helmut Marko both thought it was just a racing incident.

Some fans immediately drew comparisons to Hamilton vs Albon at the exact same corner in 2020, but that incident was a little different as Albon was much further ahead than Hamilton and clear contact was made leading to Albon's spin whereas Norris and Perez did not touch. Interestingly enough, just a few corners before Perez went wide in Turn 4, Norris and Perez went wheel to wheel into Turn 1 and Perez went wide into the run off so maybe the FIA should've looked at that one as well?

Perez vs Leclerc - Turn 4 & Turn 6

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Now here are two more 'forcing a driver off-track' incidents that are debatable. After the early race drama, Perez was feeling the pressure from Ferrari's Charles Leclerc as the Monegasque sent a late one around the outside of Turn 4 once again. Now here is my case for why this shouldn't have been a penalty either. Leclerc was much further back than Perez was when they approached the braking zone. When they both reach the apex turning into the corner, Leclerc was slightly ahead but both cars were almost side by side as Perez touched Leclerc. Again as with Norris and Perez, this was was a 50/50 battle in which you can chalk it up to a racing incident. The move from Leclerc was aggressive and bold but their is always a risk as a driver when you try an overtake on the outside. Now a few laps later, Perez and Leclerc renewed their friendship by going wheel to wheel into Turn 6 with Leclerc again on the outside. Now this penalty is somewhat more understandable as Perez has a moment of oversteer which makes him turn into Leclerc as he corrects his car which forces Charles into the gravel. But still, do we really want the stewards deciding the places at a Grand Prix?

Let These Drivers Race Hard and Fair

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In conclusion, I saw these incidents as hard racing between elite drivers. At the very least we can commend the FIA for being consistent in their application of the rules even if we don't necessarily agree with the penalty itself. The drivers have always asked the FIA to let them race but I think we have to lay some blame of the drivers themselves for the stewards' strict policing methods. The drivers can say they want to race all they want but as soon as they get close to each other, they're on the radio immediately to their teams asking for the incident to be reported. Leclerc's frustration with Perez was understandable but Leclerc is also one of the more aggressive drivers on the grid who's had his fair share of incidents so should he be all the surprised that a driver fought him hard? At the end of the day, maybe I'm stuck in the past of memories of Villeneuve vs Arnoux, or Kubica vs Massa when these types of battles defined the meaning of hard racing.

Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix battles were no where near the intensity of those scraps and yet they all got penalized. Maybe we need to reassess what 'forcing another driver off-track' means but we don't want to see a pattern of penalizing drivers for what should be just racing incidents. At any rate, it kept the race stewards busy in Austria and lit the fire of debate in the F1 world.

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