Was Bottas' Styrian GP Pitlane Spin Penalty too Harsh?
A three place grid penalty for a clumsy pitlane spin, but was it too harsh from the FIA?
Spielberg, Austria - Valtteri Bottas' solid recovery drive at the Styrian Grand Prix meant that he stood on the podium for the first time in three races. Bottas' weekend in Austria was an uptick in form from his last couple of races but unfortunately for the Finn, his run of bad luck continued as he got in hot water with the stewards during Free Practice 2. During a practice pit stop, Bottas pulled away from his pit stall and ended up getting a handful of oversteer leading to a spin in the middle of the pitlane. He ended up spinning off right in front of the McLaren garage and their mechanics ended up having to push Bottas back in the fast lane. It looked like a clumsy mistake at the time as even Bottas slightly joked on team radio about his failed tyre warmup. But after the session concluded, their was nothing to joke about as Bottas was handed a three place grid penalty for dangerous driving in the pitlane. This was a decision that divided lots of fans, teams, and especially the drivers so in this video, we're going to look at why the spin happened, what the regulations say about it, and whether the FIA's decision was fair or harsh.
The Reason for Bottas' Spin
Although it is quite easy to spin an F1 car after harsh acceleration, we hardly ever see it happen in the pitlane due to the exceptional car control from these drivers. It's quite normal to see drivers laying down rubber in their pit boxes throughout the weekend to improve their getaways for the race pitstops on Sunday. In Bottas' case, Mercedes were testing out a new launch procedure to correct their slow getaways from the past few races. As Bottas was called into the pits during FP2, his race engineer told him he would be held for seven seconds and to use the standard clutch position on launch. The only difference being that Bottas would accelerate from second gear instead of the usual first gear from a stopped position. Now starting from a higher gear usually helps to limit wheelspin but the amount of wheelspin Valtteri got even in second gear was a surprise and it ultimately lead to his spin. Their were also reports of new paint on the sponsor logos in the pitlane being a contributing factor to the spin but it was certainly something we don't see often. After FP2 Bottas stated; "We tried something different getting out from the box and yes, there were some variables to what we normally do with the wheelspin and that’s why I spun. I would be surprised if there is [any penalty]. It’s a normal mistake, it happens." Mercedes were also quick on the radio to Bottas to make sure that he didn't select reverse gear. Had he done that, Bottas would've breached Article 28.3 of the regulations and would've incurred a steep penalty which is why the McLaren mechanics had to lend a helping hand.
What do the Regulations Say?
The 2021 F1 Sporting Regulations are 90 pages long and contain 46 articles of rules but their isn't a specific regulation about spinning in the pitlane. After explaining his reasoning to the FIA, Bottas' penalty was given due to a breach of Article 27.4 of the Sporting Regulations. The stewards weren't very understanding of Bottas' explanation as their report concluded; "Therefore he didn't manage to control the car properly into the fast lane. This has to be considered as potentially dangerous driving, especially as personnel were around in the pit lane."
Article 27.4 of the rules is quite short and to the point as it states; "At no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person." This is were their is room for debate amongst the fans and teams as we have to ask whether Bottas' driving was actually dangerous? Of course the FIA has deemed that it was, but what did the teams and drivers say about the situation?
Was the Penalty too Harsh?
It's not hard to imagine that Bottas was in disagreement with the stewards decision. "My personal view: it’s quite harsh," said Bottas. I never imagined after that, that there would be a penalty. But of course other teams, when there’s an opportunity they complain that it’s dangerous, etcetera, so we get penalized." Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff was equally unimpressed with the penalty saying he found it "highly entertaining how quickly some sporting directors jump on the channel to Masi and come with Armageddon scenarios". Now we can't let Toto off the hook this easy as I find it highly entertaining how Wolff and Mercedes do the same thing whenever they see an opportunity to get an upper hand. It's also ironic how on a weekend in which Mercedes made complaints about the speed of pit stops effecting safety, this incident happens! Other teams around the paddock had different views about the penalty. Alfa Romeo Team Manager Beat Zehnder said to Sky Germany after FP2; "I would let it go (no penalty), but with the politics in F1 today, some teams will try and push for a penalty." It's understandable that a team like McLaren would be upset with Bottas considering their mechanics were in the firing line.
Was this more of a case of a team like McLaren sensing an opportunity to put themselves ahead of a Mercedes to start the race? Valtteri Bottas sure seemed to think so; "That’s how it goes. Everyone’s trying to screw you over in this sport. For sure, it can be a dangerous situation if there’s many people in the pit lane but, no." So was this penalty too harsh for Bottas? The opinion on our YouTube community poll was split with 53% of fans concluding that the penalty was fair. Looking at all the factors, it seems that the 3 place grid drop was a little harsh considering Bottas' explanation was reasonable and the spin wasn't intentional. His getaway wasn't particularly dangerous but unfortunately the outcome could've been so the FIA's reasoning is understandable. They gave Bottas an additional two penalty points on his super license but could that have been enough of a penalty? At any rate, it's provided us with some good debate until the next race in Austria in a few days time!