Shanghai is horribly smoggy. Facebook and Twitter do not work and last night we enjoyed some interesting local delights which looked like boiled jellyfish and a rather tasty soup which seemed to have parts of a dead bird in it. Ah, the joys of international travel… We caught the Maglev from the airport to downtown and then found a taxi driver we liked and so, with a little help from the hotel bellboy, our driver was enlisted for the weekend. His English was good enough to say “Manchester United”, but he was not very clear where England was geographically.
“Nor far from Germany,” we said, noting a Bayern Munich sticker in the cab. It emerged that Mr Yan shares his cab with a Mr Pan and it was the latter who drives the cab on Fridays. So Mr Pan showed up this morning (bang on time) and then proceeded to show us that he did not really have the faintest idea where the circuit was. Hopefully Mr Yan will do better tomorrow…
The good news was that I have been able to make some discreet inquiries about the penalties given at the Malaysian Grand Prix and I think that I now understand what happened. The first point was that the FIA is not being inconsistent, but rather trying to establish limits that will create consistency in the new world of DRS and KERS. This is important to avoid dangerous wheel-over-wheel accidents. The drivers and teams are very keen to know the limits and both teams strongly urged the FIA to create clear guidelines during the hearings after the race in Kuala Lumpur.
However there are a couple of other things that need to be borne in mind about the processes involved. There was no complaint from any team. The decision to look at the incidents came from Race Director Charlie Whiting. The fact that one decision was listed as “following a report from the Race Director” and the other was not seems to have been a clerical error. The question of Lewis Hamilton’s penalty for weaving was due to two factors: the first was that Lewis was warned about weaving a year ago when he got away with zig-zagging in front of Vitaly Petrov. That was deemed to be a question of trying to break a tow, but this year he was reckoned to be blocking. The difference was that in this day and age of KERS and DRS there is going to be more speed differential between the cars and so blocking may become more of an issue. The stewards seem to have concluded that it was necessary to punish Hamilton so that no-one in the future could complain that they had been punished when Hamilton was not… A line was being drawn in the sand.
In the case of Fernando Alonso running into Hamilton from behind, it was much the same story. With DRS and KERS in action there is more danger this year of wheel-over-wheel incidents and the FIA wanted to make sure that drivers know exactly where they stand. There is no question that Alonso caused an accident while trying to pass Hamilton. The fact that only he suffered from the accident is not the issue in question. He was behind and ran into Hamilton and could have taken the McLaren driver out. It was not a racing incident because Hamilton did not move, nor did he lift off or brake. In road accidents the driver behind is deemed to be responsible because he or she ought to have allowed space for whatever is happening ahead. Alonso did not do that. The fact that Ferrari argued strongly for proper guidelines in relation to Hamilton meant that the team ended up being hoist on its own petard when the spotlight switched from one driver to the other.
So, Alonso misjudged the situation, which seems rather odd given his level of skill. On this matter there is no explanation, although one might hypothesize that he was caught out when Hamilton’s car ran out of KERS. The FIA would know this, but the federation is not allowed to divulge details of data from one team to another and so would not be in a position to explain the accident, without rival teams learning something about the McLaren…
It is just a theory, but it might explain why Alonso was caught out.