Thursday, 31 October 2013

Further thoughts on the Indian Grand Prix

Doughnuts all round
It seems appropriate for us to end this round of Further Thoughts... with Sebastian Vettel. We know by now that he isn't everyone's cup of tea, but surely even those with the iciest views of young Seb will have had them thawed at least a little by the sight of him cutting loose after taking the flag last Sunday and with it his latest championship crown. As has been replayed seemingly without end since, rather than return to parc ferme as is the standard tepid way he instead indulged in doughnuts on the pit straight in front of the packed and roaring grandstand, then bowed in front of the car in worship, before climbing the spectator fence and - redolent of Nigel Mansell - throwing his gloves into the crowd. It was a fantastic and, apparently, spontaneous display of emotion from Vettel, him showing simple child-like joy and desire for everyone to share the moment with him. Everyone loved it.

Surely not even the most vociferous Seb-baiter
will not have appreciated his Indian post race celebrations
Photo: Octane Photography
Well, everyone apart from the stewards, who (predictably) handed a reprimand to Seb for not returning straight to parc ferme after the race, as well as fined the Red Bull team for not instructing its charge so to do. The reaction to this was predictable too: for example 'Vettel fined for celebrating' was a headline I saw on the front of a national newspaper the next morning (quite impressive that they managed to get two things wrong in a four-word headline). But still, it can't be denied that the sanction being applied didn't come across well.

The stewards simply were applying the rules as they are, and as they've been applied in the past, so ill-will towards them is harsh. I'm also always rather loath to seek to resolve such situations by calling for 'common sense' to be applied, as I don't think such a call is especially helpful, given someone's interpretation of common sense is - despite its title - usually subjective, ill-defined as well as its usage often results in gross inconsistency of rules' application, which would also be bound to get people's backs up. And in almost every such case of F1 stewards enforcing an apparently bad rule one finds after a little investigation that, in spite of initial appearances, the rule actually exists for a good reason.

So it is with what was applied here, that drivers have to proceed directly to the post race parc ferme after the chequered flag. It seeks to stop a driver adding weight to the car or tamper with their machine in another way in order to change it from being outwith to within the technical regulations prior to scrutineering. And you wouldn't entirely put it past those lovely, famous-for-lateral-thinking, folks of F1 to use a post-race celebration as a cover for such a wheeze. In that sense, possibly F1 gets the regulations it deserves.

Helio Castroneves's slowing down
lap celebrations are the stuff of legend
Credit: John O'Neill / CC
Nevertheless, my view for a good long while has been that slowing down lap celebrations in F1 generally are way too restrained. And I compare it all with the celebrations we see almost every race in MotoGP which always are entertaining, sometimes elaborate, as well as what we see in Indycar from the likes of Helio Castroneves, and routinely in NASCAR. It makes for fantastic television, the fans in attendance love it and no one is left in doubt as to what the result means to the victor. There's nothing not to like. And I conclude that if these series can do it without problems then why can't F1? I assume that they have technical rules on things like weight too.

I suspect at least part of the 'head straight to parc ferme' (do not pass Go, do not collect £200) rule's existence too though is to ensure that the podium ceremony happens promptly after the race and thus TV schedules aren't disrupted by delaying it via extended slowing-down lap festivities (it's in large part for similar reasons that the safety car was brought in to F1, reducing the likelihood of TV listing-busting red flag delays). After all, for Bernie TV is king and long has been; his power and wealth from F1 has largely been underpinned by lucrative TV contracts. The irony of all of this of course is that Seb's celebration made great television... You wonder also if F1 needs to get with the times too. The world's media is changing, particularly via the internet. The circulation of short video clips online is now habitual, and footage of Seb's various antics were extremely apt for this. You feel that F1 is rather missing an opportunity here.

One way out though, given everything outlined, is as Autosport's Jonathan Noble has argued instead of having a sweeping and rather headmasterly outlawing of any slowing-down lap frivolity, to make specific expressly-written allowances for such celebrations within the rules, but in so doing outlining the certain circumstances in which they can happen so to ensure safety as well as to aim to avoid them being abused. This is broadly what is done in MotoGP now, and I'm not aware of it causing problems.

To sign off with, I've provided below one of Valentino Rossi's such post-win efforts, which I love, from MotoGP. Oh for such things to be commonplace in F1:


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