Charlie Whiting insists there are no inconsistencies from FIA stewards when it comes to track limits, and there is a great desire within the steward’s room to do everything they can to ensure drivers are free to race.
There has been a lot of backlash following last weekend’s United States Grand Prix after Max Verstappen was handed a five-second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage as he attempted an ambitious move on Kimi Raikkonen on the final lap, with the punishment relegating the Dutchman from third to fourth in the final results.
However, Whiting, the race director of Formula 1, says that despite other drivers running off track during battles at the Circuit of The Americas, the only time during the whole Grand Prix that a driver was deemed have gained a lasting advantage from it was Verstappen, and as a result the penalty was forthcoming.
“We have to try to take a practical approach to this – there is an element of wanting to let the drivers race,” said Whiting ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix on Motorsport.com. “It is only when it is absolutely clear that the stewards need to get involved.
“All in all, I think the accusations of inconsistency are pretty much without foundation – the only time that it was absolutely clear that the driver gained an advantage [in Austin], the driver was duly penalised and that is really where we are coming from, I believe.”
Whiting says stewards are always looking at mini sector times across the lap, and should a driver gain a ‘lasting advantage’ by illegally running off track, it is then they will receive a penalty.
“We can look at a particular lap time, look across, look at that mini sector time and then you can see whether or not the driver gained an advantage,” said Whiting.
“We do that whenever we see any of those excursions off the track, particularly at Turn 19. We did that during qualifying and we saw nothing that gave us any cause for concern. We can do that during a race as well.
“Leaving the track is not an offence in itself but if a driver does so he must rejoin the track safety and without gaining any lasting advantage. Those words are really important in this case.”
Whiting believes Verstappen’s penalty was justified as it was proven quickly that the Dutchman had cut the corner, effectively shortening the track, and gained a lasting advantage in the move on Raikkonen.
“There were a number of occasions when drivers left the track during race and practice that were not formally looked at by stewards purely because no lasting advantage was gained,” said Whiting.
“The point here really is that the stewards felt he had gained an advantage. He had shortened the track and clearly he was off track and he passed another driver at the same time.
“So for them the decision was quite simple technically but emotionally it was not so easy because the decision had to be made quite quickly.”