Pirro: Vettel penalty backlash ‘changed my life’

Jon Wilde
Sebastian Vettel swaps the marker boards after the Canadian Grand Prix. Montreal June 2019.

Sebastian Vettel swaps the marker boards in the pit lane after finishing second in the Canadian Grand Prix. Montreal June 2019.

Driver steward Emanuele Pirro says the controversy over Sebastian Vettel’s penalty at the 2019 Canadian GP changed his life – especially his attitude to social media.

Pirro was part of the panel that gave a five-second penalty to Vettel that cost him the race victory in Montreal following an incident with Lewis Hamilton on lap 48 of 70.

At turn three, Vettel’s Ferrari went straight on over the grass and missed turn four, squeezing the Mercedes towards the outside wall. Despite remaining ahead on the road, the German lost the race win to Hamilton – and fell further behind in their World Championship battle.

Ferrari and Vettel were furious afterwards, the driver even removing the No 1 board from in front of Hamilton’s car, but an appeal failed to have the decision reversed.

Pirro, as the former driver steward on duty that day, bore the brunt of the social media backlash that inevitably followed, especially as an Italian who was perceived to be penalising Ferrari.

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Emanuele Pirro pictured at the German GP. Hockenheim July 2019.
Driver steward Emanuele Pirro pictured at the German Grand Prix. Hockenheim July 2019.

Recalling the episode on the Beyond The Grid podcast, Pirro, 59, said: “[It was] very much unpleasant. In a way, it changed my life and also my perception – now my relationship with social media is definitely different. It hurts me more when I see people complaining.

“I think social media enhances the one characteristic we all more or less have, which is complaining and frustration.

“I think social media gives the tool to many people to express their frustration, unfortunately not with the knowledge required to analyse certain things, and so that was really unpleasant.

“But more than all the insults I had, it was because that was a straightforward situation – just people did not understand and at the end the of the day, the whole motorsport of
Formula 1 lost something because the majority of the world had a bad perception.

“So at the end, we made justice to one racing episode. This was hurting the whole of Formula 1 because it was perceived in an incorrect way.”


What particularly saddened the former Benetton F1 racer and five-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner is that people could not or would not realise he was simply applying the rules.

“So this hurt me because I love the sport so much,” added Pirro. “I thought ‘for god’s sake, why don’t they understand that the one who has to win has to win, not the one you want to win?’

“I think the whole world wanted Sebastian Vettel to win because he was going through a tough time, because it would have been a one-off, it was just a wonderful story.

“If you score and it’s offside, it’s got to be offside. Someone has to take this decision to make sport fair.”