‘Teams are terrified of speaking out after Guenther Steiner’s layman enquiry’

Michelle Foster
McLaren driver and CEO Lando Norris and Zak Brown stand together. Singapore September 2022.

Lando Norris and Zak Brown share a conversation outside the McLaren garage. Singapore September 2022.

With McLaren questioning, but making a point of not criticising, Lando Norris’ ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’ penalty in Canada, Ted Kravitz says that’s because the teams are “terrified” of speaking against the FIA.

Norris earned a rather unusual penalty at the Canadian Grand Prix when the Briton was found guilty of ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’ by the stewards.

His penalty, five seconds at the line, related to the McLaren driver slowing down too much to make a gap between himself and Oscar Piastri when the team-mates were called in for a double-stack pit stop with Piastri the lead driver.

Norris was perplexed, telling the media “it doesn’t make sense to me”, while his team boss Andrea Stella said he wanted ongoing discussions with the FIA over the penalty.

But, he made it clear McLaren weren’t criticising the stewards or expressing “too strong an opinion”, they just wanted an explanation.

He added: “Ultimately we trust their judgement but we are reviewing the behaviour of Lando because we come out of this race very surprised that this has caused a penalty.”

Kravitz reckons that’s because McLaren, and all the other teams, are too scared about having a negative opinion lest the FIA come down on them as they did Guenther Steiner after his Monaco “laymen” remarks.

“When Gunther brought it up after Monaco he was then penalised, censured by the FIA for speaking out about it in a kind of misunderstanding of the word, ‘layman’,” he told the Sky Sports podcast.

“Layman was what they didn’t like about it. So McLaren have learned from that.

“And McLaren were very keen not to say anything about sportsmanlike with the Lando penalty, less to they get a reprimand from the FIA.

“Teams are terrified of speaking out.

“Is that healthy?”

“And if teams aren’t feeling like they can say anything about the FIA without getting called before the stewards like Guenther was, then is it incumbent for the media to ask the questions?

“I suppose it is.”

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Steiner was hauled before the stewards after saying in the wake of the Monaco Grand Prix that F1 needed permanent stewards following Nico Hulkenberg’s penalty, one attributed to the incorrect corner – and crashee.

But in the case of Norris’ penalty, Kravitz reckons a precedent may have already been set out in 2005.

“Let’s clear this up because I have some new news from the FIA as to why this was,” he said.

“If you look at your sporting regulations, that I know you will have saved on your computers and phones readily available while you’re watching the race, and go to article 55.5 and it says no car, this is phrase for doing what Lando did, which is that no car can be driven unnecessarily slowly under a Safety Car.

“So what Lando was trying to do was when cars are running 1-2 on the road in the same team and they want both to pit, then it doesn’t make any sense for them to follow each other around very closely, come into the pits together, one guy gets serviced and comes out while the other guy waits and loses loads of time.

“First of all, that other guy loses loads of time. Secondly, he blocks the other driver downstream in the pit lane, their pit box so it’s just not practical. And thirdly, it doesn’t give the mechanics chance to get the old tyres out of the way and get the new tyres in.

“So there’s many reasons, three reasons, why you don’t come in line astern if you’re running 11th and 12th. So Lando dropped back a bit to allow himself a bit of time for Oscar to come in, get serviced, and so that he wouldn’t block anybody.

“There’s no 10-car lengths, that’s not the rule, that’s only for the leader. It’s driving unnecessarily slowly.

“But the reason the FIA did Lando under the sporting code of unsportsmanlike behaviour is that they felt this was done in such a way as to disadvantage the people behind him and in a sort of unfair sporting way.

“They gave a precedent for Giancarlo Fisichella, I think in 2005 when this was last done right away, someone was there saying we did this 20, 18 years ago, so they felt it was that they would rather – and I think it was the stewards choice – do Lando under for unsportsmanlike behaviour, rather than a breach of 55.5, which is going unnecessarily slowly.”