Race Director Masi explains reasoning behind controversial penalties for Norris and Perez in Austria
The action in the stewards' room at the Austrian Grand Prix was almost as hot as the action on track, with a number of drivers handed penalties across the Red Bull Ring weekend. But FIA Race Director Michael Masi stood by the decisions of the stewards when questioned about them after the race.
A full six drivers had their final race result affected by a penalty at the Red Bull Ring, while the major incidents on race day centred around Lando Norris being judged to have forced Sergio Perez off at Turn 4, Perez being judged to have done the same to Charles Leclerc at the same corner, while Leclerc was also deemed to have been forced off by Perez at Turn 6.
Norris would earn a five-second time penalty for his misdemeanour – served during his pit stop, and which allowed Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas past him – with Perez earning himself a pair of five-second penalties added to his race time, and which dropped him to P6 at the flag, with Masi going on to defend the three decisions by the stewards.
“Obviously the stewards had a look at all three,” said Masi. “In Sergio’s case with Lando, he was wholly alongside Lando and therefore there is an onus to leave a car’s width to the edge of the track. And then the same in the reverse with Checo [Perez] and Charles at the exit of Turn 4.
“And then Checo and Charles again at the exit of Turn 6, [the stewards’] view was – and I don’t sit in the stewards’ room to deliberate – that in all three circumstances, a car’s width should have been left to the edge of the track because the two cars were alongside each other.”
Asked if the gravel at the exits of Turns 4 and 6 had had an effect on the severity of the penalties, meanwhile, Masi responded: “Obviously the gravel does have an impact in those places. Yes, you would say looking at it logically.”
Masi was also forced to defend a lack of penalties for drivers at the start of the race, with Alpine driver Fernando Alonso telling the media he’d felt ‘stupid’ for obeying track limits rules at Turn 1 at the race start, after feeling that rivals had managed to pass him after running off track.
“We looked at it,” said Masi. “One of the things we’ve said since Paul Ricard 2019 was that on the first lap and those first couple of corners… that the car needs to be back behind the car it entered the corner behind. And we looked at the incident that Fernando was referring to and the angles that we could see at the time, and that was exactly what had occurred.
“All Lap 1 incidents are treated in a more lenient manner and that has been the case for a number of years, under the ‘let them race’ principle, let’s call it,” Masi added. “So that’s the general principle because particularly in circumstances like that, everyone has asked to look at things in a much [more lenient] way and then to help the drivers and the teams if they need to, and that was looked at at the time.”
Meanwhile, a potentially graver consequence of the penalty meted out to Lando Norris – who finished the race in P3 – was the additional punishment of two penalty points on his licence, with Norris currently on 10 points in the last 12 months, and just two points away from an automatic one-race ban.
But Masi denied that the penalty points system was "harsh", adding that the teams had agreed not to alter the system at the end of the 2020 season.
“To be fair, it’s a penalty point system that exists, it’s been there all the way through, no different to [drivers] driving on the road in countries that have a maximum number of points they have to abide by, and they have to adjust their driving style accordingly,” said Masi.
“So no, I don’t think they are harsh. It was discussed late last year… and the consensus was at the end of last year involving everyone, the teams, the FIA, everyone, that there shouldn’t be a change this year and it’s not something we’d ever change mid-year. The penalty scale is something the teams all agree upon and actually have input on at the start of the year is what the stewards use.”