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F1 Opinion 21

Webber’s Singapore reprimand

The second that Mark Webber, admittedly while stood at a well-lit street corner, accepted a lift in strange circumstances, I knew he would have to pay a price for his action.

opinion  Webbers Singapore reprimand

He, however, either never considered it or didn’t care. Daft on both counts.

Unlike the religious nut he had to skirt around at Silverstone in 2003, Webber should have known better. Let’s face it, he is too close to the end of his Formula 1 career to be risking serious injury because of a moment’s inattention when, to all intents and purposes, the ‘Motor Racing is Dangerous’ bit of any given Sunday is done and dusted.

Yes, motor racing is meant to be an escape from everyday life, but it can’t escape it entirely. It has been responding to public mores since the 1903 Paris-Madrid was halted at Bordeaux because of a spate of accidents. Had Aussie Grit been flattened – and certainly he startled Lewis Hamilton – not only would he have been a victim of his own impetuosity, but also the sport would have copped unwelcome flak.

He should, therefore, have held his hands up and taken it on his stubbly chin. Instead he struck out. For him to have a dig at FIA Driver Steward Derek Warwick – aka Jersey Grit – was, at worst, indicative of a guilty conscience and rich at best.

Webber and Warwick: both have walked unharmed and with sturdy resolve from spectacular crashes; and both have damaged themselves when their racing guard was down: a leg-breaking fall from a mountain bike for Webber and an interface with a stationary Transit for Warwick while demonstrating a go-kart at Jersey’s Bouley Bay hill climb.

opinion  Webbers Singapore reprimand

In 10 years’ time, and perhaps with two or three Le Mans 24 Hours victories under his belt, Webber, if he is minded, would be an excellent Driver Steward: tough, straightforward, respected. Until then, and in the cold light of day, if Warwick considers something to be dangerous then I am inclined to believe him.

This tough guy/good guy from Hants has been one of the sport’s straightest shooters since honing his skill and attitude amid the shale bullets of the British short ovals. Stock car racing is rumbustious. The finesse it undoubtedly requires is less apparent because often it is applied via boots with steel toecaps. A man-sized sport in other words.

Yet Warwick was still a teenager when he won the 1973 Superstox World Championship. He’d grown up quickly, learned the hard way and earned his elders’ respect while respecting his elders. This praiseworthy balance, both on and off the track, is something he has maintained right up to and beyond F1.

So, rest assured, it wasn’t what good mates Fernando Alonso and Webber did at Singapore, it was how they did it that caused censure.

Neither Webber’s resultant 10-place grid penalty nor the inability (because of a gentleman’s agreement between the governing body and the drivers) to levy a fine in its place were Warwick’s doing or concern. And if the drivers were disappointed by his unwillingness to argue their case without question, then tough.

opinion  Webbers Singapore reprimand
Warwick at Hockenheim, 1984

The inclusion of proven racers in this process has given such sporting decisions much-needed heft as the rules have grown to reflect modern life and become increasingly pernickety. That Warwick, too, has experienced ‘a lift back to the pits’ should not open him up to ridicule from the current crop. Rather it means he is in the perfect position to judge. He knows of what he speaks: you never know when it’s coming – even when on full alert.

In 1993, the active suspension of Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari threw a wobbly exiting the pit lane at Estoril and fired the helpless Austrian at right angles across the track and into the barrier. The car that missed him by inches was a Footwork driven by a Mr D. Warwick.

Derek’s long F1 career was at the time two starts from its final full stop, but it all flashed before him. For it to end that way would have been regarded as a misfortune. To be run over by a peer on a slowing-down lap could only be attributable to carelessness.

Rules are rules. The inference of their application in Singapore is more important: Snap out of it, Mark!

That this silly episode should grab the post-race headlines was indicative of what many considered to be a dull race. I do not subscribe to the latter point of view. There was much to admire and to thrill to, particularly as the various strategies unwound.

opinion  Webbers Singapore reprimand

I do understand, however, that it is the lead battle that sets a race’s tone for the unconverted. That there wasn’t one under the floodlights thanks to the hard-earned excellence of ‘Super Seb’ and Red Bull caused many to switch off: the ultimate sanction.

To sit through a ‘nil-nil’ is what gives any sport its context. Those seeking thrill-a-minute, i.e. the progenitors of DRS, will surf the channels come what may. Though they miss out on so much I sometimes envy their blissful ignorance.

But then I strike a lucky seam because I am willing to dig, and the jaywalking and trash-talking recede.

It was while researching Warwick’s shunts/bravery/near misses – taking the start at Jerez after Lotus team-mate Martin Donnelly’s grievous crash; running for the spare after walloping the Parabolica barrier; and sliding up to his neck in the Hockenheim gravel – that I was reminded of Portugal 1993: a forgotten classic.

It had everything. I know, I watched it on YouTube when I should have been writing this…

Alain Prost announced his retirement, had a dig at how he had been treated by the FIA in his comeback year – it had hardly welcomed him with open arms – and promptly secured his fourth world title.

opinion  Webbers Singapore reprimand

Ayrton Senna, at daggers drawn with Ron Dennis – now, that was a man-sized argument – revealed that he would not be driving for McLaren in 1994 and was promptly outqualified by new team-mate Mika Häkkinen.

Damon Hill, seeking his fourth consecutive victory, secured the second pole position of his career but was forced to start from the back when the Renault V10 in his Williams stalled on the grid. He finished a charging third.

Jean Alesi, in that Ferrari with the Starsky and Hutch flashes, led the early stages after a brilliant start. Häkkinen gave chase – after Senna’s Ford let go – but got carried away by Jean’s turbulent wake and crashed exiting the long right-hander before the main straight. A lesson learned.

And Michael Schumacher, after switching to the spare Benetton and from a two- to a one-stop strategy, scored the second win of his GP career. His defence against Prost, who was aggressive to the end despite only needing to finish second, was rumbustious to say the least yet also brimmed with finesse in its clever manoeuvring of backmarkers. Prost expressed himself okay with it afterwards and saved his stern words for the way in which Häkkinen had pinched him at the start.

opinion  Webbers Singapore reprimand

These were the first signs of the changing of the guard: Senna v Prost for Schuey v Mika, via the interregnum of Hill.

There was a penalty, too, a 10-second stop-go for JJ Lehto after he had mistakenly identified Schumacher as Riccardo Patrese, with whom JJ was dicing, and thus baulked the leader for a couple of laps until he realised his error. The ruling was harsh but fair. Quite how the Finn’s Sauber team-mate Karl Wendlinger got away with his one-man war against Ligier rosbifs Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell was harder to fathom.

Twenty years later we are still seeking consistency in such matters. The drivers say they want it, but I am not entirely sure that they do. Certainly, they are too close to the subject. So close that they cannot see the objectivity, which stems from his all-encompassing love of the sport, Warwick so obviously supplies.

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opinion  Webbers Singapore reprimand

Add your comments

21 comments on Webber’s Singapore reprimand

  1. Andrew, 26 September 2013 10:36

    Here here.

    A well written and researched piece Mr. Fearnley and echoes my own thoughts entirely.

    I had completely forgotten about the Starsky and Hutch flashes, that thing looked like a Coloni or some such lowly Italian pretender…

  2. Michael Spitale, 26 September 2013 11:53

    This rule has been around forever. It was very dangerous to do no doubt. The other thing people keep missing is that this was his 3rd repremand of the year which lead to some of this as well. His first two he was only given warnings.

    Mark will live… Deep down he surely knows this was a bad idea… I know the Merc boys know it was a bad idea, just watch video

  3. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 26 September 2013 12:13

    Hey, how about a comment about the minimum weight rules for 2014 which some teams are using as an excuse not to sign taller/heavier drivers like Nico Hulkenberg?

    Hulkenberg is about 11 Kilos or ~ 30 pounds heavier than the diminiutive Massa.

    Who’s the more talented and better-rated?

    Who cares – Won’t matter next year.

    Pathetic!

  4. Bill, 26 September 2013 13:43

    Amazing how this Paul Fearnley class article manages to change my opinion on the Webber penalty. Very well written and 100% right.

    PS: you dont have to only watch youtube for classic race moments. Theres a Brazilian guy on facebook with a passworded, private channel (because of Bernie’s rights), who broadcasts all F1 races of the past(mostly 90s,80s,70s, and more recent), 24 hours, 7 days a week. Not sure if its allowed to post the link here so search facebook for: f1legends and more.

  5. Bill, 26 September 2013 13:51

    Btw, I think this is the footage from that 1993 Portugese GP that Paul Fearnley was refering to. You can see 6 minutes, with footage of Prost fighting with Schumacher.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSzUJ0IlWrY&list=UUbDmrP7AeQ22VT972-b8bvw&index=11

  6. ray newman, 26 September 2013 16:59

    really good article,giving good fair
    perspective

  7. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 26 September 2013 17:11

    Typo!

    The Hulk is 14 Kilos (i.e. 30 lbs) heavier than little Felipe’.

    But the point remains: How about an “F1 Opinion” piece on the travesty of where the driver market is going in 2014?

    Instead of pure talent (Mr Roebuck used the term ‘Star’ or ‘Starlet’ in the making with respect to Hulkenberg recently) occupying the sharp end of future grids – irrespect of height and weight – we’re going to end up with jockey sized pedlers who bring “a budget”.

    McLaren, for instance, have got their useless boffins sticking numbers into to their black box sim programs at the shiney MTC to determine which of the lightest drivers brings them the lowest lap time – and to heck with intangable factors like talent, consistency, intelligence and balls!!!

    Is that what we want at “the pinnacle” of motor racing?

    Shame on McLarens and shame on the FIA!!!

  8. Nick H, 26 September 2013 19:56

    Another superbly written piece from Mr Fearnley – certainly made me reconsider my original knee jerk reaction to the Webber penalty.

    A bit shocked that that Estoril GP was 20 years ago though, where the heck has the time gone?

    Finally, I’m going to be a lone voice on this I’m sure, but I actually liked that ’93 Ferrari – although I’m not sure if that splash of white was in deference to increased financial input from Marlboro, or was intended to evoke the ‘T’ series cars from the Lauda era…

    -N-

  9. John B, 26 September 2013 22:57

    I’ve totally changed my view also after reading this. Fair call Paul. I wonder if Webber is counting the days now.

  10. PeteH, 26 September 2013 23:01

    I note my ‘comment’ earlier this evening has been… ‘censored’. Perhaps I might suggest Mr Fearnley, with whom I totally disagree re. his comments on Mr Webber’s ‘taxi ride’, do a quick search for F1 drivers hitching a lift, including Mr Warwick in ’88 on Berger’s ferrari.

    Cojones over political correctness and h&s any day.

  11. PeteH, 26 September 2013 23:02

    OK. No idea what happened there! After posting a second time my original comments are now in place. Apologies to the non-existent censors.

  12. Diego Ruiz, 26 September 2013 23:18

    Mr. Fearnley, I just read this article and I agree with it entirely.

  13. R.E.B, 27 September 2013 12:47

    Times have changed since Colin Chapman did an entire lap of Brands sat on the roll hoop of a Lotus 25 to celebrate the 63 championship. I used to travel unrestrained in the back seat of a Hillman Avenger as a child and that is now also illegal, at least in modern cars. Attitudes change I suppose.

  14. Bart, 27 September 2013 15:09

    “Rules are rules” is what is destroying F1 step by step. Surely these involved drivers know how to turn wheels and break when required, also after a finish. Penalty is nonsense.

  15. John Winder, 27 September 2013 15:57

    Bart, all I can say is go and google “Webber Alonso CCTV Footage Singapore”, or look at this link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBByzQBCSXE
    It makes everything much clearer. Accepting a lift from Alonso in itself wasn’t necessarily dangerous, but sprinting onto the track with no apparent regard for his own safety or anyone else’s was potentially fatal. And I don’t know what Alonos was thinking stopping where he did … why didn’t he just pull off trackto the large expanse of empty tarmac where Webber was waiting? Both drivers very much deserved their reprimands, in my eyes.

  16. Bill, 27 September 2013 17:13

    The FIA wants to clamp down on these lifts. I find that a sad development. Alonso and Webber executed this wrongly, but maybe some extra rules could make things like this more possible? Like a maximum speed on the in lap after the chequered flag? And only taking a lift off the track tarmac, or in a place where the others can spot you stopping. I always love the way MotoGP riders go totally nuts when theyve won a race, parking their bikes and jumping into the fence to greet and celebrate with the fans. I dont see a driver park his car and do that, but they really should get some time to thank the fans.
    I find the straight into the pits after the race at Spa a big travesty.

  17. Andreas, 27 September 2013 19:30

    For sure, it seems that FIA wants to discourage giving lifts – I suspect it’s because riding on the sidepod of an F1 car going 100+ kph (as Alonso did at one point) isn’t sitting well with the road safety campaign. But – the race stewards wasn’t going to do anything about the lift itself. Derek Warwick said to Sky that they were about to leave the room when the CCTV images turned up. So – as has been said already – it was not the lift itself that earned the pair their reprimands, but the way the lift started.

    As for regulation to manage these lifts, all the rules needed are already there. You can’t stop the car in an unsafe place, and you can’t enter the track without permission from a marshal. This of course means you may enter the track with permission, for instance to climb aboard a car that has stopped in a safe place. And it’s up to the marshal to decide if the circumstances are safe enough. Had Alonso and Webber done that properly, nobody would have minded. And the FIA road safety campaigners who want to discourage giving rides would have had far less of a case than they do now…

  18. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The Other One)), 28 September 2013 03:03
  19. Bart, 28 September 2013 09:35

    Bill, how dangerous the footage might look to you and certainly me as well, the point I try to raise is that this action was taken by some highly gifted drivers who are used to speeds and have remarkable reflexes. For sure this sport requires rules, but situations like these I prefer to be discussed between drivers if and when they see fit.

  20. The Original Ray T, 28 September 2013 17:36

    Drivers used to do this all the time in the 80s. No one got hurt. More drivers got hurt from getting hit by emergency vehicles.
    How is it that Alonso was not penalized? Did Mark pull a gun out at some point and force Fernando to pick him up? Was Mark playing too much GTA V?
    Webber doesn’t care. I hope he does it again.

    It’s incidents that like that highlight that this was the ONLY interesting thing to happen in F1 in Singapore.

  21. Andreas, 28 September 2013 22:26

    “How is it that Alonso was not penalized?”

    He was. Both drivers were reprimanded – Alonso for stopping on the track (in a dangerous place) and Webber for walking on to the track without permission from a marshal (nearly getting run over by Rosberg in the process). Neither reprimand had anything to do with the actual ride itself – they were issued for what happened when the ride started. Unfortunately for Mark, this was his third reprimand for the season, triggering an automatic 10-place grid penalty.

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