F1 rejects zero-tolerance system penalties for going off the track

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer at the Circuit de Catalunya

Formula 1 race stewards will continue to use their discretion when deciding whether to punish drivers for gaining an advantage when going off track.

During the drivers' briefing on Friday, several drivers argued that there should be a zero-tolerance approach.

The debate arose from two controversial incidents involving Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso at the last race in Bahrain.

But race director Charlie Whiting has decided that zero-tolerance is unwise.

The issue has aroused great interest among the drivers - sources say the briefing was much more animated than usual.

Two different debates arose from the separate incidents, in which Mercedes driver Rosberg defended his position aggressively from Hamilton's McLaren and Alonso's Ferrari.

The issue of whether Hamilton should have been allowed to keep his position after going off the track to pass Rosberg was much more hotly debated than whether Rosberg had been fair in using all the track.

The F1 rules dictate that a driver is not allowed to gain an advantage by going off the track.

Some drivers felt there should be a zero-tolerance approach to this - with seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher and Ferrari's Felipe Massa particularly vocal.

But others - including world champion Sebastian Vettel - argued that stewards should be allowed to use their discretion.

This was because there are such a wide variety of instances in which this could apply, and a penalty would in some of the less serious cases be draconian - an example would be for gaining 0.1secs by cutting a chicane.

Vettel and others felt that stewards should be able to take into account the size of the advantage gained and the mitigating circumstances that could be involved.

It is understood no driver actively disagreed with this view once Vettel had raised it.

Whiting discussed the issue with the race stewards in Spain on Friday evening and decided on Saturday that there were too many variables involved for a zero-tolerance approach to work.

His decision was communicated to teams after qualifying on Saturday.

The issue of whether drivers should be able to use all the track when defending was resolved relatively quickly in the drivers' briefing.

Whiting told the drivers that Rosberg's move was on the limit, but that it was acceptable as long as the defending driver moved first, made a clear move, and the attacking driver did not have any of his car alongside the leading car.

It was also made clear that drivers cannot go off the track to defend their position.

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