McLaren CEO Zak Brown has called for changes to stewarding and the penalty points system in Formula 1, and the American admitted that the team were “worried” about Lando Norris last year as he neared a race ban.
He said he reckons that employing full-time stewards would be a significant step towards consistency in the sport.
Race director Michael Masi was often the centre of controversy last season in what was a frenetic year of dramatic racing, and race control were often accused of making inconsistent decisions.
Sir Lewis Hamilton missed out on his eighth world championship after the Australian reneged on his late Safety Car restart ruling, allowing only five lapped cars through ahead of the final lap and ultimately facilitating a last-lap overtake from Max Verstappen to claim his maiden Formula 1 championship.
This was preceded by a decision not to allow any lapped runners through four minutes earlier, and the chaos proved a microcosm of the issues many have highlighted in the sport.
However, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel recently said he does not believe that 2021 was “any better or worse than the past” in terms of stewarding, and Brown concedes that it is difficult for the stewards to invariably make the right call.
“I wouldn’t want to be a referee in any sport,” Brown said in an interview with The Race.
“It’s no different than in football, ‘did he trip him up, did he not, did he throw an elbow or not throw an elbow?’. There’s a lot of subjectivity to these calls.
“There could be better judgement calls made.
“But I don’t think you’re ever going to get it 100 percent right and I don’t think you do in any sport, otherwise the football fans don’t have someone to yell at when they see a call, which inevitably goes ‘was it your team that the call went for or against?’”
The American expressed his disapproval of the rules being applied differently each race, and he puts this down to the fact that each race is presided over by different personnel.
“It’s the lack of consistently. I think more full-time stewards would help because I think the stewards are doing the best they can with the flying in and out,” he explained.
“Some of them are there a lot, some are less. IndyCar pretty much has full-time stewards. So I think that is part of the solution.”
Asked if F1 should consider the IndyCar model, Brown replied: “Yeah, I think it should.
“And I don’t know why it doesn’t. Clearly, that was a deliberate decision some time ago.
“The teams have the ability to put driver steward names forward, but it’s a selection of drivers.”
A total of 41 personnel graced the stewards’ room last year, and the FIA tends to select former F1 drivers as well as racing drivers from other series to act as the driver steward.
Brown disagrees with McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl, who has previously suggested that full-time stewards are not necessary.
“Having more full-time stewards definitely seems to be the right way to go,” affirmed the 50-year-old.
Whatever happens with the stewarding situation in the future, the McLaren boss insists that something has to change.
“I’m assuming they’re going to come to a conclusion that figures out a way to better make decisions moving forward,” he added.
“That’s what I’m most concerned about because the outcome of Abu Dhabi didn’t impact us.”
Brown also takes issue with the penalty points system in the sport, something that Lando Norris felt aggrieved at after his penalty for an incident with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in Austria in July, in which the Briton was adjudged to have pushed the 31-year-old off at Turn 4 with an overly aggressive defence.
“These driver penalties [are a problem]. Lando was an incident away from losing his licence, which was crazy because I can’t think of any time Lando drove dangerously,” said a bemused Brown.
“To me, points on your licence should be about dangerous driving, not racing incidents,” he added.
Brown believes that Norris’ collection of points last season was unfair, and says that changing the penalty points system has to be a priority for the FIA.
“So I’m more interested in all that getting cleaned up because we were racing worried about Lando.
“I have to remind myself of what the incidents were. One of them was under a drying track under yellow [he] went quicker in the sector, but the track was getting quicker.
“That shouldn’t be two penalty points, a disallowed lap maybe, maybe.
“So all that needs to be looked at. While everyone that I understand is laser-focused on Abu Dhabi. I’m looking at the last two years, we’ve got to clean all this up.”
Norris scored four podiums in 2021, ending the season sixth in the Drivers’ Championship.
His team-mate, Daniel Ricciardo, signed from Renault for last year and struggled to eighth in the standings but did manage to claim the team’s first win in 149 races at the Italian Grand Prix last year.
McLaren missed out on third in the Constructors’ Championship to Ferrari in the final round of the season in Abu Dhabi.