• Top Tens - Steward's enquiries

Making their mind up

Alan Henry May 24, 2010

Alan Henry looks at ten instances where the stewards have taken centre stage ... and it's not always been an open and shut case

James Hunt celebrates victory at the British Grand Prix in 1976 ...but disqualification came two months later © Sutton Images
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James Hunt, Spanish Grand Prix, 1976 - rear track 18mm too wide
James Hunt replaced Emerson Fittipaldi as McLaren team leader in 1976 and instantly proved himself a potential world championship contender against his old pal Niki Lauda. James took the chequered flag first in the Spanish GP at Jarama, but then post-race scrutineering took it away. It was found that the rear track was 18mm too wide, an inadvertent slip caused by the fact that the McLaren M23 had been fitted with new wheels for this event and it had not occurred to anybody to measure the overhang of the wheel-rim ledge just to be totally sure. It seemed like a small-minded decision at the time, typical of the erratic standards of stewarding which prevailed in the 1970s, and the victory was restored to McLaren on appeal.

Ayrton Senna, Japanese Grand Prix 1989 - cutting chicane after crash with Alain Prost
This episode took place at the absolute height of the McLaren intra-team confrontation between Prost and Senna which lasted from the start of 1988 through to the end of the following season when Prost left the team. The tension started on the grid at Suzuka when Prost removed the tail flap of his McLaren-Honda's rear wing at the last moment before the start, giving him a fractional advantage over the Brazilian in terms of straight line speed. Prost had the upper hand for most of the race, but Senna gradually closed the gap and forced his way through under braking for the chicane before the pits with only a handful of laps to run. But Prost would not give way and the two McLarens skidded to a halt, locked together. Prost abandoned his, but Senna resumed the race by driving through the chicane, stopped to fit a new nose, and went on to finish third on the road. It wasn't the fact he was disqualified by the stewards which caused the biggest furore, but that FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre was present in the stewards' room which gave rise to worrying question marks over his impartiality.

James Hunt, British Grand Prix 1976 - Hunt disqualified in September
At the start of the '76 British GP at Brands Hatch, a firs- corner collision between the two Ferraris of Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni saw Hunt's McLaren suffer suspension damage after clipping the Swiss driver's car as he tried to dodge through the melee. The race was flagged to a halt and it was announced that James would not be permitted to take the re-start as he had not been running when the race was actually stopped. The crowd went mad, jeering and heckling the officials who obviously felt so intimidated that, perhaps fearing trouble, allowed Hunt to take the re-start in his repaired car. Hunt won commandingly, but the Ferrari team, whose protest had been rejected, appealed the stewards' decision and the FIA court of appeal finally excluded Hunt from the race two months later.

Mike Hawthorn, Portuguese Grand Prix 1958
Stirling Moss's Vanwall dominated this race and actually lapped his world championship rival Mike Hawthorn's Ferrari in the closing stages, although out of a sense of sportsmanship Moss slowed slightly and permitted him to unlap himself before the final lap was completed. That meant that as Moss took the chequered flag he still had another lap to complete, but Hawthorn then spun the Ferrari and, as Stirling came round he found Mike trying to push-start his car uphill in the direction of the race. Moss slowed down and shouted that he should push the car down the hill on the pavement alongside the Porto circuit rather than on the track. Moss later testified that his car was on the pavement and not on the circuit at the time and so Mike's second place, and the crucial point for fastest lap - was confirmed.

Damon Hill v Michael Schumacher, Australian Grand Prix 1994
Hill went into the 1994 Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide one point behind Schumacher and there was inevitably much tension and speculation surrounding this key world-championship clincher. Schumacher's Benetton-Ford B194 stormed into the lead at the start pursued by Hill's Williams-Renault and the German driver gradually began to open out a slight lead. In the closing stages Schumacher made a rare slip, sliding wide on a left-hand corner and glancing the retaining walls, an impact which clearly terminally damaged his car. Hill, in hot pursuit, was too far back around the previous corner to see the impact and, when he caught sight of the Benetton, he realised it was now or never if he was to try and pass. As Damon went for the inside line, Schumacher closed the door. Both cars collided and the championship was Schumacher's. It seemed controversial at the time, but the stewards took no action.

Jochan Rindt and his wife Nina take the plaudits at the 1970 British Grand Prix as the arguments raged behind the scenes © Sutton Images
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Alain Prost, San Marino Grand Prix 1985
This was one of those unfortunate episodes where the stewards stuck to the letter of the law, no matter how trifling or irritating it might have been to the team concerned, in this case Prost and the McLaren squad. At the start of the 1985 San Marino GP at Imola, Senna's Lotus-Renault took an immediate lead chased by Prost's McLaren-TAG. However in those days before refuelling was permitted, the key to F1 success was to eke out every ounce of fuel in the tank. Senna's tank ran dry, but Prost successfully coaxed his way home to victory. Then disaster. At post-race scrutineering the McLaren MP4/2B weighed in at 2kg below the minimum weight limit, having consumed fractionally more brake pads and rubber than the team had calculated. It was an open and shut case; the stewards had no choice but to disqualify the Frenchman.

Jochen Rindt, British Grand Prix 1970
Having won this race at the wheel of the superb Lotus 72 Rindt was very nearly disqualified when it was initially found that the car's rear wing was a fraction of a millimetre too high. Well, that was the assumption. In fact Lotus boss Colin Chapman had been involved in a row with the chief scrutineer before the race. After the race one of the wing stays was found to be bent and the scrutineer argued that if it had not been bent, then the rear wing would have been too high. But by the time it came to the end of the race, and the car was checked again, not only was the wing stay straightened up, but the wing was still 2mm under the legal minimum, much to the embarrassment of the scrutineer.

Michael Schumacher, Monaco Grand Prix 2006
During qualifying, Schumacher's Ferrari skidded to a halt at La Rascasse, preventing Fernando Alonso's Renault from completing what, on the face of it, looked like a pole-winning lap. Much to the fury of future FIA president Jean Todt, then the Ferrari team principal, the stewards decreed that Schumacher had done this deliberately and gave him a hefty grid penalty as a result. It all seemed quite reasonable at the time, but there were those with a touch more sympathy for Michael when it came to the 2010 Monaco race and he was penalised for overtaking Alonso - by now in a Ferrari - in what many believed was a totally legitimate move after the safety car was withdrawn just one corner away from the chequered flag. On both occasions it wasn't really Michael's day. Or, indeed, his corner.

Ayrton Senna, Brazilian Grand Prix 1988
After suffering a gearbox breakage in his pole-winning McLaren-Honda MP4/4 at Rio de Janeiro, Senna switched to his spare and joined in after the rest of the pack had departed. Whether the local stewards were simply overawed by the Brazilian ace on his home turf, or just slow off the mark, is not clear. Either way, it took many laps before they could bring themselves to flag him out of the race.

Stirling Moss, Portuguese Grand Prix 1960
Driving for Rob Walker, Moss looked as though he was going to win the race easily in the team's new Lotus 18 but a front brake locked on with about four laps to go and he spun. He was later disqualified for pushing the car against the direction of traffic, precisely the alleged offence he had so gallantly defended the late Hawthorn from two years earlier. Stewards' inconsistency, again, you see …

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Alan Henry is a journalist at the Guardian and author Alan has been reporting on F1 since 1973 since when he has covered more than 600 Grands Prix and written more than 40 books on motorsport subjects. Currently a columnist for the Guardian and Autocar, he has edited the prestigious AUTOCOURSE annual for 20 years and contributed to a wide variety of publications across the world