There was a lot of fuss about Hamilton and Massa last year, and I must confess I started to get a bit confused as to why one driver was being penalised when I would have been tempted to give the penalty to the other.

Add to that the difficulty Lewis had getting past Schumacher at Monza, and it’s reasonable to see why the FIA has decided to (try to) formalise the moves that are allowed on the approach to a corner. But unless I’ve missed something, then there is still no clarification for determining which driver is responsible for “causing an accident”.

Let’s take a look at the two infamous Japanese GP incidents involving two of the all-time great f1 drivers: Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.

First up, the 1989 title decider.

Senna needed to win both the Japanese and Australian races to win the title. If he did, he’d win no matter what Prost did. Anything less, and Prost was champion. Simple. Before the race Prost stated: “I’m not leaving any gaps for him now”, and unusually storms off at a pace that Senna could barely keep up with.

Towards the end of the race, Senna breaks down the gap and, after a number of previous attempts to pass at the chicane, takes what is likely to be his only opportunity and dives down the inside of Prost in a move unlikely to succeed. But he does manage to get most of his car alongsîde Prost, and when the latter turns in they both stop. Prost is out on the spot while Senna gets going again, and after a stop for a new new nosecone, goes on to win the race on the road.

He’s later disqualified for failing to negotiate the chicane, but neither driver is penalised for causing an accident.

And then 1990.

Senna, keen for revenge, is leading the championship and knows that if Prost doesn’t score then the championship will be decided in the Brazilian’s favour. From the start (and Senna was unhappy about starting from pole on the dirty side of the track) Prost leads but Senna doesn’t brake and simply drives into the side of Prost’s Ferrari, taking them both out of the race. Again, there were no sanctions taken, although several “discussions” were had.

So, based on those two incidents, how would they have been dealt with today?

At the time it was felt that Senna should have been penalised for his behaviour in both cases, as it was sending the wrong message to young drivers. Now, if we look at the Massa/Hamilton incident in Singapore, completely the reverse was being said. So, should Prost have been penalized? Senna? Neither?

And how come we have to discuss it? In football and tennis you have discussions about facts – whether the ball was on the line or over; whether someone was offside. We can’t even draw a diagram of a theoretical incident and have any degree of certainty what the stewards would decide.

Even if it’s not possible to formalize the rules in words, surely it would be possible for the FIA to produce a series of overhead graphics, showing a range of different incidents, with guidelines for how penalties should be given out to either the car in front, the overtaking car or “a racing incident”. Or would that remove too much freedom?

Let us know what you think.

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