Hello there, you’ve tuned in to the final episode of Post-F1 Paths, a mini series of seven short shows from Sidepodcast that looks at career options for drivers hanging up their F1 helmets. We’ve covered plenty of on and off track options so far, but today we’re looking at the drivers who decide they want a little bit more responsibility over a race weekend.
Formula One stewarding has often been considered something of a black art. It’s not a role that has much love attached to it, given that any decision is going to be considered wrong by a good proportion of people. Give a driver a penalty, that’s either too harsh or not enough of a sanction. Leave drivers to race and it’s probably because the stewards are biased towards one driver, or maybe they’re doing absolutely the right thing and letting the action unfold unhindered, or maybe they’ve gone to sleep in the Race Control office. It’s a very difficult position to be in.
To help give the stewards some additional insight into races, and to give the stewarding process a bit more credence, new FIA president Jean Todt brought in a fourth steward for the 2010 F1 season – each one a racing driver. The move hasn’t exactly made stewarding any less of a controversial role, but it has, at least, given some additional expertise to those making the crucial decisions.
Many drivers have opted to join the process, including Emerson Fittipaldi, Alan Jones, Derek Warwick, Mika Salo and Mark Blundell. Some are more vocal about their appearances than others. You can often see Derek Warwick prowling the paddock, pit lane and starting grid, overseeing the activities. He’ll even talk to the media about what’s been going down, although all stewards are careful about what they say about decisions made.
Other drivers decide to keep more of a low profile, and are perhaps spotted heading to the stewarding area and then never seen again. It’s not a surprise: some of the decisions made by stewards can have a significant impact on the racing action and results, and they aren’t always the most popular of people. Adding the driver was a good move by the FIA, however, particularly when it comes to dissecting specific two-car crashes.
It’s a fan-favourite topic to analyse an incident where two cars have collided. Who’s to blame? Did they see them? Did they turn in or could they have done more to avoid the incident? Lots of questions and lots of debate. Driver stewards can analyse what’s happening in the car with the added insight of probably having been in a similar situation themselves at one time or another. They can listen to the testimony from drivers if they are called to explain themselves and decide whether it makes sense or not based on their own experience.
Standing in judgement of your fellow driver may not suit everyone, but there are official FIA positions available that don’t require becoming a steward. Emerson Fittipaldi was Preisdent of the FIA Drivers’ Commission until the start of 2016, when he was replaced by endurance racer Tom Kristensen. Emmerson Fittipaldi and Nigel Mansell were pivotal in creating this new commission, which aims to be a liaison between the drivers and the governing body, to understand any issues within each championship and to work with the relevant FIA commission to fix them. Safety is naturally the number one priority, but there’s also talk of the technical direction of the cars, the nature of the circuits and finding the right balance between appealing to fans and still remaining a sporting challenge for drivers.
And FIA roles are not all commissions, although I admit it does sound like it. Many F1 drivers, current and past, are involved in the FIA’s road safety campaign, and plenty of faces from the paddock have taken part in initiatives for the FIA’s Women in Motorsport campaign. It may not be as well-paid as driving a high speed car for 20+ weekends a year, but some of the work the FIA does can be far more rewarding.
That’s all for this episode, and this series of Post-F1 Paths, we’ve reached the end of our seven short shows. If you’ve got any feedback about the show, or about what other activities drivers get up to once they’re done racing, do let me know sidepodcast.com/contact. All that remains to say is thank you for listening and see you next time!