Sebastian Vettel secured his fourth consecutive World Drivers’ Championship last weekend in India, winning the race in commanding fashion and underlining just how dominant he is at this stage of his career. After the race, he celebrated by doing doughnuts on the start-finish straight. His celebrations earned him a reprimand from the stewards, who also fined his Red Bull team for the incident.
The rules of Formula One are clear – each driver must proceed directly to parc fermé after the race in order for the cars to be scrutineered in the condition that they were in when they finished the race. The purpose of that rule is simple – these cars run on the limits of weight restrictions and various other regulations and the rules are designed to stop the teams from, among other things, finding ways to add weight to the cars post-race.
And here’s why Vettel’s reprimand is ridiculous: his doughnuts after the race could not possibly have helped him in scrutineering. Spinning up the rear tyres as required for doughnuts heats them up and wears them down, which reduces the overall weight of the car. Additionally, revving the engine as required to do doughnuts burns fuel, which again reduces the weight of the car.
In Formula One, each car is required to provide a fuel sample after the race, and consequently each car must have a certain amount of fuel remaining when it reaches scrutineering. Vettel’s doughnuts, which would have reduced the amount of fuel he had in the car, could only have taken him closer to risking not having enough fuel for the required sample.
In short, by celebrating his fourth World Championship in the manner he chose, Vettel could not possibly have gained any advantage in post-race scrutineering. The problem then is not what Vettel did, but the rules themselves. They are intended to prevent post-race cheating, but they ended up punishing an action that was clearly not going to give Vettel or Red Bull any advantage.
Apart from the technical side of the rules and the offence, the reprimand showed the disregard that Formula One rule-makers have for the fans of the sport. Vettel’s post-race celebrations were very well received by an enthusiastic crowd in India. Formula One has been trying to build up a following in India, and what Vettel did can only have helped that cause. He engaged with the fans by sharing his moment of glory with them before he shared it with anyone else.
The FIA should be recognising the positive work Vettel has done in bringing F1 closer to the fans in India, rather than punishing him for breaking a rule in a manner that could not have given him an advantage anyway.