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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Lewis Hamilton accuses F1 stewards of potential ‘bias’ towards specific drivers | Formula One

Lewis Hamilton has accused Formula One stewards of potential bias towards specific drivers and teams as old wounds were reopened on the first day of pre-season testing in Barcelona on Wednesday.

The seven-time world champion, who was controversially denied an eighth title at the season finale in 2021, suggested there was institutionalised favouritism the sport had to address.

“We need to make sure we get non-biased stewards,” he said.

“Racing drivers, some are very, very good friends with certain individuals. Some travel with certain individuals, and tend to take more of a keen liking to some of them.

“I just think [we need] people who have no bias and are super central when it comes to making decisions.”

Last week Hamilton expressed his disappointment at the then-race director Michael Masi’s decisions at the fateful Abu Dhabi GP where Hamilton was overtaken by Max Verstappen on the last lap, leading to the Dutchman’s maiden world title. Masi has since been removed from his post by the FIA and the British driver had made it clear he wanted to move on. However, speaking at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya before climbing behind the wheel of his Mercedes W13, Hamilton chose to make this striking accusation of bias.

The FIA assigns to each race four stewards, at least one of whom will be a driver who has raced at a competitive level. Vitantonio Liuzzi, who competed for Red Bull in 2005 and then its sister team, formerly Toro Rosso, in 2006 and 2007, was employed by the FIA at four of the 22 races last year.

Liuzzi was the driver steward at last year’s Brazilian GP, one of the four stewards who controversially opted not to penalise Verstappen for driving Hamilton off the road while defending his place. The decision was questioned by many drivers for appearing inconsistent after similar incidents that season had resulted in a penalty, and was brought up by drivers at their briefing at the following round in Qatar.

Lewis Hamilton test drives the Mercedes W13 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
Lewis Hamilton test drives the Mercedes W13 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Photograph: Bradley Collyer/PA

The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, questioned the accusation of bias while backing his driver in the call for the stewarding to reach a uniform standard. “We need professionalism in the steward’s room,” he said. “I don’t think there is conscious bias to be honest. Most important, whether we talk about race direction or the stewards there needs to be a standard.

“This is what we deserve, this is what everybody expects. We have all talked about the consistency. There should not be a lot of room to interpret rules, there should not be leniency depending on what a potential outcome might be. The rules are rules.”

Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, echoed the call for consistency but denied he believed there had been any bias shown by stewards. “We have all been on the end of stewards’ decisions we have been unhappy about,” he said.

“I don’t think there is an intended bias, I am not aware of stewards travelling with drivers to races. Giving a better infrastructure for clearer decisions and clearer regulations is something that should be strived for but I certainly don’t think there has been any bias from stewards through the last seasons.”

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F1 has entered the opening phase of a new era in Barcelona with the cars on track for the first time after a raft of regulation changes, aimed at improving the racing. They present a fundamental change in aerodynamic philosophy, attempting to mandate the majority of downforce is created by ground effect to decrease and divert the wash behind a car and allow for greater overtaking opportunities.

Intriguingly there has been a variety of interpretations of the rules, making for a range of diversion of design. In testing they all cleared the first hurdle, they look good on track and on day one were running with consistency and no shortage of pace, especially through the faster corners despite carrying greater weight this season. Charles Leclerc topped the timesheets in the morning session for Ferrari, putting in 80 laps. Hamilton, now entering his 16th season, took to the track in the afternoon and completed a solid run, fifth fastest with 50 laps under his belt, while Lando Norris was quickest for McLaren in the second session.

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