Could 2006 be the most controversial season ever?
It would take something big to beat 1994 with the multiple penalties given to Schumacher, including the infamous black flag at the British Grand Prix, seemingly manufactured to bring the title race closer together, only for Schumacher to apparently deliberately take out Damon Hill in the final round at Adelaide to win the Driver's Championship. Still, this season could go down in the history books as a season of controversy at exactly the same time as the FIA introduced a supposedly independent permanent steward in order to reduce the complaints of inconsistency that have dogged the race stewards previously.
What went wrong? First of all, I don't think the stewards have been consistent. They didn't release any documentation explaining what previous decision they feel the penalty given to Alonso in Italy is consistent with. And probably for a good reason, in that there isn't a precedent for it. As I said at the time, not only was Massa too far back to have been blocked by Alonso (he might just have been close enough to pick up a tow though!), but also, even if Massa was slightly impeded, is that wrong when the driver ahead is just coming up to start their own flying lap and thus cannot be expected to get out of the way like a backmarker? I believe Ferrari complained to the stewards speculatively about Alonso and probably didn't think themselves they had much chance of getting a penalty handed out. But being in Italy the two non-permanent stewards are Italians and with this race being so important to Ferrari, they may have influenced the permanent steward somewhat. I'm not suggesting it's a fix as Flavio Briatore and Pay Symonds have, but it's rather difficult to swallow. You expect football referees to get decisions wrong sometimes because they have no video replays, no telemetry and no time to hear all the arguments from the parties involved. The stewards, making a decision between sessions rather than during a race, did have all the evidence and the chance to interview all parties. And yet they come up with something unfathomable.
Still, it's impossible to say the stewards are biased towards Ferrari after the penalty they handed to Michael Schumacher in Monte Carlo. We can however say that they are at best inconsistent and at worst, trying to manipulate the championship to bring things closer together.
I note that after the FIA presedent Max Mosley defended the judgement of the stewards by saying that they had only applied the rules, the FIA have now changed the rules so that only 'deliberate' blocking during qualifying will be punished. While I think that the rule should have always said that, what the hell do the FIA think they are doing changing the rules mid-season? You can hardly appoint a perment steward, saying that you want to see consistent application of the rules, and then change the rules whenever something controversial happens. If the stewards are only applying the rules the cannot be consistent if the rules aren't!
Add this to the Mass Damper saga where the FIA were seen to change their position on the legallity of the device on a whim with very little justification given, this season is starting to look a bit of a mess from a regulatory point of view. There are now three races left in the 2006 season and with only two points between the title contenders there is plenty of scope for incidents of the non-racing variety to influence the outcome of the championship. With any luck the title will be decided simply by which of the two drivers finishes fastest in those three races - one more penalty for either will make the result a farce.