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By John Floyd

Motorsport columnist

FLOYD ON F1: Sport in danger of becoming too sanitised

Fearing possible sanctions, drivers have to think twice before getting their elbows out during a race.

One thing that is dead certain in F1 – the weekend in Latin America, is totally unpredictable. It is full of obscure incidents and issues from day one.

Who will head the grid, who will guarantee the safety car will be employed and who will screw up their predetermined strategy? No prizes for guessing that this year.

Finally, the weather gods’ method of making a mockery of long-distance forecasting, ensuring not one of the pundits’ predictions would be correct. Welcome to the Brazilian F1 Grand Prix.

In last weekend’s race, all the above conditions came together. Who would have picked the Haas or Kevin Magnussen to be in pole position at the start of the sprint race? The team’s and the Dane’s first pole followed a good decision to get him on track before the rain hit and a great drive to the fastest possible time before the rest of the field had even selected their rubber for the conditions.

Sadly, eighth place was the result of the sprint for Magnussen and an early retirement due to the accident damage on the first lap which put paid to his aspirations.

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Jury still out on F1 sprint races

I still have grave misgivings regarding the Friday qualifying session on a sprint weekend, when you still have to “qualify” during the sprint race to decide your Grand Prix grid position. And if all goes the way of Liberty Media and the FIA, we will endure no fewer than six such F1 weekends in 2023.

Following the incident between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and the stewards’ subsequent decision of a five-second penalty for the Dutchman, I’m once again left wondering what happened to close-quarters racing and the thrill of wheel-to-wheel battles.

Sadly, the new dispensation of F1 appears to be set on regulating and sanitising the sport to a level of total “fair play” and safety.

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We may now be reaching a situation where drivers will no longer push the limit for fear of being adjudged guilty of causing an incident, resulting in a time penalty and added demerit points on their super licence?

I would relish a replay of the Hamilton/Verstappen coming together, where both drivers could race on while giving vent to their feelings in a colourful manner, without the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. That would be racing…

Penalty system

But, if a competitor reaches 12 points within a 12-month period, he will receive a one-race ban. All well and good when points are awarded for causing crashes, but most are given for exceeding track limits.

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George Russell, as a director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, has urged the FIA to review F1’s penalty points system. He is supported by most drivers, all agreeing if it is not dangerous or reckless it should not be punished by a possible ban.

A case in point is AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly who sits on 10 points, most from the track limit ruling. Russell does not believe the young Frenchman is a “dangerous” driver and proposes a clause allowing the reversal of such points when the award of such does not place anyone at risk.

Let us hope sanity will prevail.