Will Gray

Gray Matter: Is aggressive racing getting too much?

Will Gray

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After the dull opening to the F1 season there have been spectacular knife-edge overtaking moves aplenty in the last three races - but are things being allowed to get a little out of control?

The spectacular image of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell going wheel-to-wheel for the first corner in Spain is one of the iconic examples of on-the-edge racing and although we are yet to see such a move this season, there have been quite a few close calls to raise the eyebrows.

Lewis Hamilton has come in for equal praise and ear bashing over his aggressive approach to getting through the field. His McLaren, he says, gives him the confidence to attack and with 32 overtaking moves so far this season, there are plenty of examples of that.

But going wheel to wheel in the pitlane? Not even Senna, perhaps one of the feistiest racing drivers in recent memory, would have tried that one - yet in last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel went well over the line (literally and metaphorically) as they fought for position within inches of mechanics' legs along the length of the pits.

Vettel said: "At the stop I was ahead; I don't know why he pulled to the left and was keen to touch me." Hamilton countered: "I noticed Sebastian was there and he was pushing me a little bit to the right and we pushed wheels. Otherwise it was fair." Ultimately, both received a simple reprimand from the stewards.

Alonso also escaped lightly after forcing his team-mate Felipe Massa onto the grass on the pit entry as they battled for position. Massa politely admitted: "I didn't do a great hairpin (before the pits), he was inside so there was nothing I could do there. In terms of the rules, I don't know..." Again, the rules said 'Fair game'.

In the previous race, however, Hamilton had got away with some blatant weaving to keep Vitaly Petrov at bay, resulting in him being waved the black and white flag for unsportsmanlike behaviour.

Despite the simple reprimand, Renault boss Eric Boullier chose not to seek clarification and said: "A warning says if you do it again you will be penalised."

Clearly not. Because in China Hamilton received a second warning but no punishment. Ok, his offence was different, but is a warning not a warning?

Those kinds of moves could have resulted in an immediate drive-through penalty or a 10-position grid drop for the next race in the past, but not now. But is that good or bad?

In a sport desperately grasping onto any excitement available in wet races (given Bahrain's indication that dry races will be anything but exciting), praise must go to the stewards for their sane decisions, for now at least.

Former drivers have been members of the stewarding panel since the beginning of the season and it has certainly changed things.

Hamilton said: "It's difficult (for the stewards) in Formula 1; we're all there to race, to have a good time; we're not to there to mess around. For sure we're all pushing the boundaries and rules are rules, but I think this year it's been a lot fairer and definitely more consistent.

"We are now not afraid to have a real battle with someone, without the worry of risking a penalty and I think that's fantastic."

But they must not let things get out of hand.

As the season ticks on, every point becomes more important with less and less time to collect more if you miss out. That is when moves like these could start to become even more aggressive - and then they could start to become dangerous.

So let them go for now, and enjoy the excitement. But let's hope the ex racing driver stewards can bring themselves to clamp down on aggression if it starts to go over the top...

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