If you have ever listened to or watched a Formula 1 race, you may have heard about the stewards. Although they are not out there on the track, F1 stewards have a central, crucial role in every race, although many fans may not know exactly who F1 stewards are and what they do.
F1 stewards are responsible for enforcing the rules and applying any penalties when those rules are broken. They preside over qualifying and the race and enforce the rules of F1, and they make the decision on whether and how severely to punish those who break these rules.
F1 stewards have a tough, complicated job that’s not always popular with drivers and fans alike. Their responsibilities can lead to controversial decisions that can have a direct impact on the race. Below, we’ll discuss who F1 stewards are and what they do over the course of a race weekend.
The F1 stewards are individuals responsible for ensuring the F1 sporting regulations are being followed. They are the official umpires that ensure everyone is racing fairly. They work behind the scenes, and you usually only hear about F1 stewards when a problem arises and they make a decision.
Many people who watch F1 know that stewards exist, although many would prefer if stewards were not involved in any aspect of the race, aside from ratifying the end result. These individuals seek to ensure the concept of ‘fair play’ throughout the race weekend, and sometimes their decisions are controversial.
There are no limits as to the gender of stewards, even though stewards are overwhelmingly male. Age isn’t a factor either. The key in all this is the steward’s degree of knowledge relating to motorsport, and the rules of F1 in particular, so they can make informed rulings.
Stewards pay attention to every aspect of the race. Their sole task is to ensure the race is run fairly by every team and driver. It’s a highly stressful job due to the speed of the sport, so it can be very easy for them to miss something or make an inconsistent decision, which is why the stewards rely on technology and other officials to help them to do their job.
F1 stewards have many important jobs over a race weekend, but their primary concern is to ensure that the rules are being followed. The races are fast and the rulebook for F1 is extensive due to the technology used, so stewards must be highly trained and knowledgeable about the sport.
F1 stewards pay close attention to everything going on in a race. They have hundreds of TV angles showing them every aspect of the race, which allows them to conclude whether a rule or regulation has been broken. In addition, F1 stewards have access to the team radios so they can hear everything being said between the team and the driver. They also have access to live car data.
Besides making sure the rules are being followed, it’s also the duty of the stewards to reprimand either the team, the driver, or both. They decide on the penalty, in accordance with what the rules state should happen. Sometimes they may simply note an incident, rather than give a penalty, and these penalties can range from 5 seconds to far more severe punishments.
The stewards will look at the punishments, as set out by the rules of the sport, and determine how they can be linked to the infringement. In this regard, they have the full rulebook to play with when it comes to reprimands. They can reprimand teams as well as individual drivers. It all depends on which rule was broken and how it was broken.
Stewards are the individuals required to effectively put their foot down when it’s needed during a race. They cannot be swayed by personalities, or what their decision could mean for not only the race, but for the overall championship as well. They need to have an absolute conviction of their decision, fully aware that the media and fans around the world will pore over their decisions.
Importantly, their decisions must be made based on what happened, rather than the implications of what happened. If a driver causes a collision, they get the same penalty for putting a backmarker into the gravel as they would if they put the race leader into the barriers.
Sometimes, their decisions are tough calls to make and can affect what is going on during the race, such as a drive-through penalty or time added to the end of a driver’s race time, or even where a car will start on the grid for the next race.
One area often brought into scrutiny when it comes to F1 stewards is the way they can influence the race result even after the cars have finished. Of course, F1 stewards wish they could avoid this, but they may be required to apply penalties once the race is complete.
An example is the 2017 incident with Max Verstappen at the US Grand Prix. He thought he had come third with a last-minute overtake of Kimi Raikkonen, but he had done so illegally by clearly running off track. The stewards were forced to penalize Verstappen once the race ended.
The stewards revealed he had been penalized just seconds before he was to appear on the podium. It meant he had not actually come third, leading to a lot of anger from his fans. However, the stewards had correctly interpreted the rules, leading to them delivering the perfect punishment in accordance with the sporting code.
Being a steward can be a thankless task. It’s usually the case there will be some sort of disgruntled party whenever they make any decision. One team or driver will almost always feel unfairly treated, whether they are the team or driver being punished or not.
That’s why stewards need to have a firm understanding of the interpretation of the rules of F1. Also, consider how the rules change every year, often in subtle ways, and you can see how an F1 steward must keep up to date with everything going on. They are required to implement the rules as they stand, on every occasion.
Stewards can become aware of issues in different ways. Television shots of race incidents are used, along with the interpretation of data from the cars. Stewards can also rule on different requests put to them by the different teams, which can occur at any point throughout the race weekend. Officials and delegates may alert them to issues as well.
The chairman of the stewards must always be in contact with the race director whenever cars are out on the track. This allows for clear communication between the different parties that oversee the race so rulings can be made as soon as possible if there is an infringement. This is important because the stewards must be able to inform the race director of any issues that could influence the race.
There were 41 different stewards in the 2021 F1 season. Only four stewards are active during any given race, and the FIA has a large pool of qualified individuals to choose from. One steward will have previous driving experience, and one acts as chairman, picked from a pool of four candidates.
All these stewards come from a pool of individuals viewed as having the necessary experience and abilities to oversee an F1 race. A driver steward is chosen to ensure one of the stewards can ‘see things from the drivers’ perspective’ to essentially try to cover all bases when making a decision. This is designed to ensure decisions are made fairly and with all things considered.
The number of F1 stewards present at each race does not change, but the actual individuals acting as stewards does change for each race. This is because one of the four listed at any race is a representative of the sporting authority for that particular country.
But the key is that, while the F1 stewards themselves change at every race, their responsibilities remain the same. Each steward is expected to have the same interpretation of the rules and regulations, and to then enforce them in the same manner as any other steward.
Not counting the representative steward from the host country, the FIA determines in advance the stewards present for any individual race. The race director, and several other staff, such as the starter, will always be present at each race. It’s only the stewards who change throughout the course of a race year.
Should F1 Stewards Be Full-Time?
The main argument for F1 stewards being full-time is that it would lead to more consistent decision making between races. When different stewards oversee each race, it can become easy for drivers, teams, and fans to believe there are inconsistencies in the penalties given out.
The call for F1 stewards to become full-time has grown since the chaotic end of the 2021 season in Abu Dhabi, and indeed the many incidents and penalties given throughout the season. However, as the stewards are all supposed to work to the same rulebook, the process is designed to minimize inconsistencies and minimize biases.
People put forth various arguments for F1 stewards to be made full-time. One such argument is that it would allow the stewards to undergo extensive training. This would cover the rules of the sport in great detail and allow the stewards to gain better insight into various racing conditions and scenarios.
Keep in mind only one steward needs to have experience as an actual driver. That means the other three stewards need to rely on what one individual says when it comes to seeing things from a driver’s perspective. It’s believed full-time stewards could gain better insight into the driving aspect to help them make their decisions.
Three of the four F1 stewards at a given race are chosen by the FIA, and they must come from a pool of individuals who hold an FIA Super Licence. The fourth steward is selected by the host country’s national sporting authority. Out of these individuals, one is then made chairman.
It’s now the case that one of the three FIA individuals has professional driving experience. This change occurred to ensure that the panel of stewards ruling on incidents in the race can hear about things from the point of view of a driver. This allows for a better interpretation of the rules and where a punishment would be fair on a driver.
The teams and drivers have no say in who acts as a steward at any race and cannot influence the decision in any way.
Becoming an F1 steward is not easy. It’s not enough to simply have a good understanding of the rules of F1 and to know how to apply them. All stewards must have an FIA Super Licence, which is different to the Super Licences held by the drivers.
Also, you must clearly demonstrate an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the rules and regulations of F1. This part is obvious, since you must identify when those rules have been broken to make your call. It’s not enough to be an ardent fan of the sport. Just as you need to work hard to become a referee in other sports, the same approach applies to becoming an F1 steward.
If you want to become an F1 steward but cannot go down the route of becoming a driver, you can train to become one. The motorsport authority in your country will likely offer training courses for becoming a steward. This training is extensive and rigorous, but it’s one way to go if you’re not already in the racing world.
It takes time to work through the levels of being a steward to reach the point where you can operate within F1. We are talking about years of training and starting at low-level motorsport races before getting anywhere near F1. There is also a cost involved, but this depends on the organization and where you live. It takes many years to get accepted into the FIA steward pool.
An F1 steward plays an important role over a race weekend. They ensure sporting integrity at each race, and they are responsible for making sure the rules and regulations are being followed. A team of 4 stewards oversees each race, giving penalties to teams and drivers that break the rules.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.