Williams F1 technical chief Paddy Lowe has come out in support of the Australian Grand Prix race stewards over their decision to hand home favourite Daniel Ricciardo a costly grid penalty.
Ricciardo had to start from eighth place on the grid for last week's race, after race stewards demoted him three spots. He had been deemed to have been speeding under red flag conditions in a free practice session.
Ricciardo was also docked two points on his F1 superlicence. Even though it was a lighter penalty because of extenuating circumstances, the Australian was left fuming. He referred to it as a 'shithouse' decision.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner called for the stewards to give a greater leeway on such decisions. Even some of the team's rivals lined up in support of Ricciardo.
"Formula 1 is going back in the wrong direction,” Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda told Austrian television ORF afterwards. “I would have given him a different penalty. Then he would have been in the front, where he belongs. And all the Australians would have enjoyed the race more.”
But Lowe was having none of that, and said it was right for race stewards to follow the letter of the regulations.
"I feel sorry for Ricciardo for that particular incident," Lowe admitted. "It did seem quite harsh when it’s his home race.
"[But] when it comes to issues of safety, I actually do support the stewards for being fairly robust with penalties.
"In reality, one of the themes of stewarding is they are often criticised for being inconsistent.
"You can’t make those sorts of allowances," he continued. "The minute you say ‘It’s the first race and it was a new rule and nobody was ready for it so we will let you off’, it means you have to let off the next guy as well.
"You’d just be digging a hole that you can’t climb out of.
"At the end of the day, it’s a matter of safety." he insisted. "If it was in the race, we know how it would work.
"You would manage it very diligently so that you didn’t get a penalty. That’s the job to do."
The race stewards in Melbourne were Tim Mayer, son of former McLaren team principal Teddy Mayer; Venezuela Automobile and Touring Club president Enzo Spano; and former F1 and Le Mans driver Emanuele Pirro.