Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Beaux Barfield Has His First Controversy

Beaux Barfield has gotten off to a great start as the man in charge of the rules and race control, as many have agreed with most, if not all, of the decisions he has made.

The new rules I have liked the most? Not going full-course yellow all of the time is great, sending backmarkers through the pits to get them to the end of the line prior to a restart works well, and his most recent ruling -- leaving the pits open during a non-emergency yellow flag -- will hopefully cut down on yellow flag time and get us back green as soon as possible. Anything that gives us more green time, and all of these changes do, is good by me.

However, with James Hinchcliffe blowing a motor in a test session at Sonoma yesterday, he has now found himself in the first quandary of his reign. League rules dictate that blowing an engine -- and having said powerplant replaced -- results in a 10-grid penalty. This means that, at best, Hinch will start no better than 11th in Sunday's race at Long Beach. And in a race where track position is premium, that's a killer.

I just don't understand how something that happens in testing -- at a different track no less -- can affect a driver's standing during a race weekend. That's just harsh, and doesn't make sense. Neither Hinch nor his team has any control over the Chevy in his car, so how can a testing incident be used against him?

If we still lived in the days of unlimited testing, I could understand this. There was a time in the days of unlimited budgets where teams conducted private tests that only benefited that one particular team. However, this is an "open" test for all teams, and in the end accumulates data that benefits the engine manufacturers as much as it does the teams that are there.

I guess you could argue that Hinch having a fresh motor while other cars are working with equipment with some mileage on it gives him an advantage, which it probably does. That's why the 10-grid penalty exists on a race weekend. But to regulate what happens in test sessions might be a bit of a stretch.

It is a serious gray area that will probably have to be addressed soon. If not, teams will be looking to take advantage of it, like by testing their car lowest in the standings with different drivers (as discussed during the Trackside radio show tonight), or discourage them from testing at all.

To his credit, Barfield has been open with the fans about this penalty. He politely replied to several people on Twitter, and two of them were very interesting:

"Rule developed and agreed to by engine manufacturers. Perfect? Absolutely not. Clear? Yes."


"The balance of rule writing always has an important fan component. This is a great forum for me to discover that...

So my interpretation of those comments is this: 1) Everyone knows the rules going in, and while it might suck in this instance, it was one that was made crystal to all involved. So, buyer beware. And 2) he understands the fan's frustration, and the impact of rules on the fanbase.

He's definitely in a situation where he won't make everyone, if anyone, happy. Still, his willingness to explain the rule, and stand behind it, says a lot about his leadership and the direction that will take the series. It seems like for once, to paraphrase the famous Who song, that the new boss isn't the same as the old one. While I don't like his decision, I do respect it.

1 comment:

  1. Yes indeed. I'm not a fan of the rule, and think it will be changed next year (possibly), but Beaux is being consistent and communicating. That's the sign of a good Race Director.