Race stewarding, be it for real or sim racing, can often be a very thankless task, but it is essential to the success of any racing event. Without stewards to ensure the rules are followed, any race could devolve into absolute chaos, but often the stewards will come under fire for the decisions they make, especially if that decision affects the outcome of a championship. But what goes into the role of the stewards? This can vary wildly between organisations, but the general premise is the same, to ensure the rules are followed, apply penalties where there has been an infringement, remove a penalty that has been unfairly applied, and essentially be the referee of the race.
Some sim-racing leagues can conduct their stewarding live, such as ACC events where there is a mechanism to apply a time penalty to a driver during the race, however, other racing leagues, particularly in the F1 games, conduct their stewarding post-event, as there is no mechanism in the F1 games to impose live penalties, and also the 50% race distance (as is common in F1 league racing) doesn’t leave much room for a penalty to be communicated and then executed, so if a driver feels that there has been a rule breach, it is up to those involved to raise this issue to the stewards for them to investigate. In either case, these issues are looked at by a team of appointed volunteers to discuss, and a vote is made on the appropriate action to take. The action taken will depend on the rule set in place, which can range from a warning to a time penalty, a qualifying ban for the next round, or in particularly egregious examples, removal from the league entirely. Depending on the size of the league, the stewards can have numerous incidents to look at every week, and sometimes the debate is just as hotly contested in the steward’s office as it is between the drivers themselves. Its not impossible for the stewards themselves to argue about the fault of an incident, or the penalty that should be applied, and on rare occasions, no action can be taken as no clear vote can be established.
Veloce esports’ Nicolas Longuet recently left PSGL because of he felt there was bias of the stewards towards multiple champion Jarno Opmeer, and following an incident that was raised by Nico at a race in Circuit of the Americas, the Frenchman felt that Jarno had made dived into a corner recklessly and pushed him out of the way to gain the position, however, the stewards disagreed, feeling the Nico turned in on Jarno. From a driver’s standpoint, it can be very demoralizing when you’re on the receiving end of a steward’s judgment, especially if you feel you came off worse from the incident in question. Longuet made a Twitlonger explaining his views on the stewarding at the league, which in itself came under fire from the usual Twitter backlash. Some might argue “it’s just league racing, why get so uptight about it?” but put yourself, as a driver, in Nico’s position. You practice for hours to put yourself in the best position you can to do well against you’re peers, particularly for Nico competing against the best in the F1 sim racing world, only for that hard work to be ruined by an incident you feel was not your fault, and worse still, for the stewards to disagree with your objection, this can very much influence your feelings towards that league, or at least to the stewarding in that league, especially if it happens again and again.
But what about the other side of this argument? I reached out to Louis “Criptoniite” Dupont, Head Steward at PSGL, for some insight from his side of the fence:
Can you explain the role of the Head Steward?
In PSGL (which may differ in other leagues), the role mainly consists of managing the steward team, making sure the final decisions are the right ones, writing pre-race briefings, and making rule changes if needed. So you could say you’re the one shaping out racing so it fits your image of it.
In a league the size of PSGL, how much of your time is taken up with stewarding duties?
It depends really. Sometimes, you get below 40 incidents a week which is quite easy to manage. But some weeks, you can get 80+ incidents and that’s a different story. When that happens, it can really take a lot of time. I don’t think I can really give a number as races are held on 4 different days in PSGL but it requires really good time management, commitment, and motivation. Earlier this season when we visited Silverstone, we got 96 incidents which is the current record. It was very tough and time-consuming but we made it through as a team.
When you have incidents like what happened with Nicolas Longuet, where the stewards / stewarding is called into question, how do you manage that? Does it feel like a personal attack sometimes?
I mean you can never please everyone, right? Those incidents don’t really affect me. I treat them the same way I treat all other incidents. It simply gets more attention given the status of the drivers involved but there’s nothing more to it. I’m very confident in my own abilities and those of my team so I’m not too worried about what people say. PSGL wouldn’t be that big if our steward team was as bad as people make it to be.
Whilst PSGL enjoys the stature of being one of the biggest F1 racing leagues in sim racing, what about smaller leagues, or those that operate live stewarding? How does their approach differ? Check back with us for part two of this article to find out.