A Poorly Written Rule… Is Still a Rule

I’ve had a bit of time to give the Kris Meeke penalty situation from Rally Chile a good think over. I know that at the end of the day, my opinion means almost nothing, but I’m doing this for fun, so who cares… right? First, in case you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know about this, I’ll give a quick recap. On the first stage of Saturday morning in Chile, Kris drifted wide in a medium-speed left hand corner. The right rear tire got hooked into a ditch which pitched him into a fairly substantial rollover. Because the car ended up on it’s roof, several minutes were lost as Kris and Seb Marshall, with the help of spectators, tried to get the car upright. They eventually got going again and finished the stage with a severely damaged windshield. In the time control of the next stage, they noticed that the windshield was beginning to collapse into the cockpit so they made the decision to remove it. Kris then proceeded to drive the next 2 stages in spectacular fashion with no windshield. In some ways, it was very reminiscent of Colin McRae dragging his battered Ford Focus to the finish of a stage in Cyprus back in 2002. Over the course of the rally, Kris clawed his way back to an 8th place to salvage some points. Despite the disappointment of what might have been, his recovery drive was still a feel-good story. That was, until a time penalty was handed down from the stewards for Kris and Seb working on their car in the time control. Understandably, Kris was pretty upset… I put some of his more colorful quotes below.

Remember Colin’s battered Ford Focus?

  • “The only option was to pull the screen out. Now, do you apply the letter of the law or do you look at the circumstances? How the f*** do they do this? Was I was adjusting the tyre pressure because I forgot to do them or something like that? No. Was I trying to gain an advantage? No.”
  • “I get a penalty for trying to make the car safe… They’re all on for action for road safety, but when you make the car safe it gets you a f***ing penalty! How’s that? What do they want me to do? Lose my eyesight?

Does Kris have a point? Absolutely! Common sense is absolutely on his side. I completely understand his outrage. Here’s the thing though. A rule is a rule. Some rules make sense, and some are just plain stupid. Is that the case with this situation? Is the time control rule a stupid rule? I don’t think so. It is in place for a legitimate reason to prevent an unfair advantage from being gained and also to prevent disruptions to the rally schedule with crews delaying the queue of cars through the time control. However, in light of this situation with a severely damaged car, it’s probably a poorly written rule. For Kris, this is a moot point now, but his situation might expose the need for a “safety caveat” to be added to this rule in the future. As far as the situation from this weekend in Chile, it might seem draconian, but I think the stewards made the only choice they could make. If the rule wasn’t written with room for interpretation or discretion, then they are bound to the letter of the law. What exactly does rule 42.1.2 say? It states that the car is subject to parc ferme regulations “from the moment they enter and/or check in at a control area until they leave it.” There’s no asterisk attached to this rule with a subscript written below. There’s no “unless” written after a sentence. It’s just this short statement and nothing more. If a rule doesn’t allow for any interpretation, then the rule is all the stewards have to go by.

I feel for Kris. I understand where he is coming from. He made the right decision, just at the wrong time. Even though it might not seem fair, a rule is a rule. If Kris and Seb knew the rule book cover to cover, they would have known to take care of the windshield before checking into the time control. At the end of the day, it’s not the steward’s responsibility to make sure that the crews are aware of the rules, it’s their job to make sure that the rules are followed. It’s harsh, but the WRC is the pinnacle of the sport. When it comes to the rules, If the door of subjectivity is allowed to crack ajar even the slightest bit, it will unleash an avalanche of ambiguity. Hopefully, something will be learned from this case and an addendum can be made to the future regulations. However, this time around, the case is closed and there isn’t any going back. Time to move on.