Mads Østberg has been given a suspended 25-point deduction and €1000 fine for using “abusive language” in a live TV interview.
The Citroën driver had reclaimed the lead of WRC2 on SS17 of 20 – having racked up a one-minute penalty for a late service check-in following a road section drama – but punctured on SS18 and had that advantage ripped away from his hands for the second time that weekend.
It prompted a colorful response from the reigning WRC2 Champion, who was in a fit of rage as he traveled to the stop-line and hadn’t calmed down by the time he was interviewed at the time control.
He used several swear words as he couldn’t hide his disgust, but 15 seconds earlier he had just finished a rally stage at full-tilt and was then being asked to relay his emotions.
So does the punishment fit the crime?
Our writers have had their say.
The penalty is too severe
Swearing at an official, then fair enough with a penalty this severe. But venting frustration at yourself and your tires after 18 stages of constant challenge and then getting a suspended fine and docking of points? That doesn’t sit well with me.
Mads Østberg didn’t give in on Rally Italy. Arguably, he was performing better than ever by being so proficient in his repairs when first the brake pipe went and then a wheel, repeatedly. DirtFish caught (see below) some of that action and Østberg was turning the energy of his frustration into fast hands and speedy thinking. Adrenaline was clearly coursing through him.
When he finished SS18, he didn’t have any sudden repairs to make, so the only activity to expel that built-up frustration and energy was really only going to be shouting. Which he did, a lot, before even opening his door to speak to stage-side reporters.
And the aim of his barbs was predominantly cathartic, using some of the swearing to draw attention to the words immediately after, annoyed and tired, to communicate as precisely as possible how he was feeling in that moment. There was no ambiguity there, and we’ve heard drivers and team bosses alike react to misfortune immediately in the same way.
So the focus of the FIA’s extreme response was his description of the tires, which again was understandable in the circumstances. He hasn’t been the first to be slightly perplexed at the strength of this year’s new compounds from Pirelli, and while the Italian manufacturer hasn’t had the development time it would have liked due to the pandemic and the close turnaround between its tires’ gravel debut on Rally Portugal and then Rally Italy two weeks later, it is genuinely an issue in the service park right now.
Questions are being raised if the rubber – or the allocation of it over a rally distance – can be improved before two returning gravel classics that are expected to cause even more drama than Sardinia.
The rules are the rules in sport. You may be shouting at yourself, but the stewards are always listening
But “abusive language”, as the stewards described it, has to be aimed at a person or a group of by definition. The 70-odd pounds of rubber attached to the four corners of Ostberg’s car can only be abused in how they are driven.
And if swearing on TV isn’t going to get those rather serious concerns noted, then what will? And will the FIA be willing to fine everyone who skips politeness for raw honesty (and sporting entertainment) when things go wrong?
However, and I can admit this from competitive experience, the rules are the rules in sport. You may be shouting at yourself, but the stewards are always listening.
– Ida Wood
A suspended penalty is fair
Penalties, suspended or otherwise, have been a hot talking point throughout the 2021 WRC season so far. As always, not everybody agrees with the outcome but Mads Østberg’s suspended fine and points deduction seems to have got the rallying community united.
It’s unfair, isn’t it?
But is it?
I can’t confess to feeling that Østberg deserves to lose 25 points – the equivalent of a victory – as well as €1000 from his bank account for swearing at the end of a stage, but he hasn’t. It’s a suspended penalty. Therefore, all he has to do is not do it again and he’ll face no punishment.
My colleague Ida makes a very valid point that this does perhaps set a dangerous precedent, and in some ways it seems a bit counterintuitive as the social media reaction this has garnered has been immense. Fans loved Østberg’s honesty, and surely that should only be capitalized on by WRC Promoter and the FIA?
But – and it’s a big but – you can’t really deny that Østberg’s reaction was very emotional. I genuinely felt a strange sense of unease as he was outlying his thoughts. Fear, almost. As a child that experienced their parents separate, I was somehow taken back to that place of tension.
That to me suggests that Østberg’s behavior was a bit extreme. I couldn’t tell you how or why his comments and reaction managed to evoke that feeling within me; I only know what I felt.
This isn’t to criticize Østberg though. I’ve seen plenty of him over the years and spoken to him once before, and he was nothing but joyful, pleasant and a real delight. This was very much out of character.
And I can see why. If I had put in that much effort to keep my car going and then reclaim the lead I had (probably) unfairly lost, I would be equally frustrated at having that ripped away from me – again. Particularly if, as Østberg claims, he didn’t hit anything that would obviously provoke a puncture.
Plus, when you’re pumped up on adrenaline, having a microphone stuck under your nose with your immediate thoughts broadcast around the world is the last thing you’re going to want. So everybody can understand why Østberg reacted the way he did. Including the stewards – they said so in their decision document.
But you can understand something, even if it is wrong. Emotions can take over and they can explain actions, but it doesn’t necessarily 100% justify them. Stage-end interviews are not a new concept, particularly not for a man who’s done as many world rallies as Østberg. That language – whether you agree with it or not – is deemed unacceptable on live television.
And in that context, the penalty – suspended, not sanctioned – is a fair call for me. Although perhaps the threat of losing 25 championship points is a touch excessive.
The bottom line is Østberg is known to have apologized for his reaction. If he’d done nothing at all wrong, he wouldn’t have felt the need to do that.
– Luke Barry