It was not a great performance from the FIA at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso finished third and celebrated on the podium, before being told a retroactive penalty had been administered, dropping him to fourth and elevating George Russell.
Then, nearly four hours after the chequered flag, we were informed the governing body had U-turned. The podium was Fernando and Aston Martin’s again.
Alonso had lined up P2 on the grid behind eventual race winner Sergio Perez, and parked a few inches outside his box to the left. The Spaniard took the lead through the first corner but could not keep the Red Bull behind once DRS was enabled. He calmly accepted a five-second penalty for his startline indiscretion. Esteban Ocon had done similar in Bahrain and received the same penalty. ‘Maybe this is the cars or the halo – whatever, it is interacting with the vision of how we position the car,’ Alonso later said. ‘But anyway, that was my mistake.’
Alonso knew he wasn’t fighting the Red Bulls, anyway, he was fighting the Mercedes and the Ferraris. He took the penalty during his only pit stop. Crews are not allowed to begin work on a car before it has taken its time penalty. In this instance, a jack was touching the rear of the car – and that was deemed a contravention of the rules.
One could argue neither misdemeanour gave Alonso any advantage, or you could believe the rules are the rules and so long as they are consistently applied that’s that. The issue here is how long it took. The No.14 car’s pit stop didn’t occur in the final few laps, it happened on lap 18.
The FIA has revealed it did not notice anything wrong with Alonso’s stop until it was brought to their attention on the final lap. There was not time to investigate before a grinning Alonso took to the podium with Perez and championship leader Max Verstappen, who recovered from 15th to second and scored the fastest lap. Alonso finished 5.138sec ahead of Russell but there was a penalty coming and they switched positions.
Aston Martin’s sporting director Andy Stevenson requested to review the evidence. He was heard after midnight, argued the location of the jack did not constitute ‘working on the car’, and provided evidence other teams had had equipment touching the car while serving penalties and had not received an additional penalty. The FIA agreed the decision was wrong and reversed the penalty.
So, as well as taking too long, the stewards were not sufficiently familiar with their own rules.
This wasn’t the governing body’s only wonky call. Alonso’s team-mate Lance Stroll had a technical issue and pulled off at a safe spot which did not require marshals to go out on track.
A glance at a TV screen or radio call to the marshalling post would have confirmed this but instead race director Niels Wittich looked at the car’s GPS which made it appear like it was in the line of fire, when it wasn’t, and triggered a full safety car, potentially altering the outcome of the race. As it happened, the rostrum result was on merit. Perez was faultless, Verstappen delivered the kind of superhuman speed for which he is celebrated and Alonso made his 100th career podium a most memorable one.
Max Verstappen says the vibrations he complained about during the race were similar to in qualifying, when his Red Bull suffered a driveshaft failure that forced him to start 15th.
Engineers could not see anything wrong on the telemetry but the Dutchman is known to be acutely sensitive to any mechanical variations.
‘I picked up again these vibrations on the driveshaft, on the rear,’ the world champion explained.
‘The team couldn’t see anything but I’m fairly sure there was something odd going on. In qualifying it snapped. Luckily, it didn’t do that [in the race].’
The RB19 might be the quickest car on the grid by half a second a lap, but its fragility suggests we might not be short on surprises this year.
Ferrari must not kid themselves about their current form, says team chief Fred Vasseur, with the Scuderia languishing fourth in the standings after another lacklustre result.
Asked what the most important message to his engineers would be, Vasseur replied: ‘To not bulls*** ourselves. We have to change.
‘We have to understand where we are wrong and we have to push.’2023-03-20T19:15:10Z dg43tfdfdgfd