Fernando Alonso’s US Grand Prix ‘penalty-no-penalty’ is another strange episode that calls into question once again the ability of the FIA to properly implement F1 rules and procedures.
Alonso finished seventh in a broken car in Austin last Sunday, but that result was overruled by a post-race penalty that was incorrectly applied under F1 rules. It is true that the review committee overturned the decision the following Thursday in Mexico, but that does not mean that justice was served.
It all comes down to timing. After several ‘meatball’ flags received mechanical failure this season, due to minor damage to the front wing final plate, Haas was rightly pissed off to see so many cars – George Russell’s Mercedes, Red Bull Sergio Perez, and Alonso in particular – finished. Race. The American GP carries similar superficial damage without the need to visit the pits for repairs.
Haas chose to protest Alonso’s car, which apparently took a beating after being fired over an Aston Martin Lance Stroll and ended up in shaggy condition with the wing mirror missing. Haas was right to ask essentially why this car was allowed to continue without being flagged to the meatball when Kevin Magnussen’s Haas repeatedly had to dig for new front wings when he was only carrying very slight damage to the end plate.
Haas protested the Alps, the stewards supported this protest and sanctioned Alonso, Albine protested Haas’ protest, the stewards ruled Alpine’s protest inadmissible, then Albine applied for a “right of review” and succeeded in overturning Haas’ original protest after that review.
We had several instances of this ‘right of review’ in the last F1 season. Mercedes unsuccessfully tried to get a decision not to penalize Max Verstappen during the Brazilian Grand Prix review, saying on-board footage showed Verstappen forced Hamilton off the track. The stewards disagreed that these shots were important enough to reconsider their original “play-on” ruling (perhaps helped by the fact that Hamilton won that race regardless).
After the famous Hamilton/Verstappen crash at Silverstone, in which Hamilton took a penalty for his part in that crash to win the race anyway, an angry Red Bull later used Alex Albon and an old car on filming day to simulate the alternate results of that crash, then try to present this as evidence New to Hamilton he could have driven differently and avoided collision – so he should have been punished more harshly.
For the right of review to succeed, F1 agents would have to determine that there was a “significant and new element” of evidence that was not available at the time. In the Red Bull case, the hosts ruled the “new evidence” was inadmissible because it was mainly made after the fact and not something everyone missed at the time.
In Alonso’s case, it all comes down to timing – and a misunderstanding of timing. Haas made his original protest 24 minutes late, but was incorrectly told after questioning the decision not to mince Alonso’s car during the race that he had an hour to file a protest.
Alpine’s protest for this one was dismissed in part on the grounds that it came too late: 68 minutes after a decision on Haas’ protest was published. So much fun that the protest that was made too late was then rejected because it was submitted too late!
But Alpine later managed to meet the ‘right of review’ threshold for the new evidence by saying that it was not aware of Haas’ original protest delay until the judges issued their decision to sanction Alonso – roughly five hours after the US attorney general’s decision. The classification has been published – which means that the Alps and the hosts might have acted differently if this fact had been known to the Alpines sooner.
Importantly, it wasn’t until the initial review session in Mexico that Alpine discovered that Haas had been incorrectly advised that it had a full hour to file its original protest, instead of the standard 30 minutes as defined by the FIA’s International Sports Code.
And it helps that the umpires who made the original decisions in Austin – Gary Connelly, Enrique Bernoldi, Silvia Pilot and Dennis Dean – have found the Mexican Grand Prix as well. They decided to proceed with the right of review based on requests from Alan Berman in the Alps.
In this review, Alpine correctly argued that stewards were not allowed to extend the protest deadline unless it was “impossible” to file that protest within 30 minutes of the race’s classification, and that Haas could have met that deadline. For its part, Haas admitted that she would have lodged a protest in time had she not been wrongly advised that she had an hour to do so by an FIA official in control of the race.
This latter fact is why Alpine won its case and put Alonso back into seventh place in the US Grand Prix results.
So, once again, we have seen a long and confusing case of the FIA either not understanding or misinterpreting its own regulations and then incorrectly applying them.
You could argue that Haas should have known better, ignored what he was told, and only made his original protest on time. But you also expect FIA officials to properly advise teams according to the rules, and check first if they don’t know.
Alonso argued in preparation for this hearing that it was “a very important day for our sport” because it “would open up a huge problem for the future in Formula 1. I think 50%, 60%, 70% of the cars will have to retire when they have an aerodynamic device that hasn’t been fixed properly. Because it would be unsafe.”
But getting rid of Haas’ original protest and reinstating Alonso does not solve that problem. “The FIA didn’t show me the black and orange flag, so they thought the car was safe to continue driving,” says Alonso, “but the truth is the car wasn’t safe according to how the rules were applied to Magnussen earlier this season.
Toto Wolff described Russell’s front wing as “severely damaged” and said “we were surprised it wasn’t a DNF”. Perez’s final plate flew off his car during the race, after which Red Bull successfully argued to the FIA that the wing was structurally sound. But the laps that Perez made as the final board fluttered around and then broke off were clearly dangerous. What if this part hits someone in the face at close to 200 mph?
Likewise, Alonso’s right mirror shattered at the end of the race, as he passed – of all people – Haas Magnussen. Fortunately, no one else who was following him was close enough to be hit by this stray part.
As the hosts noted during the original protest and counter-protest in Austin, they were “extremely concerned” that the black and orange flag was not shown to Alonso during the US Grand Prix. It wasn’t, but it should have been.
Article 188.8.131.52 c) of the ISC states: “This flag shall be used to inform the concerned driver that his vehicle has mechanical problems which are likely to endanger himself or others, and means that he shall stop at his mine on the next lap. When corrected Mechanical problems To the satisfaction of the chief observer, the car may join the race.”
If Magnussen’s Haas had bottomed out this earlier in the season (several times), then surely Alonso’s Alpine and Perez’s Red Bull should have been tagged before parts tore their cars. Either the FIA was wrong to report Magnussen, or it was wrong not to report Alonso and Perez.
Fortunately, the FIA is now reviewing its process again. As the same hosts note again in their introduction after the successful Alpine Right to Review: [Alonso] Allowed to stay on track with a loose hanging mirror assembly that finally fell off, it is highly recommended that procedures be put in place to monitor these and when necessary require correcting the problem as has been done many times in the past, through either a radio call to the team or a black and orange flag display, which Requires the car to return to the pits to fix the problem.
“Teams also have a liability under Article 3.2 of the FIA Formula 1 Sports Regulations.” [Competitors must ensure that their cars comply with the conditions of eligibility and safety throughout each practice session, sprint session and the race]. We also understand that the FIA President has begun to review the use of the black and orange flags.”
But no team will voluntarily dig a car if this happens may be It is considered unsafe by another person. Unless the team itself knows definitively that the damage has made the car an immediate and serious hazard, or is simply unable to race without repairs, the team will always wait for the FIA’s decision. This is what the FIA should do.
There’s been a lot of turmoil in Formula 1 lately. New technical police regulations, during a comprehensive and necessary overhaul of how the FIA operates and its policies.
But after the uproar in Abu Dhabi 2021, then the chaos of Max Verstappen’s last title win in Japan, as well as the unsettling scenes of a tractor rebounding on the track as the cars advanced in horrific conditions, it is disappointing to see the FIA flexing its muscles. The strict application of certain rules and procedures in Formula 1 – right down to what drivers wear under their clothes – without appearing to be able to write them correctly, read them correctly, or apply them consistently.
This does not mean that Abu Dhabi could have been overturned either, they are two completely different cases, the only similarity being the fiasco of the system.
The Abu Dhabi controversy centered on the interpretation of the regulations while in the Alonso case, the referees adhered to their interpretation but abolished the penalty on administrative grounds.
This presidential review of the use of the black and orange flag in Formula 1 would require either an acknowledgment of the failure by the FIA in Austin, or an acknowledgment that it was too strict in using the flag on Magnussen earlier in the season. The FIA can’t get both ways.
Alonso may feel justice has been done on the occasion, but Haas can still be upset. Safety is the FIA’s ultimate responsibility here, and now we have two races in a row where dangerous things have been allowed to happen anyway.
It is difficult to foresee any scenario in which the FIA would allow itself to interpret the rules covering vehicle safety in the less in a strict manner. This means that the events of Austin should be considered an aberration and not something that sets a new precedent.
This means that if 70% of cars must be parked to prevent pieces of debris from flying into the path of oncoming traffic then so be it.
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