How the FIA changed its mind twice on penalising Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso - Aston Martin AMR23 - Mercedes W14

Fernando Alonso was at the center of all the action – on and off track – at the Saudi Arabian GP in his Aston Martin AMR23.

The Spaniard had one of his vintage electric starts and took the race lead, but a series of penalties made his care significantly more complicated.

Alonso was initially awarded a 5-second penalty for being out of position at the starting grid, the same penalty his former teammate Esteban Ocon received in Bahrain.

This penalty (like the FIA’s subsequent penalty decision) has received some scrutiny, with questions being raised about the consistency of how this rule is enforced:

Although somewhat contested, this penalty is far clearer-cut than the one that followed.

Fernando Alonso served his 5-second penalty under the Safety Car, and for about 30 laps, the stewards were satisfied with how this penalty was served.

Mercedes told George Russell to push and stay within 5 seconds of Alonso, anticipating a potential penalty for the Spaniard post-race.

Despite his best efforts, the Mercedes driver could not stay within this gap.

However, as revealed in the FIA’s official penalty decision document, the Stewards were informed about a report from race control at the last lap of the race:

“The stewards were informed that both race control and ROC had determined that the penalty had been properly served. The stewards did not examine the matter further thereafter. 

“Subsequently, at the last lap of the race, the Stewards received a report from race control that they considered that the penalty was not properly served by CAR 14, and asked the Stewards to investigate the matter.”

Fernando Alonso - Aston Martin AMR23

This was at the center of the confusion and backlash surrounding the initial penalty decision, with fans confused that a decision could take so long.

However, it is clear that the FIA ​​had already determined Alonso’s penalty was served correctly – only to re-examine the penalty and punish Aston Martin later.

This explains the significant delay in the communication of Alonso’s penalty decision.

It was not that the Spaniard’s initial pit stop was not checked – but that it had already been examined and approved by the FIA.

Considering when the second investigation into Alonso’s pit stop started, it seems plausible that a rival team prompted the Stewards to double-check this decision at the end of the race, which triggered the FIA’s U-Turn.

Immediately after the new 10-second penalty was announced, there were whispers that F1’s Silverstone-based team would try to overturn it.

After several hours of discussion and deliberation, Aston Martin’s right of review successfully overturned the FIA’s penalty and reinstated Alonso’s podium.

Aston Martin overturned Alonso’s 10-second penalty by presenting the FIA ​​with a total of *seven* different examples where teams (taking similar penalties) touched the car using the rear jack without being penalised.

Presumably, this precedent is why the FIA ​​initially deemed the penalty correctly served – although it is possible “new video evidence” gave the stewards a better angle of the pit stop.

In any case, the British team were able to present “new evidence” concerning the contact with the rear jack, as explained by the Stewards:

“Having reviewed the new evidence, we concluded that there was no clear agreement, as was suggested to the Stewards previously, that could be relied upon to determine that parties had agreed that a jack touching a car would amount to working on the car.”

Whilst the decision to reinstate Alonso’s Jeddah podium has been celebrated, the FIA ​​will soon offer further clarification on what constitutes “working on the car” when serving time penalties in the pits.

Hopefully, clarifying this gray area will prevent similar circumstances from being repeated in F1 moving forward.


Author: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang