Damon Hill explains why Carlos Sainz got a penalty for a lap ‘that never happened’

Michelle Foster
Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz spins Fernando Alonso. Australia April 2023.

Fernando Alonso spins after being tagged by the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz. Melbourne April 2023.

Penalised for a mistake on a lap that effectively never happened given the Australian Grand Prix stewards counted back one lap after Carlos Sainz triggered a multi-car pile-up, Damon Hill says that’s the FIA prerogative.

Sainz was fuming with the Melbourne stewards when he was slapped with a five-second penalty for being “wholly to blame” for hitting Alonso in a late-race restart.

The Spaniard pitched the Aston Martin into a spin that saw drivers further back having to take evasive action.

But while he wasn’t the only one responsible for the restart chaos, he was the one penalised with his five seconds dropping him from fourth to 12th as the drivers left the grid for a third and final restart to cross the finish line just metres ahead.

An anguished Sainz begged Ferrari: “No, it’s unacceptable. Tell them it is unacceptable, tell them they need to wait until the race is finished and discuss with me.

“Ask them please, please, please, please, please, to wait and discuss with me, clearly the penalty is not deserved, it’s too severe.”

But given that Sainz’s penalty was issued for his antics on lap 57, the stewards counting back to the lap 56 for the race order for the final restart, Sainz has perhaps even more reason to feel aggrieved.

“That’s a good point to make,” Hill told the F1 Nation podcast, “if that race never happened, then why can you get a penalty for a race that never happened?

“But I think that they will say that anytime a car is on track, they have the right to impose a penalty.

“Even if it’s a free practice session, it doesn’t count for anything else, they can still apply a penalty to you.”

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The 1996 World Champion agrees with the stewards that Sainz made a mistake for which he must take responsibility, after all Lewis Hamilton pulled a similar move on Max Verstappen at the start of the race and didn’t cause a collision.

“I’m sorry, but I think it was Carlos’ mistake,” Hill said.

“He went in too deep and he used up too much track, and there wasn’t really much more Fernando could do to get out the way.

“You don’t go in too deep and get yourself in a compromised position.

“It was almost identical to the move Lewis did on Max, and Lewis got through.”

Sainz’s team boss Fred Vasseur believes the stewards should’ve at least waited to speak to the driver before handing him what he felt was a “very harsh” penalty.

“To get penalised like this at the end is very harsh,” said the Frenchman.

“I think this is a bit of a shame. Last week we changed the regulations two times in 10 minutes about the pit stop for Alonso and they could have done the same today, [or] at least discussed it.”

He added: “Last week they took 30 laps to decide if Alonso was into the box or not. Today took five seconds.”

Failing to score for the first time this season, Sainz sits on 20 points, 49 behind championship leader Max Verstappen.