Otmar Szafnauer explains pit blunder after Alpine double penalty

Sam Cooper
The Alpine mechanics. Bahrain, March 2023.

The Alpine mechanics. Bahrain, March 2023.

Otmar Szafnauer has explained a faulty countdown system was the cause of Alpine’s failure to observe Esteban Ocon’s five-second penalty.

The 2023 season could have hardly got off to a worse start for Ocon as he failed to line up properly on the grid, handing him a five-second penalty as the FIA cracks down on that particular infringement.

His evening was only made worse when he was then given a 10-second penalty after one of his front mechanics began working on the car before the five-second penalty had passed.

The hat-trick of penalties, a joint record for a single driver in a race, came when Ocon sped on his way out of the pits, handing him another five seconds.

With the Alpine mechanics at fault for the botched pit stop, team boss Szafnauer has defined them by saying it was a problem with their countdown system rather than a human error.

“It’s in the system somewhere,” Szafnauer explained when asked by media including PlanetF1.com why the error took place. “We have an audible countdown. The system started the countdown 0.4 seconds early. So I’ve got to look to see why that happened.”

Szafnauer then elaborated that it was on the way out of the pits that Ocon was caught speeding, lifting off the limiter a little earlier than he should have.

“That’s for the driver,” he said when asked by PlanetF1.com about the cause of that particular penalty. “He’s got a pit lane speed limiter and then when he believes he’s out of the pit lane, he lifts off, and then off you go.

“If you lift off just a little bit too early [then you are in trouble].”

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While Szafnauer will not have wanted to see his team commit so many errors, he can take some solace in that it was during the first race of the season and he was confident these kinds of errors would not happen again.

“It’s very rare for this team to make those types of operational mistakes,” the former Aston Martin boss said. “Starting early on working on the car, that I’ve never seen it happen here before. We have good systems in place for that not to happen. So I’m confident that won’t happen again.

“Esteban being out of position at the start, you’ll learn from that, that’ll never happen again.

“So I think operationally, we can look forward to having smooth and trouble free races and if that happens and Pierre [Gasly] qualifies, where he can qualify and we’ve got both of them in the top 10 positions, which is what we want, I think we will score score plenty of points, and then we’ll fight for that for fourth.”

Given Ocon’s struggles it is hard to gauge just how quick the Alpine car is as although Gasly drove tremendously well to rise from P20 to P9, he was unable to attack further up the field.

As a result, Szafnauer said they still did not know how quick the A523 was.

“We still don’t know what its true pace is because of some of the operational things that happened in the race,” he said.

“I’ll give you an example. Esteban had all of his issues that we talked about. Pierre was stuck in 19th for quite some time at the beginning. So I’m looking at lap times, if you ever watch a race between the guys up front in the same car and the guys that are at the back, you can be two seconds a lap different just because of where you’re racing.

“At the end. I thought we had really good things on the soft. But it’s a new soft, car’s lighter. So I still don’t know with fuel where we are relative just because we’re out of position with one car and the other car had the problems.”

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher