Otmar Szafnauer tells Haas: Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse

Michelle Foster
Alpine driver Fernando Alonso after he landed at the COTA. Austin October 2022

Fernando Alonso after he landed at the COTA following a crash with Lance Stroll. Austin October 2022

Otmar Szafnauer is relieved Fernando Alonso’s United States GP penalty was declared null and void, saying “justice prevailed”.

Involved in a high-speed crash with his 2023 team-mate Lance Stroll, Alonso was sent airborne at the Circuit of The Americas after clipping the rear of the Aston Martin on the straight.

That impact broke his right side mirror, which was hanging from the car as the Spaniard headed to the pits for a new nose and, amazingly, continued in the grand prix.

He raced from the very back of the field to seventh place, earning widespread praise only to learn later than evening that he had a 30-second penalty for an unsafe car.

Haas had protested the A522 as F1’s regulations state the car should be in a safe condition – namely, with two mirrors on the car.

The American outfit was also smarting over the fact that the Spaniard wasn’t shown the black and orange flag for a piece of loose bodywork, something Haas have received three times this season.

Alpine protested Haas’ protest as it was lodged 24 minutes after the deadline with the Enstone team granted a right to review, that having taken place on Thursday night in Mexico.

There it was ruled Haas’ protest was past the deadline and Alonso was reinstated in seventh.

“We felt that the punishment of 30 seconds after the race for his wing mirror falling off didn’t really match the crime,” Szafnauer told Sky Sports F1.

“There incidents in the past, I believe in 2019 when both Leclerc and Lewis lost their wing mirrors and their position stood at the end of the race.

“But the way we approached it is the Haas protest was put in out of time, they only had 30 minutes to protest. They protested 54 minutes after the classification so their protest was invalid.”

During Alpine’s initial protest hearing it was revealed that Race Control had told Haas they had an hour to get the paperwork in when F1’s regulations state the teams only have 30 minutes unless it is “impossible” to do so in that timeframe.

Haas themselves admitted it wasn’t impossible, but reiterated Race Control said an hour.

Szafnauer has no sympathy for that argument: “I don’t know any place in the world where ignorance of the law or ignorance of the rules is is an acceptable excuse.”

Pressed as to the fact that it was the ‘lawmaker’ who gave Haas the wrong information, he replied: “It’s not the lawmaker, it’s the policemen. So the lawmaker writes the laws and even if a policeman tells you ‘you know what, you’re okay’, a judge will tell you no.”

All in all, he was happy with the outcome.

“I’m not just saying this because it helped us but I believe justice prevailed,” he said, “and that’s an important factor for the FIA.

“That’s what they’re here to do. They looked at the rules and said we made a mistake and applied correctly.

“So justice prevailed.”

He does, however, concede that the rules regarding damaged cars need to be clarified.

“I believe those inconsistencies need to be made consistent, and the FIA are working on that,” he said.

“What we need to do is have greater definition of when you come in when you don’t come in, so everybody is playing to the same rules and we have an even playing field.

“That’s on the agenda now, the technical directors will be discussing it. And everybody should just know if a front wing end plate comes off you do this.

“It should be the same for all of us.”

Read more: Haas’ desire for FIA consistency was behind their Austin protests