Fernando Alonso has been reinstated in third place at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, having been given a post-race time penalty that dropped him to fourth.
Alonso finished in third place at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, climbing onto the podium behind the victorious Red Bull drivers and joining in the post-race celebrations.
However, shortly after that celebration, word came through that Alonso had been given a 10-second time penalty and, as a result, dropped to fourth place behind Mercedes’ George Russell.
Tending to his media duties, Alonso decried how the FIA had taken far too long to make the potential for a penalty known to Aston Martin, feeling that he could have opened up a bigger gap to Russell had he known he was under investigation.
The crux of the issue is on some contentious wording in the FIA’s Sporting Regulations, with Alonso’s time penalty awarded due to an initial earlier penalty.
Starting from second place on the grid, Alonso had been slightly out of alignment in his grid slot and was investigated for the transgression – the stewards opted to give him a five-second time penalty.
Alonso came in on Lap 18 under the Safety Car, serving the five-second time penalty and resuming the race en route to his third place on-the-road finish. But the stewards decided that Alonso had not correctly served the initial penalty, which is why a second penalty was handed out.
What did Fernando Alonso do wrong while serving his initial penalty?
Article 54.4 of the FIA’s Sporting Regulations dictates: “Whilst a car is stationary in the pit lane as a result of incurring a penalty, it may not be worked on until the car has been stationary for the duration of the penalty.”
Replays showed quite clearly that, when Alonso came in to serve his penalty, the Aston Martin rear jack man pushed the jack under the rear lifting point of the car. While he made contact with the underside of Alonso’s car, he did not raise it from the ground. So the question mark over Alonso’s penalty was related to what constitutes ‘working on the car’ – is it contact, or is it an actionable movement?
The stewards explained why the initial penalty was imposed: “[Alonso] had come into the pits during the Safety Car period to serve the five-second penalty that was imposed on [him] for being out of position at the starting grid.
“As is customary, race control aided by the Remote Operations Centre (ROC) in Geneva examined whether [Alonso] served his penalty in accordance with the regulations. 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.”
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While the matter appeared closed, the situation looks to have been rekindled on the final lap of the race – most likely by a complaint from a competitor.
“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 [Alonso] and they asked the Stewards to investigate the matter. The matter was reported to race control by ROC,” stated the FIA.
“The Stewards were shown video evidence of how [Alonso] served the penalty by the Race Director and the Sporting Director. They stated that what was agreed at the SAC [Sporting Advisory Committee] meetings with the teams was that no part of the car could be touched while a penalty was being served as this would constitute working on the car.
“In this case, it was clear, that the car was touched by the rear jack. Based on the representation made to the Stewards that there was an agreed position that touching the car would amount to ‘working’ on the car, the Stewards decided to impose a penalty.
“Article 54.4(e) gives the Stewards the discretion to disqualify a car for failure to comply with Article 54.4(c). However, given that no work was done while the car was touched, we considered that disqualification would be too harsh an outcome. In the circumstances, the Stewards imposed a 10s penalty on [Alonso].”
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 19, 2023
Aston Martin launch an appeal
Given that they felt Alonso had served his time penalty correctly, Aston Martin lodged a ‘Petition for Review’ under Article 14.1.1 of the International Sporting Code (ISC), which allows for review of stewards’ decisions provided: “a significant and relevant new element is discovered which was unavailable to the parties seeking the review at the time of the decision concerned, the stewards who have given a ruling or, failing this, those designated by the FIA.”
The FIA have outlined how the stewards were shown video evidence of seven different instances where cars serving penalties were touched by a jack without being penalised.
The documentation details how Aston Martin say the “alleged representation of an agreement between the FIA and the teams that ‘touching the car in any way, including with a jack’ was ‘incorrect’ and, therefore, the basis of the stewards’ decision was ‘wrong'”.
Under the Petition for Review, the stewards determined Aston Martin’s presented evidence, combined with the minutes of the most recent SAC meeting, showed the ‘substratum of the original decision’ could be ‘called into question’.
Reviewing the evidence presented by Aston Martin, the stewards have decided that there is no clear agreement that can be relied upon to determine whether all parties had agreed that a car being touched by a jack would be considered ‘working on the car’.
As a result, the stewards opted to overturn the 10-second time penalty imposed on Alonso, re-instating him to third place.
As might be expected from such a situation, the FIA have confirmed a further SAC meeting will be held before the Australian Grand Prix in order to clarify the definition of ‘working on the car’.