Two sides to Alonso’s Australian GP penalty argument

It was a bit of a bizarre end to the Australian Grand Prix when it came to the incident involving George Russell and Fernando Alonso. But while I’m going to stand up for Alonso to some degree, I’m also not against the fact that the stewards issued a penalty for what happened.

The first viewing hadn’t caused me to raise any eyebrows, and my focus was instead on Russell losing control and his car ending up on its side in the middle of the track.

The summons for both drivers to see the stewards was issued shortly after the checkered flag, and as that meant an investigation was being launched it genuinely took me a moment to work out if it was for that incident, or something that might have happened away from the television cameras on an earlier lap.


Sure, Russell appeared to get close to the back of Alonso’s car, but from the serene perspective of a stabilized on-board camera on the Mercedes roll hoop it didn’t appear overly erratic.

Since I was running around the paddock and unable to check which lap corresponded to the time of the incident mentioned in the stewards’ summons, I even asked an Aston Martin press officer if there was something I was missing. You won’t be surprised to hear they said no, and were similarly perplexed at that stage.

But what those on-board cameras show and how it actually feels to a driver behind the wheel — from a much lower vantage point and far less stability in their vision — are two very different things.

It was telling that the hearing involving the two drivers lasted for almost a full hour. Had it been a 10-minute visit, it would have suggested a quick and simple resolution one way or the other, and the initial expectation of no further action being taken. I actually thought they had both long since returned to their respective teams by the time they actually emerged; Russell walking alongside Mercedes sporting director Ron Meadows, and Alonso following a few paces behind next to Aston Martin’s Andy Stevenson.

There were stern expressions on their faces, and no words being spoken. At the very least, it suggested there had been some serious discussions going on.

And that’s when telemetry started surfacing, and previous lap to later lap comparisons, as fans did their own usual excellent investigatory work while waiting for the FIA to make its own decision.

By the time a penalty was handed out to Alonso because the stewards felt “he drove in a manner that was at very least ‘potentially dangerous’ given the very high-speed nature of that point of the track,” it had felt like one was coming. And the reaction seems to overstate the significance.

“A bit surprised by a penalty at the end of the race regarding how we should approach the corners or how we should drive the race cars,” Alonso wrote soon afterwards. “In F1, with over 20 years of experience, with epic duels like Imola 2005/2006 or Brazil 2023, changing racing lines, sacrificing entry speed to have good exits from corners is part of the art of motorsport.”

Add to that Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack’s comments and you’d think Alonso had just been banned from driving (as some fans calling for a particularly draconian penalty had suggested).

“I want you to know that we fully support Fernando,” Krack said in a message to the team’s fans. “He is the most experienced driver in Formula 1. He has competed in more grands prix than anyone else and has more than 20 years of experience. He is a multiple world champion in multiple categories.

“To receive a 20-second time penalty when there was no contact with the following car has been a bitter pill to swallow, but we have to accept the decision. We made our best case but without new evidence we are unable to request a right of review.

“Fernando is a phenomenal racer and he was using every tool in his toolbox to finish ahead of George — just like we saw in Brazil last year with Sergio [Perez]. This is the art of motorsport at the highest level. He would never put anyone in harm’s way.”

While accepting the judgment of the stewards, Mike Krack (second from right) stayed fully in his driver’s corner. Zak Mauger/Motorsport Images

I’ve got issues with almost all of the comments from Alonso and Krack, but also agree that you could argue that the penalty was on the harsh side.

Just because Alonso is so experienced, does not mean he cannot make mistakes or misjudgments. The results he has secured in different categories are impressive, but there are also different driving styles and standards that are allowed by the regulators in each that need abiding by and adapting to. Every driver has got something wrong at some point.

And when it comes to the penalty itself, it’s not removing the art of defensive driving. Just like overtaking, it’s attempting to make a call on when that art might be taken just slightly too far.

In the stewards’ decision, it explained how Alonso had lifted much earlier than usual and downshifted, then accelerated again and upshifted, adding: “Alonso explained that while his plan was to slow earlier, he got it slightly wrong and had to take extra steps to get back up to speed.”

Right there is the crux of the issue: “Alonso got it slightly wrong.” It doesn’t have to have been his intent to cause an incident at all, and I’ll back him that it certainly wasn’t. The intent will have been to disrupt Russell behind to create a bigger gap on the exit of Turn 6 to protect himself from attack using DRS. And in trying to do so, Alonso slightly overdid it.

Alonso’s apparent claim that there was an issue with the engine on the following lap did not make it as far as the stewards’ room, in another suggestion that he perhaps knew he might have just crossed the line, particularly given where Russell ended up.

The outcome was dramatic, but the crime was far from egregious. Lift slightly later and not need the acceleration again, and Alonso likely brings Russell just as close to him at the apex but in a less erratic way. Even if the outcome had been the same, it’s more understandable that Russell could have been expected to be prepared for Alonso to do something different in that corner, and needed to take care as the following car.

The stewards’ decision makes clear that the Spaniard was entitled to try and drive in a defensive manner and get creative:

“Should Alonso have the right to try a different approach to the corner? Yes.

“Should Alonso be responsible for dirty air, that ultimately caused the incident? No.”

But it says in doing so he took it slightly too far and created a “potentially dangerous” situation. It’s the same as when attacking, you can try a different approach to get past a car but you don’t need to make contact to receive a penalty for the way you positioned yourself and impacted a rival.

Krack was keen to highlight that Alonso is the most experienced driver on the grid, but as such he’s more likely to have more opportunities to be involved in incidents. He’s raced more laps and been involved in more battles, and the law of averages is that for all the brilliant racing that is just the right side of the line — like Brazil last year — there will be the odd occasion that the mark is marginally overstepped.

That doesn’t make Alonso a dirty driver, and doesn’t necessarily make the penalty fair. Alonso had every right to try something clever to hold Russell off, and the stewards had every right to work out if he took it that bit too far on this occasion.

They’re extremely fine margins, and Alonso doesn’t need vilifying for getting it wrong, but also needs to acknowledge that his immense experience and skill doesn’t preclude him from misjudgments.

Story originally appeared on Racer