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FIA bans jacks touching F1 cars during pitstop penalties after Alonso review

The FIA has confirmed that Formula 1 teams can no longer touch their cars with jacks during penalty pitstops in the wake of the Fernando Alonso controversy in Jeddah.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, is returned to the garage

The clarification has resulted from a review of the Alonso penalty stop and the grid placement offence that triggered it.

As well as a tidying up of the penalty pitstop rules the review has resulted in changes to the grid boxes, which have been extended in width from 2.5m to 2.7m from this weekend, with an experimental central white line added to help to guide the drivers in Melbourne.

In Jeddah, Alonso was deemed to have stopped too far to the left of his grid box, a result of extra FIA scrutiny following a 2023 F1 sporting regulation change that also impacted Esteban Ocon in Bahrain.

Alonso subsequently had to take a five-second penalty at his pitstop. It’s understood that Mercedes viewed a video of the stop and alerted the FIA to the fact that the rear jack was touching the car.

The FIA looked into the matter via its Remote Operations Centre in Geneva and after the race Alonso was given a 10-second penalty that dropped him from third to fourth.

The stewards were led to believe that a recent meeting of the FIA Sporting Advisory Committee had agreed that jacks could not touch the car during a penalty stop, violating a regulation that says a car “may not be worked on until the car has been stationary for the duration of the penalty.”

However Aston Martin requested a right of review and the team was able to demonstrate to the stewards that while the matter had indeed been discussed at the SAC there was no firm agreement on jacks touching cars being illegal.

The team also showed videos of seven examples of recent penalty pitstops involving Mercedes, Alpine, AlphaTauri, Haas and McLaren where jacks were touching.

The stewards considered this was new evidence and thus reversed the decision on Alonso’s 10-second penalty, and the Spaniard got his third place back.

Inevitably the saga led to some criticism of the FIA. The governing body decided to fast track a review of the events, noting that “consistent with the transparent approach adopted by the FIA, a thorough analysis has been undertaken and conclusions drawn that will help improve the sport.”

It added that “the review panel comprised representatives from a number of FIA departments including race control, safety, operations and technical and members of the FIA Remote Operations Centre (ROC).”

Consistent with the decision of the Jeddah stewards the review noted that “this circumstance arose due to a lack of clarity in the wording of the relevant regulations and conflicting precedents, which were exposed by this specific incident.

“The rule itself had been a point of discussion at recent Sporting Advisory Committee meetings, the forum in which the FIA, FOM and all the teams discuss and propose amendments to the F1 sporting regulations for approval and implementation in the FIA F1 World Championship.”

After further discussion in Friday morning's team managers' meeting the conclusion regarding the penalty pitstops was sent to teams by way of a sporting directive that includes the following three points:

“1. For clarity and until further notice, in this context the physical touching of the car or driver by hand, tools or equipment (including the front and rear jacks) during any such penalty will all be considered to constitute work.

“2. The use of cooling fans during a penalty is permitted providing any such fan does not physically touch the car.

“3. As is already common practice, multiple penalties incurred under Articles 54.3a and 54.3b prior to a cars pitstop can be served in series at a single pitstop. For example, a 5sec + 10sec penalty can be served as a single 15sec penalty and so on.”

Starting grid lines

Starting grid lines

Photo by: Alex Kalinauckas

As well as the 20cms width change to grid boxes the FIA noted that “a centre line will also be trialled to aid drivers in positioning their cars correctly during Friday’s free practice in Melbourne and pending feedback and discussion at the drivers’ briefing may also be implemented moving forward.”

Drivers have suggested that the white lines won’t help much as they will lose sight of it well before they get to their grid slots, so it remains to be seen whether or not they become standard.

Intriguingly the FIA has also admitted that the Alonso case highlighted that there are established informal “rules” that are not written down in the regulations but perhaps should be, while also noting that the time lag in applying Alonso’s 10-second penalty will be reviewed.

The FIA noted: “Several other elements are under discussion for potential further improvement.

"These include a review of other potential ‘common practices’ which may not be clearly defined or documented, and which may necessitate either a change of the regulations or a sporting directive to avoid similar issues in the future, as well as consideration of the various procedures that lead to time delays in the event of late-race reports to the stewards.”

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