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How an 18-year-old incident triggered Norris’ ‘unsportsmanlike’ F1 penalty

McLaren driver Lando Norris' unsportsmanlike behaviour penalty in Formula 1's Canadian Grand Prix is the result of a precedent set 18 years ago, Autosport has learned.

Fernando Alonso leads team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella

Photo by: Mark Capilitan

Norris was penalised in Montreal for slowing down too much behind the safety car from the hairpin to the pitlane, thereby purposefully opening a gap to team-mate Oscar Piastri so McLaren could perform a double pitstop without Norris risking losing a position to Charles Leclerc.

Norris was slapped with a five-second penalty which perplexed him at the time, and two weeks on the Briton says he is still none the wiser on why the stewards penalised him.

"We're still discussing it with the FIA, because they've set a new precedent with what you're allowed to do or not allowed to do," Norris said on Thursday.

"There's clear examples of people who did it, or did what they think I did, purposefully, and no penalties were given.

"Now they've basically said: 'You have to be on your delta the whole time.' So they're forcing you to go quickly under safety car, which doesn't make sense to me."

It has now emerged that the FIA has indeed gone back to a precedent, from the 2005 season, to curb the practice of drivers purposefully obstructing others ahead of a safety car pitstop, which is where Norris' penalty originated.

In the 2005 Chinese Grand Prix Renault driver Giancarlo Fisichella backed off to leave a gap to his team-mate Fernando Alonso, who was leading the race.

In doing so he held up McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello, allowing Renault plenty of time to get Alonso back out before serving the Italian, who received a drive-through penalty for the offence.

Giancarlo Fisichella

Giancarlo Fisichella

Photo by: Gareth Bumstead

At the time the clampdown was triggered by a similar incident involving Raikkonen in Belgium, which led to the late Charlie Whiting warning drivers not to obstruct competitors in the drivers' briefing.

Since then, the highest profile case of purposefully backing opponents of ahead of a double stack occurred when Lewis Hamilton held up Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo in the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix, which also netted the Briton a five-second penalty.

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By penalising Norris the FIA has sent a new, clear signal that it will not tolerate drivers backing up rivals on purpose to gain an advantage under safety car pitstops, whether it happens in the pitlane itself or on the in-lap.

It used Norris' telemetry, which showed a speed difference of 50kph compared to Piastri on the run down to the pitlane, as evidence.

But more than the backing up itself, it was the specific intent of creating an advantage that led the stewards to invoke Article 12.2.1.l of the International Sporting Code and brandish an "unsportsmanlike behaviour" penalty, as Norris was deemed to go over the limit of what was fair.

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