How the FIA's Alonso Saudi Arabian GP penalty U-turn played out
Five hours and 12 minutes. That’s how much time elapsed between Fernando Alonso incorrectly parking his Aston Martin on the grid ahead of the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and the FIA finally writing the race result into the pages of Formula 1 history.
This is the full breakdown of the key moments in that timeline: from Alonso lining up in second place to gaining, losing and then finally, and officially, regaining his 100th F1 podium.
Alonso commits his crime, but does he do the time?
20:03 – Alonso completes the formation lap and lines up second alongside the Red Bull of polesitter Sergio Perez. But when he comes to a stop on the grid, the front-left tyre is outside the painted box.
20:04 – The stewards note the two-time F1 champion’s AMR23 for an incorrect starting location.
20:05 – Alonso is accordingly placed under investigation for the startline procedure infringement.
20:06 – The Spaniard is handed a five-second penalty for an incorrect starting location. He would say of his indiscretion: “Maybe this is the cars or the halo - whatever it is interacting with the vision of how we position the car. But anyway, that was my mistake.”
20:30 – An energy recovery issue for Lance Stroll means he is forced to retire from the race. He pulls off the circuit at Turn 13, which brings out single and then double waved yellow flags.
20:31 – While the Canadian’s Aston is almost fully behind the barrier, a safety car is deployed. The FIA communicates that initial camera angles and the unclear position of Stroll’s stricken Aston meant a full safety car was deployed as the safest option with the information available.
20:33 – On lap 18 of 50, Alonso makes his sole visit to the pits to ditch his medium Pirellis for the hard compound tyre. The mechanics can only work on his car after the 5s penalty has been served. This leads to a total pitstop time of 8.56s.
20:33 – The Geneva-based Remote Operations Centre (akin to the Video Assistant Referee in football) observes the pitstop and initially concludes it is satisfied the 5s penalty has been correctly observed by the Aston crew.
20:35 – The FIA finally issues a bulletin to confirm the application of a 5s penalty for Alonso in response to him having been incorrectly positioned at the race start.
Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin F1 Team, provisionally 3rd position, receives the trophy
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Red Bull bags a 1-2, but who is third?
21:24 – On the final lap of the race, the stewards receive a report from race control to say that the ROC no longer believes the 5s pitstop penalty was served correctly. The stewards are duly asked to investigate.
21:25 – Perez wins the 2023 Saudi Arabian GP by 5.355s over Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen, who nicks a bonus point for fastest lap to wrest back the championship lead. Alonso crosses the line a further 15.373s behind but holds a 5.138s advantage over George Russell.
21:38 – The stewards officially communicate that they have noted an incident involving Alonso. This is swiftly upgraded, and he is placed under investigation for allegedly incorrectly serving a penalty.
21:45 – It is decided that Alonso is to be given a 10s post-race penalty for the failure to correctly observe the 5s pitstop delay. Russell is informed in the TV media pen that he has earned Mercedes a podium. Although, this decision isn’t officially communicated by the FIA for another three hours.
22:00 – The FIA issues a provisional race classification that has Russell in third, with the order now adjusted for the reprimand to show Alonso timed as being 4.862s behind the Mercedes driver.
22:40 – Alonso arrives in the print media pen and reveals his sympathy for the misled fans and Mercedes sponsors who have missed exposure from not being on the podium. He adds that “common sense” must make a comeback. He continues: “Today is not good for the fans when you have 35 laps to apply a penalty and to inform about the penalty, and you wait for after the podium. There is something really wrong in the system, but it's the way it is.”
Mike Krack, Team Principal, Aston Martin F1 Team
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Monday morning meetings
00:36 – The FIA eventually issues a document that confirms Alonso has been given a 10s post-race penalty for the failure to correctly observe the 5s pitstop delay. The justification reads: “The stewards were shown video evidence of how car 14 served the penalty by the race director and the sporting director. They stated that what was agreed at the [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.”
00:50 – The FIA summons an Aston team representative (sporting director Andy Stevenson) to the stewards for a right to review hearing of the 21:45 decision. This meeting is scheduled for 00:10, which means it started 40 minutes before the update was sent out.
01:02 – The stewards send their conclusions from the right to review hearing to the Aston Martin team manager. In support of the position for review, it is revealed that the minutes of the latest SAC meeting were called upon in addition to video evidence of seven different instances where cars were touched by the jack while serving a similar penalty to the one imposed on Alonso without being penalised.
The FIA reasoning read: "The clear submission by the team was that the alleged representation of an agreement between the FIA and the teams that touching the car in any way, including with a jack, would constitute “working” on the car was incorrect and therefore the basis of the steward’s decision was wrong."
The stewards therefore ruled (unlike with Red Bull using data collected by Alex Albon recreating the Silverstone 2021 collision between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton) that “significant and relevant new [information]” had come to light. With “no clear argument” to determine parties had agreed that a jack touching a car would constitute working on the car, the stewards reversed their decision.
01:15 – The FIA issues a final race classification with the penalty dropped and Alonso restored to third. In the updated championship standings, Aston moves ahead of Mercedes to second, while Alonso gains three points in the drivers’ table to hold third and Russell falls from fourth to sixth.
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, prepare to lead the field away at the start
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
An Australian addendum
01:18 – In the last relevant act, the FIA addresses the saga in public with an official communication. The governing body cites inconsistent previous examples as having been “exposed” by this specific set of circumstances to create the confusion. It adds that clarification will arrive come the Australian GP.
The FIA comment reads in full: "The request to the stewards for review of the initial decision was made in the last lap of the race. The subsequent decision of the stewards to hear and grant the right of review by the competitor was the result of new evidence regarding the definition of ‘working on the car’, for which there were conflicting precedents, and this has been exposed by this specific circumstance.
"This topic will therefore be addressed at the next Sporting Advisory Committee taking place on Thursday 23 March, and a clarification will be issued ahead of the 2023 FIA Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix. This open approach to the review and improvement of its processes is part of the FIA’s ongoing mission to regulate the sport in a fair and transparent way."
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