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The 2014 F1 crash Ferrari used to try to overturn Sainz's Australian GP penalty

Ferrari's unsuccessful attempt to get the penalty applied to Carlos Sainz at Formula 1's Australian GP rescinded drew on a past case.

Sergio Perez, Force India VJM07 Mercedes, crashes out after colliding with Felipe Massa, Williams FW36 Mercedes

Ferrari chose to highlight a rare example of a driving penalty that was challenged by a right of review process, ironically by the very team that Fernando Alonso – the "victim" of the Melbourne incident – currently drives for.

It stemmed from a spectacular crash on the final lap of the 2014 Canadian GP that saw Force India's Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa of Williams make contact while battling for position.

However, the historical reference failed to impress the Australian stewards, and Ferrari didn't get the chance to have its evidence adjudicated upon.

Sainz thus retains the five-second penalty he was given for causing a collision with Alonso at the final grid restart, much to his and Ferrari's disappointment.

The first step as in all review cases is for the team to demonstrate that it can provide a "significant and relevant new element" of evidence that was not available to the stewards at the time they took the decision.

Only if that requirement is met will the stewards then go on to consider the actual merits of the case and pronounce a verdict.

The last such right of review occurred as recently as Saudi Arabia, where Aston Martin challenged the penalty given to Alonso after the team was deemed to have touched his car with the rear jack during a first penalty given earlier in the race.

That review happened straight away on the Sunday night. The stewards accepted that there was new evidence in that they felt they had been misinformed about an agreement on jacks touching constituting as working on the car. Aston also provided seven video examples of previous penalty stops where no penalty was given.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Having moved onto the next stage, the stewards agreed that Aston was right, and Alonso's penalty was rescinded.

Right of review requests into penalties for on-track incidents are rare for the simple reason that they are generally regarded as being like a referee's decision in football, and thus hard to challenge in retrospect. And after all, what would constitute new evidence?

However, after the aforementioned Perez/Massa incident in Montreal in 2014, Force India believed that it had a case that was worth pursuing.

On that occasion, both drivers went for hospital check-ups after heavy impacts with the tyre wall at Turn 1, with Perez registering 32G and Massa 27G.

Thus neither driver was available to talk to the stewards after the chequered flag. However, after hearing from team representatives it was deemed that the Mexican was at fault as he appeared to jink to the left in the braking area before Massa ran into him. Perez was handed a five-place grid penalty for the next race in Austria.

Inevitably, the teams involved had opposing views on who was at fault. After the race, Rob Smedley of Williams stirred the pot when he complained that Perez had continued racing in a car that had brake problems after making references on the subject on the team radio.

However, that conversation related to a temporary glitch that was solved by a reset, and at the end of the race, Perez had no problems other than the fact he was on much older tyres than those around him.

Frustrated by the penalty and the suggestion of brake issues, Force India submitted a petition for a right of review.

The rules allow for such matters to be dealt with either by the same stewards, or by the stewards of the subsequent event. With Zoom meetings not yet commonplace in 2014, the case was handed over to the Austrian GP stewards, who scheduled a hearing for 9am on Friday.

Felipe Massa, Canadian Grand Prix

Felipe Massa, Canadian Grand Prix

The hearing duly took place before FP1. Crucially, and unlike the current Sainz case, the stewards accepted that there was indeed new evidence and that they could proceed to the next stage and examine it.

The essential reasoning was that Perez wasn't able to attend the post-race hearing in Montreal or brief his team about what happened as he had been carted off for a medical check-up. He was thus given a chance to present his case, which was backed up by telemetry from Force India.

However, in the end, the new evidence made no difference, and after considering it, the Austrian stewards decided to confirm the decision made by their Canadian counterparts.

They noted that Perez contended that "in defending his position he exercised his right... to use the whole track."

However, they added that "the defence of his position occurred in the braking area," and that the rules state that "any right to defend by using the whole track must occur prior to the braking area," and that thus Perez "was not entitled to defend his position in the manner that he did."

Perez thus lost for a second time. He duly took his five-place penalty and having started 15th he finished the Spielberg race in sixth.

Nine years later, the long-forgotten review request was referenced by Ferrari as it tried to build its case for having new evidence, which was essentially Sainz's take on what happened plus telemetry from the SF-23 and media quotes from other drivers.

In their decision, the Melbourne stewards made the link to Montreal 2014 quite clear: "The competitor says that there is precedent for these matters being considered new significant and relevant elements.

"It points to the stewards' decision dealing with the petition by Sahara Force India F1 Team seeking a right of review as a precedent for the proposition that the verbal testimony of a driver and relevant telemetry can amount to a significant and relevant new element."

However, the stewards were adamant that the two cases could not be compared, and so Perez/Massa could not be regarded as a precedent.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

They recalled that in 2014 the Montreal stewards wanted to investigate in person before making a call. The fact that the crash occurred on the last lap made it by definition a post-race decision, and since they had the chance to speak to the drivers and teams, they wanted to take it.

However, as noted earlier, the nature of the heavy shunt meant that Perez was undergoing medical checks.

Referencing the 2014 case, the Melbourne stewards said: "The factual circumstances of the stewards' decision under review in that matter are quite different to those here in this matter.

"The Sahara Force India F1 team matter involved a post-race hearing into an incident (in other words, it was not clear to the stewards who was at fault for the collision in question).

"The competitor's driver was not available to attend the hearing because he had been taken to hospital following the incident. The hearing proceeded without the ability for the competitor to speak with its driver to obtain a version.

"That happened after the hearing and the driver's version put a different light on the facts that had been put to the stewards."

And there was one crucial factor: "The distinguishing feature here is that our decision was made in-race. We deemed it unnecessary for us to hear from SAI or hear from any other driver to decide that he was wholly to blame for the collision."

Significantly in the Sainz judgement, the 2023 Australian GP stewards made it clear that officials often have to make important calls during a race without speaking to those involved: "A decision that we, and other stewards panels, routinely take and are encouraged to take, when the cause of the collision is clear and there is a need for time penalties to be issued as quickly as possible."

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari

Photo by: Ferrari

In the end, that's the key. Decisions made during the heat of battle might not always be accepted by everyone, but the FIA is trying to do the right thing and ensure that when possible penalties are taken within races, and not applied retrospectively.

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This time it was obviously difficult for Ferrari and Sainz to accept. However, the alternative path will be for every such driving decision to be routinely challenged by teams who claim that their driver's viewpoint represents new evidence – and that could potentially lead to chaos, with race results regularly hanging in limbo on Sunday evenings.

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