Wolff compares Alonso podium farce with Abu Dhabi debacle

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has said that the confusion over Fernando Alonso’s penalty in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix had been reminiscent of the officiating debacle at the end of the final race of 2021 at Abu Dhabi.

Alonso finished last week’s race in third place but was then handed a ten second post-race penalty for failing to serve an earlier penalty for lining up incorrectly on the grid in Jeddah.

That dropped Alonso to fourth place, but Aston Martin filed an appeal which saw the penalty overturned and the Spaniard reinstated to third place instead of Mercedes driver George Russell, who had briefly held the trophy in the interim.

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The confusion and uncertainty about what was going on was not a good look for Formula 1, with the FIA having recently revamped race control again to try and iron out these sorts of embarrassing missteps.

For Wolff, it brought flashbacks to the traumatic night in 2021 when race control’s controversial handling of a late safety car restart in Abu Dhabi cost Lewis Hamilton his eighth world championship title.

A subsequent investigation led to the removal of then-race director Michael Masi and an overhaul of how the officiating worked, but the Abu Dhabi result remained unaffected with Max Verstappen keeping his crown.

One change that was brought in for this season was stricter rules about how cars line up on the grid. Esteban Ocon fell foul of this in Bahrain, and in Jeddah it was Alonso who was deemed to be too far outside his allotted position.

That earned Alonso a five second penalty which he served when he made his first pit stop under a safety car. But stewards judged this was void as a crew member touched the back of the AMR23 during the five seconds, leading to the harsher post-race sanction.

Wolff said this was just the latest catalogue of errors made by race control. “First of all, the penalty was super harsh,” he told Channel 4 television’s F1 coverage.

“From the pure driving performance, Fernando and Aston Martin deserved to be on the podium,” he insisted. “We have to look at those regulations and see is there is anything we can tweak, because it didn’t affect his race.

“I’d rather have the FIA come to the right decisions than be too quick and obviously fall into something that’s wrong,” he continued.

“We’ve been victims of that in 2021 where everything was down to the entertainment for a quick decision, and it robbed the greatest driver of the championships.

“So in that respect, I think I’d rather not go to the podium and have the correct result afterwards.”

Even though he would have benefitted from the subsequent ten second penalty handed to Alonso, right from the start Russell has been just as outspoken about it being the wrong call by race control.

“I’m not too sure it’s just making it a little bit, I guess, frustrating for everybody,” Russell explained. “There’s a lot of conversations that were going on this weekend about which lines you could touch, which lines you couldn’t touch.

“We saw a number of cars get laps deleted for touching a bit of the red paint, ending their lap. I just thought that was a little bit senseless, really, so I think we all need to come together and just find a common centre ground.

“It’s incredibly difficult,” he replied when asked how hard it was to see the grid markings from inside the cockpit. “We’re sat so low and to put some perspective, we only see probably the top four or five inches of the tyre.

“I can’t even see the yellow line, let alone the white lines determining your lateral position. It’s really, really tough so that’s why I think in this regard we need to show a little bit more common sense.”

His view was supported by Red Bull pair Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen who had finished the race comfortably in first and second well ahead of Alonso and Russell.

“The visibility is just really poor in the car, that is I think, probably the main issue where you end up sometimes not fully, correctly in your box,” noted Verstappen.

“I haven’t seen how much he was out of his box. It is painful when it happens but it’s a bit the same with the white line with track limits. Sometimes you argue: did you gain anything going wide or not, going outside of it?

“I think at one point we do need a rule. It looks really silly if people start to take advantage of going really left and right but yeah, I didn’t know what we can do better.”

“It’s really difficult just to see where you’ve stopped,” concurred Perez. “I think, in my opinion I just overdid it and I stopped too early, but you have no idea when you are in the car.

“You don’t know if you went too far or from behind or too far forward,” he added. “We need better visibility to be able to come up with a better idea than we currently have it.

“It’s good that there is a rule in place, but at the same time sometimes it’s like luck, to be honest, where you position yourself.”

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