Red Bull and Aston Martin’s Alonso Repeat in Saudi Arabia
The STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix took place on the streets of Jeddah this past weekend and in typical Formula 1 fashion; no race can end without a little bit of controversy. Oracle Redbull Racing drivers Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez and Max Verstappen finished with the second Redbull 1-2 finish on the year and Aston Martin driver, and Formula 1 legend, Fernando Alonso showed he still has plenty in the tank racing at the top level at the age of 41 finishing in third. However, there was some controversy regarding Alonso’s third place finish. Alonso was handed a 5 second penalty at the start of the race for being slightly out of grid position lining up just to the left of the box. An early yellow flag followed by a safety car allowed Alonso to serve his time penalty while losing minimal time on track. The issue here is that Alonso was penalized after the race because the pit crew had the rear car jack lined up and touching the No. 14 Aston Martin while serving the penalty. The FIA guidelines state that a car cannot be worked on while serving time penalties. There is no doubt that the team car jack was touching the car during the 5 seconds served. At this point it was unclear whether this constituted “working” on the car or if it is a mere gray area in the pit stop penalty rules. F1.com released the following statement
After the race, and 35 laps after the incident, the FIA stewards issued a 10 second time penalty for the pit crew working on the car while serving a penalty. Just a few hours later the stewards came back with a reversal stating the following, “There was no clear agreement, as was suggested to the Stewards previously, that could be relied upon to determine that parties had agreed that a jack touching a car would amount to working on the car… In the circumstances, we considered that our original decision to impose a penalty on Car 14 needed to be reversed and we did so accordingly.”
After the race Alonso responded to the news regarding the penalty in an interview with Sky Sports F1 stating, “It doesn’t hurt much, to be honest. I was on the podium, I did the pictures, I took the trophy, I celebrated with the champagne. Now I have apparently three points less; I don’t have 15, I have 12.” Aston Martin racing wasted no time to release this tweet regarding the official P3 finish.
The race in Jeddah was otherwise uneventful compared to the drama and controversy of previous years since the circuit has been added to the Formula 1 calendar in 2021. However, speculation is flying all over the web regarding tension in the Oracle Redbull Racing camp. Sergio Perez led the majority of the race. After starting from pole and have a quick change of positions with Fernando Alonso prior to the opening of the pit window. Checo checked out at the front after an early safety car caused by Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll suffering a mechanical failure.
Towards the end of the race Checo’s racing engineer stated that he needs to run “1m:32.6s+ 4” on the team radio. It seemed that Checo assumed this meant to slow down pace and run 1:33.00 lap times until the end of the race. Teammate Max Verstappen had clawed his way from P15 at the start to P2 and was setting 1m:32.6s lap times in the closing lap; reducing the delta to Checo and ignoring team orders regarding reducing pace to ensure both cares finished in a 1-2. Checo was confused on why his team engineer was telling him to set lap times slower than Verstappen despite dominating the race and holding the fastest lap on lap 49/50 which would have secured Checo one additional championship point for the win.
However, on the final lap Verstappen found pace and was able to snatch the fastest lap away from Perez. Whether this was a direct dismissal of team order is unclear. However, what is clear is that in the post race cool down room, Perez did not appear to be thrilled that he lost the fastest lap point. Whether this adds fuel to the rivalry between the Redbull drivers is yet to be known. What is know is that Perez has been the ultimate team player in Verstappen’s key wins to secure 2 world championships. Perez also needed Max’s help toward the end of the 2022 season. Verstappen had already secured the world title and refused to give back a place that would have helped Checo in the drivers points standings. Maybe Perez is starting to think now is the time for him to be the front runner. We will follow this story as it develops in the coming races.