You cannot, in any motor racing series, react to a rival late on a straight when they are moving out of your slipstream to make an overtake. Never.
Lance Stroll made a late jink to the left on Lap 23 of the United States Grand Prix against Fernando Alonso, sending the Alpine driver into the air before he thankfully touched back down onto the ground before going over the barrier.
Stroll received a three-grid place penalty for this weekend’s Mexico GP with the FIA stating “it was clear to us that the driver of Car 18 made a late move in reacting to the overtake attempt by the driver of Car 14 by moving to the left”.
Alonso and Stroll see eye to eye
Stroll believes he gave Alonso enough room and was quick to defend his manoeuvre.
“Fernando got a good run out of [Turn] 11,” Stroll told Sky Sports. “I went to defend. There was a difference in speed, he was quite a bit quicker than me.
“It was a kind of misjudgement I think on both ends. I left him room on the left, he was very close, big difference in speed.
“Maybe I moved a bit late so I think it was one of those racing incidents where it all went wrong at the same time. We’re both racing drivers, these things happen in racing.”
Uncharacteristically, Alonso was very calm on the team radio and post-race as he also labelled the collision as a racing incident.
“Honestly, when you see the thing on the TV, I think it’s a racing incident to be honest,” Alonso told the BBC.
“We move basically at the same time to the left, and that was the trigger of everything. So I think it was a very unfortunate moment for everyone.
“I think we saw the incident with the same eyes [as Stroll]. Our sporting directors, they see it with completely different eyes!”
Perhaps the pair being teammates at Aston Martin for next year was a factor in the lack of frustration.
Alonso was also speaking before his extraordinarily seventh place was taken away from him, due to the stewards awarding a 30-second time penalty to the two-time world champion, following a protest from Haas that he drove with an unsafe car after the accident.
Stroll should be banned
Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve has called for Stroll to be suspended for one race and he’s absolutely spot on.
One day there will be serious consequences for an accident like we had between Stroll and Alonso on Sunday.
Had the closing speed been greater, it’s possible Alonso could have gone over the catch fencing which would have been utterly terrifying.
The last Formula 1 driver to be suspended for a race was Romain Grosjean for his defence on Lewis Hamilton at the 2012 Belgian GP which led to a multi-car first corner collision. This was a lot worse.
Precedents are vital in any sport and the stewards should have gone hard on Stroll with a race ban to tell the rest of the grid, you cannot react to an attacking drivers’s move when they are right on your tail at 200mph.
A recent history of late reaction moves
In 2016, the FIA introduced a regulation which was nicknamed the “Max Verstappen rule” which was made to prohibit moving in the braking zone when in a battle.
Verstappen came under scrutiny at the 2016 Hungarian and Japanese GP for moving in the braking zone when defending against Kimi Raikkonen and Hamilton.
This rule was scrapped though ahead of the 2017 F1 season, with a regulation which hasn’t changed five years on which says: “At no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person.”
The Stroll incident has nothing to do with this though and is instead a throwback to Verstappen‘s actions at the 2016 Belgian GP.
Verstappen reacted to Raikkonen on the Kemmel Straight to the anger of the Finn but got away with it which was not right at the time.
Other drivers have also got away since including Kevin Magnussen on Charles Leclerc at the 2018 Japanese GP, Daniel Ricciardo against Valtteri Bottas at the 2019 Canadian GP and Leclerc himself against Verstappen in that epic battle versus the Dutchman at Silverstone in the same year.
Romain Grosjean received a formal warning from the stewards for his defence against Carlos Sainz at the 70th Anniversary GP at Silverstone in 2020, a race where he also arguably went over the limit when trying to hold Ricciardo at bay.
The stewards and the FIA need to clampdown on these moves because it’s not racing, it’s downright dangerous and shows a lack of respect for your rivals. Once a car goes in the air, anything can happen.
This is very different to the “breaking the tow” moves which we have seen throughout this season, particularly between Verstappen and Leclerc in their battles at the start of 2022.
If there is a big gap between the drivers, it’s fine to move wherever you want. But moving when another driver is centimetres from your gearbox and is about to get alongside. That’s not right.
Why wait for a driver, a marshal or a fan to get injured from an incident like this when you can stop it now?