Why Fernando Alonso’s Australian GP penalty is simply wrong

Fernando Alonso and George Russell's incident has been a major talking point after the Australian GP

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Fernando Alonso was given a 20-second time penalty and three penalty points for potentially dangerous driving against George Russell at the 2024 Australian Grand Prix.

The incident has caused huge controversy and Alonso has continued to hit back at the stewards’ decision which demoted him from sixth to eighth.

Russell had not stated he thought Alonso brake tested him on the run to Turn 6, but he described the Aston Martin driver’s action as “suddenly he came towards me extremely quick”.

The facts about Alonso-Russell incident

The stewards determined that they did not have sufficient evidence to say Alonso intended to cause Russell problems or that the Spaniard was trying to get a better exit onto the curved straight before Turn 10.

They said Alonso did “choose to do something, with whatever intent, that was extraordinary, i.e lifting, braking, downshifting and all the other elements of the manoeuvre over 100m earlier than previously”.

It’s that aspect of the stewards’ lengthy statement which resulted in the penalty as it breaks the regulation which states “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”.

Russell, who had been chasing Alonso for several laps, crashed out at Turn 6 and came back onto the middle of the track, screaming on the radio for a red flag. The stewards did not say that Alonso‘s actions directly led to Russell‘s accident.

Alonso surprised as penalty

Immediately after the penalty, Aston Martin released their usual post-race press release where Alonso reiterated he was focusing on getting as good an exit as possible.

“That’s what any racing driver would do, and I didn’t feel it was dangerous,” said Alonso. “It’s disappointing to get a penalty from the stewards for what was hard but fair racing.”

He didn’t stop there though as the two-time world champion took to Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter, and listed examples of previous battles where differing lines and speeds were taken to defend and attack.

“A bit surprised by a penalty at the end of the race regarding how we should approach the corners or how we should drive the race cars,” explained Alonso. “At no point do we want to do anything wrong at these speeds.

“I believe that without gravel on that corner, on any other corner in the world we will never be even investigated. In F1, with over 20 years of experience, with epic duels like Imola 2005/2006 / Brazil 2023, changing racing lines, sacrificing entry speed to have good exits from corners is part of the art of motorsport.

“We never drive at 100 percent every race lap and every corner, we save fuel, tyres, brakes, so being responsible for not making every lap the same is a bit surprising.”

Fernando Alonso during 2024 Australian GP | Aston Martin F1 Team
Fernando Alonso during 2024 Australian GP | Aston Martin F1 Team

Russell admits surprise at Alonso slowing down

Russell was one of the last drivers to pit for a second time and closed down his three-second deficit to Alonso with his fresher rubber.

He was all over the back of Alonso with five laps to go but just couldn’t find a way past as Mercedes‘ lack of straight line speed was visible to see once again.

Coincidentally, Carlos Sainz has been the winner of the last two non-Red Bull victories and both times Russell has dramatically crashed out near the end of the race.

First, at the 2023 Singapore GP when chasing Lando Norris and Sainz for the win and now in the fight for sixth with Alonso in Melbourne.

“My take is I’ve gone off and that’s on me,” Russell told Sky Sports F1. “I was half a second behind Fernando 100m before the corner then suddenly he came towards me extremely quick and I was right on his gearbox. I don’t know if he had a problem or not.

“It’s clear he braked 100m before the corner and was back on the throttle again and took the corner normally. We’ve already seen the data of that.

“I was right behind him for many, many laps. I was half a second behind him before the corner. Then, suddenly he slowed up dramatically and got back on the power. I wasn’t expecting it and he caught me by surprise.”

George Russell's Mercedes after crash at 2024 Australian GP | F1
George Russell’s Mercedes after crash at 2024 Australian GP | F1

Alonso did nothing wrong

So now we know what everyone’s had to say and it begs the question, are the stewards now going to investigate every instance when a driver slows down more than normal before a corner?

Everyone lauded Sergio Perez‘s brilliant defence against Lewis Hamilton at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP when the Red Bull driver slowed right down in various places.

What about the DRS games we have seen over the years such as Alonso versus Hamilton at the 2013 Canadian GP, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc at the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP to give two examples? This is part of racing. Then you’ve got drivers going slowly in Singapore or Monaco to save tyres and nobody says that’s unsportsmanlike.

Alonso himself is a genius when it comes to defensive driving as he pointed out with the Imola 2005 example when he kept a rapid Michael Schumacher behind and did the same a year later at the Turkish GP. Both times he parked the car on the apex at times and tried to give his rival as much dirty air as possible. That’s what he attempted, successfully, against Russell at Albert Park.

Russell was not exactly right on Alonso‘s tail approaching Turn 6 and had plenty of time to react. Unless you brake in the middle of a straight, it’s nearly always up to the driver behind to adapt to the circumstances of a battle.

It’s only because Russell crashed that this incident was investigated. Russell even admitted himself that he lost the car by himself, thanks to the dirty air from Alonso‘s car.

Alonso has every right to be annoyed because he’s been penalised for smart driving. It’s not like he stood hard on the brakes and came to a halt. Penalise this move from Alonso and the stewards should be handing out penalties left, right and centre on most race weekends.

John Smith
John Smithhttps://total-motorsport.com
Editor at Total-Motorsport.com and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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