The governing body for Formula 1 has been far from perfect from day one. After all, show me a sporting association that's never made a bad call. Lately, however, it appears the FIA enjoys getting tangled in controversial decisions. Sunday's post-race drama surrounding Fernando Alonso is another example of that, with the Spaniard having his third-place finish for the Saudi Arabian F1 Grand Prix taken away, only for it to be reinstated a couple of hours later.
It all started before Aston Martin's star driver even turned a single lap. A few minutes into the competition, race control announced Alonso had failed to properly align his car on the starting grid. A review of the footage showed Alonso's car sitting slightly to the left of the bracket, though it didn't actually gain any forward advantage. It's likely that the stewards would've brushed this off, but after penalizing Ocon for a similar infringement in Bahrain, their hands were tied.
That particular hiccup didn't initially cost Alonso his third place, but it set off the chain reaction that ultimately did—temporarily. It wasn't until his teammate Lance Stroll's Aston came to a halt and the safety car was deployed, that the team decided to bring Alonso into the pits to serve his penalty and get new tires. That's where things went a bit sideways, again.
Both Aston and Alonso were likely elated over their impeccable timing, as serving the penalty under the safety car meant they lost virtually no time or position to leader Sergio Perez. Alonso carried on until the end of the race, finishing several seconds adrift of the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Perez, but with a comfortable gap to the Mercedes of George Russell in fourth.
With just a few laps to go, however, the team came on Alonso's radio and asked him to push for a bigger gap to Russell, "just in case" they heard back from race control after the race. It turns out Aston was worried that its earlier, cheap pit stop would be scrutinized. As it turns out, Aston was right.
Despite Alonso going up on the stage to spray champagne and celebrate his 100th podium in his long and prosperous F1 career, the FIA overturned his classification shortly after the race and issued the two-time world champ an additional 10-second penalty. This ultimately promoted Russell to third place, with social media posts showing the young Brit holding the palm tree-themed trophy shortly thereafter. (Also, kudos to Russell for being a class act, sharing that Alonso's penalty was harsh and he ultimately deserved the hard-fought third place via Instagram.)
The FIA backed its decision to further penalize Alonso claiming that the rear jack touched the car before he had the chance to fulfill his initial 5-second penalty for lining up incorrectly on the grid. It's worth noting that these penalties can be served in different ways depending on when they're issued. If served via pit stop, the crew cannot touch the car for five full seconds.
Interestingly enough, there was some chatter on social media about Alonso having his third place reinstated just one hour after it was taken away. Specifically, the driver's good friend and former boss, Flavio Briatore posted on Instagram that the FIA had given him back the position. The official announcement didn't come for another hour or so.
In their appeal, Aston submitted evidence to the FIA of multiple other instances where the rear jack touched the car before the penalty was served, yet the driver was not penalized. Furthermore, Aston dug up a previous, alleged clarification between the teams and the FIA that a jack making contact with the car would not constitute "working" on the car. As a result, the FIA backtracked and reinstated Alonso's position.
That all sounds mighty fishy to me. That's a very specific, alleged agreement between the FIA and teams that somehow emerged after it was somehow overlooked by the stewards. While I believe that Alonso earned his third-place finish and should keep it, I have a hard time believing the arguments that led to taking it away from him in the first place, and even less the argument that gave it back to him.
In the end, much like the Abu Dhabi 2021 investigation, the Red Bull overspending case, and other situations that have been mostly handled behind closed doors, the FIA's flawed systems and procedures will continue to affect the sport's credibility.
Alonso's minuscule misalignment didn't give him an edge over his competitors once the lights went out, let alone an advantage over the full race distance. It shouldn't have been a penalty, but it was. And while serving that penalty, it triggered another penalty, and that penalty was then enforced, then walked back in a somewhat shady way.
In the end, Alonso, at 41 years old, got to step on the podium for the 100th time, and that's how it'll be recorded in the books. At least for now.
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