Will Alonso get to race in Valencia? (Poll)

Alonso did just one lap at Valencia last year - this time it could be even less

Alonso did just one lap at Valencia last year - this time it could be even less

Renault goes before the World Motor Sports Council today to argue against its exclusion from the European Grand Prix.

The stewards at the Hungarian Grand Prix banned them from this weekend’s race after the team knowingly allowed Fernando Alonso to leave the pits with a loose wheel during the race.

Should Renault be allowed to race at Valencia?

  • Yes (71%)
  • No (25%)
  • No opinion (4%)

Total Voters: 1,183

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The crime

The stewards claimed Renault’s actions broke two clauses of the FIA Formula 1 Sporting Regulations:

3.2 Competitors must ensure that their cars comply with the conditions of eligibility and safety throughout practice and the race

23.1.i) It is the responsibility of the competitor to release his car after a pit stop only when it is safe to do so.

Although it is hard to argue Renault did not infringe those rules, it is clear the stewards have chosen to take a tougher line on teams that allow their cars to race with loose parts. It’s not hard to imagine why, given the terrible fate that befell Henry Surtees accident recently, and Felipe Massa’s accident in practice.

There is some similarity with the French Grand Prix last year, when Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was observed to have a loose exhaust pipe for several laps, which eventually fell off. It was within Ferrari and race control’s power to summon the car into the pits for attention, but neither party seized the initiative.

Meanwhile Massa was catching his team mate, and the words uttered by ITV commentator James Allen at the time ram home the comparisons between these two incidents:

Martin Brundle: There’s something hanging off – the exhaust is broken. I’ve been trying to look at it for a couple of laps, I thought I saw something flailing. I think it’s the right bank exhaust that’s hanging off…
James Allen: …which Massa might be receiving in the face before too long. [...]

Brundle: It’s not out of the question they could blank-and-orange flag that car because bits of exhaust pipe dangling in the breeze is quite dangerous for the cars following. It’s not out of the question the stewards may pull that Ferrari in so they can tear that off.

Raikkonen covered at least two laps with the exhaust hanging off the back of the car. Although it’s not entirely comparable to Alonso’s penalty, as Raikkonen was not sent out of the pits with the damage, it’s hard to imagine how the stewards could allow a repeat of the Raikkonen incident without being accused of hypocrisy.

The punishment

Although it’s hard to argue against whether Renault have broken the rules, given the apparent change in how strictly these particularly rules are bring interpreted, it seems incredibly harsh to punish them so severely.

(That said, it’s difficult to know what kind of advice the teams and drivers are given about this sort of thing behind closed doors. There is always a suspicion about how readily the governing body ‘reinterprets’ its own advice – such as the infamous ‘clarification’ about overtaking published in the wake of Lewis Hamilton’s penalty at Spa last year.)

Banning a team from an entire race is a very serious penalty usually reserved for those deemed to have deliberately broken the rules – such as BAR’s two-race ban in 2005.

The fact that Alonso may be denied a chance to race in front of his home crowd shouldn’t have an influence on the verdict. But it probably will – Michael Schumacher’s two-race suspension in 1994 was itself suspended, allowing him to compete in his home race.

This could take the form of a deferred penalty, or changing the penalty into a large fine. The circuit’s representatives have already suggested this could happen.

The WMSC may rule that the driver should not be punished for what was the team’s mistake – a line of argument that Alonso (and Hamilton) benefited from in 2007′s ‘spygate’ saga. Nor would it be the first time Renault was found guilty but not penalised.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some workaround is achieved to allow Alonso to compete at Valencia.

But these decisions about interpretations of the rules have in the past proved completely unpredictable and lacking in consistency. It reminds me of South Park’s view of how the US government has reacted to the economic crisis:

So which square do you think the headless chicken will land on? Three-race ban? Ten-point bonus? Bail-out?

The WMSC decision is expected on Tuesday.

Read more: Renault banned from European Grand Prix following Alonso?s wheel loss

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61 comments on Will Alonso get to race in Valencia? (Poll)

  1. S Hughes said on 17th August 2009, 9:23

    If it was McLaren and Hamilton who were suspended, their appeal wouldn’t have a cat in Hell’s chance of succeeding, but as it isn’t them, the appeal will likely be successful, so I have confidence that Alonso will be racing in Valencia. There isn’t the same animosity and prejudice against any team as there is against Lewis and McLaren.

    • Nirupam said on 17th August 2009, 9:40

      Lewis did go unpunished earlier. Hope you have not forgot Japanese Grand Prix 2007 so early!

      • most frustrating race to watch ever! webber should have won that darn it.

        • Ned Flanders said on 17th August 2009, 10:44

          I don’t actually think Webber would have won that race. Mclaren were way quicker than Red Bull that day, even in the wet, and Hamilton isn’t the sort of driver who plays the percentage game by letting quicker drivers through anyway.

          Obviously we’ll never know, and it doesn’t really matter anymore since Webber has finally won a race

          • Ned, did you see the race? Webber was quicker than Lewis. The race was Webbers for the taking.

  2. slrmm said on 17th August 2009, 9:25

    I don’t think deliberatly broke the rules. McLaren did and they have yet to serve there punishment. Also at Magny-Cours last year Raikkonen pitted with his exhaust pipe hanging off and the pit crew didn’t remove it.

  3. I find it difficult to believe that Renault “knowingly” released the car with a loose wheel. The lollipop man might have released Fernando too early because he wasn’t paying attention, but that’s an entirely different matter and one that we have seen pass many times before without penalty. Furthermore, once the car was released there was nothing Renault could have done, you can’t reverse in the pit lane (Mansell was disqualified on one occasion for this). Many drivers in the past have completed a lap with a loose wheel (Heidfeld did so at one race in 2007), so it was just unlucky for Alonso that the wheel came off.

    In short, the penalty is harsh and I would expect the ban to be suspended.

    • Tiomkin said on 17th August 2009, 10:59

      Furthermore, once the car was released there was nothing Renault could have done, you can’t reverse in the pit lane

      There is this thing called a radio, it works at the speed of light. All cars have it. He could have parked it on orders from the pit or reduced speed to a crawl to limp home.

    • Patrickl said on 17th August 2009, 11:49

      Yeah, it’s difficult to believe they would send the car out knowing that the wheel was loose, but that’s because it’s an inaccurate summary.

      They knowingly sent the car out without the wheel nut RETAINER installed.

      If you look at the replay of the pit stop the mechanic who just installed the wheel nut is signalling that he is done. He installed the wheel nut so the car is technically good to go. He sits with his hand UP while someone else is still installing the fairing and/or wheel nut retainer.

      They should not signal that they are ready before the wheel nut retainer is installed. Just installing the wheel nut itself is not enough.

      The whole verdict describes a punishment for Renault’s lack of regard for safety. Their procedures are faulty and lack the proper priority for safty.

  4. Bartholomew said on 17th August 2009, 9:40

    Uncle Flav has breakfast with Bernie regularly. He´ll get him to say yes.

  5. Victor said on 17th August 2009, 11:07

    There’s a difference between “should” and “will”, that’s the problem. And I keep thinking about the precedent set by extending Eddie Irvine’s one-race ban in 1994. :|

  6. they should let them race but do a punishment like a extra few seconds in the pits for a scrutineer to go around and check.

  7. Patrickl said on 17th August 2009, 11:55

    BTW here is a youtube clip of a replay of the pit stop. Look at the mechanic sitting with his hand up while the wheel obviously is NOT ready.

  8. UnicornF1 said on 17th August 2009, 12:50

    if they race, they should start from the back of the grid and renault should lose some championship points…

  9. If i recall Renault is run by ‘the leader of the loonies..’ as Max Mosley recently described him. I can’t believe that the FIA, being completely impartial and not in any way the personal fiefdom of MM, would be using this as some sort of retribution for the FOTA / resignation ultimatum.. that would be grossly unprofessional and frankly just childish.. So let’s see how much influence MM still wields or whether ‘his powers are fading..’

  10. I think Renault should be allowed to race.

    We have seen cars released early from the pits many times before, and a few of those included where the wheel was not attached properly. None of these previous incidents have incurred a race ban.

    If the argument is that because of the two accidents in the week leading up to the race the stewards decided it merited a harsh penalty then they should have at least warned the teams before the race that the rules had changed, and as we were promised more transparency regarding the stewards decisions before the season it should have been made public as well.

    I don’t think anyone would try to argue that Renault released Alonso with the wheel not attached on purpose as they had a good chance of a podium, it was essentially a mistake by one of the mechanics, the only thing Renault could do when they found out would be order Alonso to pull off the track immediately and retire, which unless the teams had been told the rules had changed they wouldn’t do.

    Regarding the timing of the appeal does anyone else think the FIA should have held it earlier? To have it the week before the race means Renault have to send the cars and equipment to Valencia in case they win, if it had been a one or even a two week gap between Hungary and Valencia I could understand but it was the F1 summer break.

    I think the most likely outcome is a suspended race ban, a fine or points deduction for Renault, and I think the appeal will be influenced by the fact it is Alonso’s home race.

    If the race ban is upheld or replaced with another relatively harsh punishment than I would have a suspicion it was Mosley getting revenge on Briatore and Renault.

    • The FIA was in Holydays…

    • Patrickl said on 17th August 2009, 14:58

      In case of the other accidents that happened before, either the lollipopman made a mistake or the mechanic made a mistake or there was a mechanical mailfunction.

      In this case Renault knowingly sent out Alonso without the wheel nut retainer attached.

      A mistake or mailfunction is not the same as knowingly doing something wrong.

  11. If the FIA can’t find a way to reinforce the seriousness of the penalty WITHOUT impacting the fans than they are truly worthless. As pointed out herein, there are many options available for modifying the penalty without keeping Alonso out of the car this weekend.

    Do the right thing, let the Spanish fans see their guy race at home.

  12. sato113 said on 17th August 2009, 15:59

    not alonso’s fault. alonso shouldn’t be affected by the punishment. simple.

  13. Aaron Shearer said on 17th August 2009, 16:48

    Renaults now won their appeal, now all we need to know is who will be racing in the 2nd Renault.

    • Austin said on 17th August 2009, 16:53

      Looks like Renault got off lightly.
      “The court decided to uphold Renault’s appeal against the one-race ban imposed by the race stewards and instead imposed a $50,000 fine.” LINK

      • Patrickl said on 17th August 2009, 17:10

        Bizarre. How can you claim there was no “conscious wrongdoing” when the responsible mechanic signals the wheel is ready while another mechanic (right infront of him!) is still working on the wheel?

        This change is like a baseball bat to the face of the stewards. Hopefully finally will learn a lesson from that then. I wonder how they are going to spin this.

        • Austin said on 17th August 2009, 17:38

          The punishment didn’t fit the crime, its as simple as that. A miscarriage of justice if you will. The poll that Keith ran confirms this appeal decision. So F1 Fanatic reader’s make better stewards? :-)

          • Patrickl said on 17th August 2009, 18:04

            Yeah the punishment did seem a quite harsh. Although this one seems overly lenient.

            I guess we’ll get more details on the verdict later.

            To be honest I’d say even the headless chicken or “monkeys throwing darts” would be better at it than the present system of stewards. More consistent too probably ;)

    • Yep, common sense won in the end! :)

      Going with current F1 trends, I think Damon Hill will be the 2nd driver! :|

  14. Interesting, to say the least, but at least certain fans who’ve already bought their tickets should be happy with this.

  15. I thought the ban too harsh and this too lenient. What do I think would be appropriate? Good question. Tell me how much sponsor money Renault would have forfeit if they didn’t race. I think that’s the upper limit, the actual amount needed to be enough to convince them, and all other teams, that the make sure not to release a car with a loose wheel nut, and if they accidentally do, to radio the driver and have him either stop or proceed at a VERY slow speed back to the pits. Back to numbers, I think it should be between $200,000 and $500,000.

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