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
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.
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.