Did Vettel deserve penalty for Alonso move?

2012 Italian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Monza, 2012Sebastian Vettel received a drive-through penalty during the Italian Grand Prix after Fernando Alonso was forced onto the grass at Curva Grande.

The move was similar to that which took place between Vettel and Alonso at the track last year – though on that occasion it was Alonso who was defending and Vettel who ended up on the grass.

Alonso did not receive a penalty on that occasion, but Vettel did this time. Did the stewards get the call right?


After the incident in today’s race the stewards ruled that “[while] defending his position [Vettel] forced [Alonso] off the track even though [Alonso] had a significant portion of his car alongside into turn three.”

This refers back to the July rules clarification which said: “Any driver defending his position on a straight and before any braking area, may use the full width of the track during his first move provided no significant portion of the car attempting to pass is alongside his.”

Looking at the replay of the incident it is clear Alonso did have a significant portion of his car (defined as any part of his front wing alongside the rear wheels of Vettel’s car) alongside, but Vettel continued to squeeze him.


While Vettel’s penalty cannot be disputed on the grounds that he pushed Alonso off the track, it is debatable whether he was defending his position “on a straight” as per the rules clarification.

The stewards themselves referred to the scene of the incident as “turn three”, also called “Curva Grande” – i.e., a curve. Vettel was following the racing line by moving to the outside of the track at the point where Alonso was forced off.

We have seen many times in the past that the leading driver is allowed to force a driver off in a corner even if that driver has a significant part of their car alongside.

I say

Much has been made of the similarities between this move and the one involving the same two drivers – albeit with roles reversed – in last year’s race. But I don’t believe those two incidents compare, for two reasons.

First, in the 2011 incident Alonso did leave Vettel a car’s width. Vettel ended up on the grass anyway.

Second, that incident came before the recent clarification on defensive driving which the stewards are clearly referring to in their statement.

Had Vettel made this move on the straight heading into the Rettifilio or a similar location, this would be an open-and-shut penalty. But seemingly the stewards consider ‘straights’ to include ‘curves which are normally taken flat-out’ – or at least this one.

Perhaps drivers are told in pre-race briefings which areas of tracks like this are considered ‘straights’. Or perhaps it is taken for granted that any section of track taken flat-out is a ‘straight’, regardless of whether it is straight or not.

Assuming that is not the case, I think Vettel was hard done by here. Maybe it’s for the best that, thanks to his alternator failure, his penalty was ultimately inconsequential.

You say

Should Vettel have been penalised for the incident with Alonso? Cast your vote and have your say in the comments:

Should Vettel have had a penalty for putting Alonso wide at Curva Grande?

  • Yes (54%)
  • No (41%)
  • No opinion (5%)

Total Voters: 764

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223 comments on Did Vettel deserve penalty for Alonso move?

  1. Hotbottoms (@hotbottoms) said on 9th September 2012, 17:41

    I don’t think keeping your racing line may be interpreted as “forcing a driver off track”. Vettel didn’t make any kind of defensive move, he had the same racing line on every lap of the race.

    • So now he is the owner of that racing line ? even when there’s another car in that racing line takin over him? nonsense

      • Hotbottoms (@hotbottoms) said on 9th September 2012, 17:55

        The situation started when Alonso dived into a gap that didn’t exist, since it was evident that Vettel would take the same racing line

        A couple of years ago the problem was that overtaking attempts easily led to a penalty. But now the defending driver gets a penalty, if he doesn’t actively look into his mirrors in order to let the overtaker to take the better line so that he can complete the pass easily.

        • How could he dive in a gap that didn’t exist , Magic Alonso ajajaja

        • icemangrins (@icemangrins) said on 9th September 2012, 18:14

          + 1… I guess this also articulates last years incident between Michael and Lewis at the same track; when Lewis dived into a portion of a track where an overtaking is never possible and at the race speed, it seemed like Michael pushed Lewis off the track and in reality, it was not the case.

        • John H (@john-h) said on 9th September 2012, 19:51

          The idea is to defend the piece of track to deny Alonso getting alongside in the first place, not moving over once he is alongside and wheels are interlocked.

          It’s a massive difference that seems to be overlooked by some of the comments on here.

          • John H (@john-h) said on 9th September 2012, 19:54

            Just to add to this, all this ‘racing line’ is really frustrating. What is the ‘racing line’? What about in a wet race where there are many ‘racing lines’.

            Too much reliance on terms that have no solid meaning and can differ depending on context. At the end of the day, Vettel should have allowed a car’s width once Alonso was alongside, so as not to cause an accident.

            In my opinon, Button did the same to Hamilton at Montreal and got away with it, but obviously spray was more of a factor.

          • Patrickl (@patrickl) said on 9th September 2012, 23:11

            In the case of Montreal they looked at Button’s (and other drivers) “line” from the GPS telemetry. Because it was wet the drivers moved off the dry-racing line and thereby the new line they drove became the de-facto “racing line”.

            So yeah it’s a flexible thing, but in the end it’s defined by where the cars race.

  2. Chelseano161997 (@chelseano161997) said on 9th September 2012, 17:42

    The Senna and Di Resta incident wasn’t investigated because they weren’t on the radio complaining about how the driver ruined their race!

    I don’t believe Vettel should have been penalised as I think Alonso pulled out of the overtaking move, he could have carried on with 2 wheels on the grass as Vettel did last year but by going all off the track it made things look worse.

    Going into the weekend Alonso stated he must finish ahead of whoever was in second place (Vettel). He was behind Vettel and finding it hard to overtake him and was behind for a subsequent 10 laps of which Ferrari were moaning on the pit radio and tweeting scarstic comments for the stewards benefit. Vettel said on team radio he did not push him off the track but was still penalised. To me it was like Man Utd getting a dodgy penalty at Old Trafford with 10 mins to go when they are behind. Home advantage won out.

    The fact Vettel had to retire in the race does not make it better. Alonso getting beating by Perez was good to see and he looked quite subdued for part of his podium experience and sheepish even waiting to come out to the crowd. He seems to be very smug in some of the reports I have read post race about the fate of Vettel and the Red Bulls.

    People unfairly complain about Vettel and Red Bull often stating they sandbag Webber in favour of Vettel but that is Vet’s second retirement this year with an alternator failure. I believe he has only won 1 race this year compared to Webber’s 2 so I’m not sure that is the case.

    It would seem that if you go up against Alonso this season your the one to get a penalty. Perhaps in the past Vettel has benefitted from being the champion in some of the racing decisions but to outsiders you can see why the penalities are considered so inconsistent.

    In other news I don’t recall seeing Maldonado mentioned in the race so I guess someone must have had a word with him after all!

    It’s a shame that Vettel and Webber couldn’t have finished in the points, I think without the alternator Vet would have been looking at 5th place at best but I expect the Bull to be on charge in Singapore.

    It has opened the championship up even more but I just hope that Alonso isn’t on top at the end, if its not a RBR driver then a McClaren driver would be just as good!

  3. GeordiePorker (@geordieporker) said on 9th September 2012, 17:42

    I can’t help but wonder 2 things. Would this penalty have been given anywhere other than Monza with a Ferrari ‘wronged’? Also, would this penalty have been given if it were not for the recent calls to be tougher on driving standards?

    If the first question is answered ‘no’ then it’s poor, but understandable – bias happens occasionally and you just have to live with it.

    If the second question is answered ‘no’ then I am very happy. Lower tolerance to what the stewards regard as poor driving can only help reign in the excesses of some of the crash-prone drivers, especially if it is applied equally to all: “If even Vettel gets punished, there’s no way I’ll get away with anything.”

    But personally, I think he followed the racing line, and it’s very difficult to justify a punishment for a driver following the racing line he appeared to be following on every other lap. Especially when you look at the number of drivers who took the other option at Curva Grande and ducked inside their targets with relatively high success rates.

    Anyhow, good drive by Alonso, good drive by Hamilton, GREAT drive by Perez and massive shame for Button – even if he’d lost the place to Perez (at least 50/50 given Perez’s pace), and he would still have been in the Championship race. Also, would’ve been a favour to Hamilton who I think has the best chance to overhaul Alonso.

    • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 9th September 2012, 20:22

      Good post. those are all very good considerations.

      I do wonder though, isn’t HAM happier to have Button clearly further behind him in the WDC though, even if ALO is then also further away from him; he must see Button as a big threat to his WDC aspirations if he starts winning races Hamilton could have won instead, and Button js not giving up on WDC yet, despite the odds, so it seems a clear possibility.

      • GeordiePorker (@geordieporker) said on 9th September 2012, 21:16

        Another interesting question – the BBC’s Andrew Benson is often full of rubbish, but his blog after the race suggests that BUT and HAM really aren’t getting on after last weekend. If that’s true, the BUT’s result doesn’t matter to HAM – if the don’t get on, BUT will never support HAM’s bid for the WDC.

        If it’s a storm in a teacup (probably more likely…2 and a half years of getting along well doesn’t normally evaporate in a single mistake), then HAM is probably very happy to see BUT fall back.

        All in all though, if you ask BUT who is faster, he will say “sometimes HAM, sometimes me”. If you ask HAM, he will say “me”. Assuming of course you get get them both to be brutally honest… So HAM probably doesn’t care – to his mind if the 2 McLaren’s are running at the front, he will expect that he will be the lead car, or be able to overtake.

        Not meant to be a criticism, one of the tough things about being a HAM fan is that you have to put up with the histrionics that come with a supremely arrogant driver. Look at all the great champions and you see the same thing. (And no, I’m not calling him a great champion. Yet.)

  4. JeffAZ (@jeffaz) said on 9th September 2012, 17:47

    It looked to me as though Alonso opted to put all four wheels off the circuit and then complain loudly. Vettel squeezed him sure – but left him about 3/4 of a car width enough room to keep a couple of wheels on track.

  5. I bealieve that the pelanlty was right from the one hand, because vettel didn’t leave any space at all! And of course there isn’t the same as last year race where vettel just touch the grass! On the other hand, that’s racing and vettel was trying to defend his position with any mean…
    Also, if they were racing in another circuit in another country no penalty was going to be given!

  6. Aldoid said on 9th September 2012, 17:52

    I’m not sure it was justified, but after Grosjean’s ban last week I expected it. To me it looked like Alonso surprised Vettel, who didn’t notice he was there until too late, but conversely one could argue that Vettel should have been more aware of where Alonso was, considering the fact that he’d been up his diffuser for quite a while trying to get past the whole time. Personally I thought it was a racing incident, but I can easily see why the stewards ruled otherwise… especially after last week.

  7. Carlitox (@carlitox) said on 9th September 2012, 17:54

    My say is that Alonso was a bit impatient and took the worse side while Vettel was holding his line. Though I must say that after going over the regulations, I have slight doubts about my own opinion.

  8. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 9th September 2012, 17:55

    I agree with the penalty though you won’t find me scathing Vettel for his infraction. Ultimately he did break a rule and should be punished accordingly, Alonso clearly had a significant part of his car level with the rear of Vettel yet Vettel continued on his path, albeit the racing line. Vettel did not move directly into Alonso, he just didn’t move off the line he was on which was gradually getting smaller and smaller for Alonso. Vettel should have moved off line and it probably wouldn’t have done his race campaign much damage.

    You can’t draw many comparisons to last years move, Alonso did indeed leave Vettel enough room but more importantly the rule clarification didn’t exist. You cannot retrospectively apply rulings, especially when the leading driver in last years move wasn’t in the wrong.

  9. An Italian car was “pushed out” in the Italian Grand Prix…. mmm
    Sometimes stewards don’t see the same things in similar cases. As Keith mentions:

    For a clear example, watch lap two at Valencia again: Maldonado pushes Raikkonen clean off the track in the hairpin. No penalty.

  10. george1066 (@george1066) said on 9th September 2012, 18:20

    Why all the fuss about Vettels drive through, a clear case of bad driving….and of course it was a ferrari driver
    that complained….and it was in Italy…… so of course Vettel got a drive through. PDResta did not get a drive through … same same but different.
    Why have rules for only some drivers…especially in Italy.

  11. I think that even though Vettel was in the wrong, it didn’t warrant a penalty. A warning would have been enough in this particular instance, as he did go too far, but he was racing for the championship for heaven’s sake – I’m not expecting one double world champion not to fight for all it’s worth with another. Yes, Charlie Whiting has made clear what is allowed and what isn’t this year and everybody knows that the FIA is taking a harsher line against offences after Spa, but let’s not jump on the bandwagon too much: he pushed him slightly wide, something he shouldn’t have done, but not enough to penalise his whole weekend.

  12. I think driving standards are worse nowadays, and because of that I’m glad the stewards are tougher, but they do need to be more consistent. Inconsistency in different races is somewhat understandable because the stewards are different each race, but for inconsistency in the same race isn’t acceptable. Vettel got penalised, but Di Resta didn’t for what he did for Senna.

  13. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 9th September 2012, 18:26

    No you need those type of things in racing if the steward been too aggressive then in the near future drivers won’t even try to put on optimistic moves.

  14. William Brierty said on 9th September 2012, 18:40

    Personally I don’t think Vettel should have recieved a penalty, that’s not because I am in anyway a Vettel fan, in fact I worship at the alter of Alonso. I think Vettel was simply covering the inside line for the chicane, believing that Alonso was directly behind him, and was simply caught out because a) there was a HUGE speed offset between the cars and b) he believed that he had already placed his car in a manner to suggest that he wanted Alonso to go round the outside. However, I do sypathize with the stewards because a) it was dangerous (and after Spa the stewards are cracking down on dangerous manoveres) and b) it was Vettel’s fault because Vettel should have been looking in his mirrors. But it was just a mistake, and there was no malice or intent from Vettel, and Alonso should have anticipated that Vettel would cover off the inside line and that that gap was going to close. For me it was just a bit of a “what side am I going on” misunderstanding, more of a racing incident than anything else.

  15. Paul A (@paul-a) said on 9th September 2012, 18:47

    I didn’t vote. At the time I saw it on TV, my comment was: “Naughty – wonder what the stewards will say?” because (despite what Coulthard said) last year was not the same as Alonso left Vettel just enough room that Vettel was unable to capitalize on.

    At least the stewards are being a hair more consistent in penalizing “incidents” that could “take out” world champions — last week Grosjean, this week Vettel. Both “incidents” involved forcing a very experienced driver off track. I’m just very thankful that Alonso reacted differently from Hamilton by avoiding contact.

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