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?

For

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.

Against

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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2012 Italian Grand Prix

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