Alonso Penalty data & telemetry analysis: The Stewards got it wrong

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

Alonso penalty Australia 2024

Fernando Alonso received a 20 second post-race penalty for ‘potentially dangerous driving’ which resulted in George Russell crashing on the penultimate lap of the 2024 Australian Grand Prix.

I don’t agree with the penalty and think the stewards got it wrong. Here’s a deep-dive in to the data to explain why.

The closing stages

In the closing stages of the 58-lap Australian Grand Prix, Alonso pitted on lap 41 for a used set of hard tyres and Russell pitted on lap 45 for a fresh set of hards.

When Russell emerged from the pits on lap 46 he was in 7th and Alonso was a short way up the road ahead of him in 6th.

Image credit Pirelli

Russell’s new tyres gave him a distinct performance advantage over Alonso, and in the laps after he left the pits he was rapidly closing the gap to the Spaniard, especially when he reached the 1 second DRS window.

The table below shows the lap time comparison between the two drivers for the final 10 laps before Russell crashed. George was quicker on all but 3.

2024 Australian GP
Russell vs Alonso lap times
Lap Russell Alonso
47 1:20.326 1:21.183
48 1:20.739 1:21.347
49 1:20.808 1:21.122
50 1:20.982 1:20.736
51 1:20.695 1:20.938
52 1:20.529 1:20.493
53 1:20.284 1:20.867
54 1:21.194 1:21.035
55 1:20.791 1:20.952
56 1:20.655 1:20.752

Alonso resisting the attack

Coming in to thepenultimate lap of the race George was only 0.5 seconds behind Alonso.

Alonso knew that he was most vulnerable after the exit of Turn 6, which involved a long flat-out zone through turns 7 and 8, all the way down to Turn 9.

This long section also included a DRS zone, and Alonso knew that if George was close to him when he had the DRS available then he’d be a sitting duck and would be helpless to resist Russell overtaking him before they reached Turn 9.

He knew he had to do something to try and stop that happening.

Trying something different

Usually, as Alonso approached Turn 6, he’d lift off the throttle, have a short brake and change down from 7th to 5th gear, as the telemetry below (provided by the awesome F1-Tempo.com) from lap 56 shows.

However on lap 57 the telemetry looks completely different. You can see he lifts off the throttle much earlier (around 100 metres earlier) and also has an additional period of braking, combined with a single down shift from 7th to 6th gear.

He then has to get back on the throttle and go back up a gear before braking again and changing down to 5th, like he would normally.

If we put these two laps of telemetry over the top of each other, you can see just how different he approached Turn 6 on these two occasions.

The crash

Alonso’s different approach to the Turn 6 entry on lap 57 meant he was going 49kph / 30mph slower than usual at the point where a driver would normally brake for the corner.

The result was that George Russell closed up on him much quicker than anticipated as he approached and braked for Turn 6. He went from being 20 or so metres behind… 

…to only a few metres behind at the corner entry.

Before he knew it, he was in Alonso’s dirty air right at the point where he needed to turn in to the corner.

The dirty air caused Russell to lose downforce. He hadn’t allowed for that in his approach to the corner and was still going at his normal speed, but without the downforce the rear of the car lost grip just before he reached the apex.

George had a big snap of oversteer, which he caught, but it put him wide in to the gravel. He hit the barrier which spat him back out in to the middle of the track where he laid, with the car on its side, until the race director called a Virtual Safety Car.

The penalty

After the race, the stewards investigated the incident. Their decision was a drive-through penalty for Alonso, which had to be converted to a post-race 20 second time penalty. They also gave the Spaniard 3 penalty points on his license.

The reasoning for the penalty is where things get interesting. The stewards have said they based their decision solely on a breach of Regulation 33.4:

“In considering the matter the stewards focused solely on the wording of the regulation
which states ‘At no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a
manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other
person.’ (Art 33.4)”

The stewards reviewed the telemetry and found that Alonso’s braking and lifting on the way in to the corner on lap 57 created a “considerable and unusual closing speed between the cars”.

As a result, they concluded that:

“…in the opinion of the stewards by doing these things, he drove in a manner that was at
very least “potentially dangerous” given the very high speed nature of that point of the
track.”

As it was potentially dangerous, it was in breach of Article 33.4 which was deemed worthy of handing out the penalty for. Here’s the full document:

Alonso's defence

Alonso stated that he was simply trying to get a better exit from Turn 6, to make it harder for George to catch him in the high-speed DRS zone which followed that corner. 

Additionally he said that in doing so, he got his timing slightly wrong and had to re-apply the throttle before braking again.

He also said that in the last 15 laps of the race he had issues with his Aston Martin’s battery charging. As such, the MGUK was harvesting energy for the battery at the end of the straights and in the braking zones, which can be seen by the red lights flashing on the way in to Turn 6.

The red lights flash to warn the driver behind that the car is likely to be going slower than usual. When harvesting, the 120kWH MGUK is acting as a generator which causes the cars to slow.

Alonso said he was focusing on those issues, rather than solely on the car behind.

The stewards got it wrong

In my opinion the stewards got this wrong. Here’s why.

An 'extraordinary' event

What Alonso did might have been deemed extraordinary given he hadn’t done it for the previous handful of laps, but in fact he had done very similar things much earlier in the race.

Alonso’s teelemetry below shows lap 57 (the crash) in white, lap 56 in yellow and laps 2 to 9 in green.

On laps 2 to 9 shortly after the start of the race Alonso was fighting with numerous other cars around him. He was constantly trying to maximise his exit speed from Turn 6 to line up an overtake in the DRS zone that followed.

As such, he would vary the point at which he’d both lift of the throttle and brake for Turn 6 every lap. As the telemetry shows these points are spaced about between the two extremes of laps 56 and 57.

Let’s not forget that in the early stages of the race his car would be heavier with more fuel, so he would have to brake slightly earlier. But the variances in those points are him experimenting with the ‘slow in, fast out’ approach to maximizing corner exit speed.

On none of those occasions did the car behind misjudge their speed and crash, so there was absolutely nothing wrong with what he did. Which leads me on to my next point…

The stewards DID consider the consequences

The stewards in their report stated:

This is obviously not the case. Had Russell not crashed, there is no way the stewards would have even looked at this as being a case of ‘potentially dangerous driving’.

Had Russell kept it on the tarmac it would have gone pretty much unnoticed as nothing dangerous would have occurred.

Either George would have still got past in the following DRS zone, or Alonso may have just done enough to maximise his corner exit to hold off the Mercedes driver. And that leads nicely in to my next point..

The art of motorsport

There is no rule that says a driver has to drive 100% flat out, all of the time. Drivers constantly change their approach to how they lap a circuit to allow for tyre wear and fuel saving.

If they’re in a battle with another driver then the conventional approach to the racing line, braking and turn-in points goes out the window. If a driver is defending their position it’s commonplace for them to over-slow their car on the way in to the corner to maximise their exit speed. 

That’s exactly what Alonso did. In his own words, that’s the ‘art of motorsport’.

Sometimes drivers can go one-step further and purposefully try and get the following driver to ‘check-up’ mid-corner. That’s where, by over-slowing their car, they can force the driver behind to delay their throttle application out of the corner just at the point where they themselves can give it full throttle and extend their gap.

That’s not an uncommon racing tactic, and it’s not foul play. Alonso’s a wily old fox, and that’s what I think he did.

One thing he didn’t do, however, was brake check George. Whilst there was that additional press of the brake pedal, the stewards deemed it not to be the main reason why his car slowed down.

George should have read the situation

The car behind has to read the situation. Ok it all happened very quickly, but there’s a clear 1.5 to 2 seconds when George is on full throttle where he’s rapidly catching Alonso, all whilst the Aston’s rear light is flashing red.

In that time I’d expect an F1 driver to process that information and start to back off slightly earlier. He also has to expect that Alonso is going to compromise his own corner entry to try and maximise the exit for what is the most likely overtaking spot on the track.

Stewards' inconsistencies

If this was deemed worthy of a penalty then there’s multiple other occasions where something similar should have been investigated. Even at the last race Kevin Magnussen was purposefully driving slowly to back up the field and advantage his teammate.

Or go back to the season decider at Abu Dhabi in 2021, where Sergio Perez earned his nickname of the ‘Mexican Minister of Defence’ for robustly defending again Lewis Hamilton purely to slow him down.

But neither of those were investigated. Why? Because nobody crashed.

To sum it up

For me, this was nothing more than a racing incident. Alonso was doing what he needed to do to try and defend from Russell. Yes it could be classed as gamesmanship, but it’s part of racing. And the stewards, by giving out the penalty, are in danger of appearing to want to eradicate that part of the sport.

The stewards only looked at this due to the crash. The fact is, had Russell kept it on the track, no notice would have been taken.

And that is the acid test against which the stewards must challenge themselves as honestly as they can, which in this case they have failed to do.

In the world of motorsport, F1 included, what Alonso did was nothing extraordinary. But if the stewards truly believe that a slow-in fast-out approach to a corner is deemed as potentially dangerous, how many other moves that drivers make on track could also be penalized?

As ever, as long as nobody crashes, then we’ll never know.

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Alex Gassman

I‘m Alex. I write F1 and motorsport travel guides based on my experience as racing driver and full-time motorsport nerd. I’ve traveled the world watching F1 and other racing series.

I started oversteer48 with the aim of helping other motorsport fans who are planning on watching some racing themselves.

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James Carpenter

I completely agree with you.

wayne

GR Oversteer 57 in my opinion

Jeremy Renfrew

That makes a lot of sense, it was simply Russell’s error. Alonso and others have often done similar in the past with no penalties – it’s called racing.

Eric H

Interesting take. I thought it was dirty air too, when I saw it live. Love the telemetry!

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