Stroll & Ricciardo’s crash at the Chinese GP – Did Lance deserve a penalty?

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

Stroll Ricciardo crash China 2024

During a safety car period at the 2024 Chinese Grand Prix, Lance Stroll crashed in to the back of Daniel Ricciardo which eventually the Aussie driver out of the race.

Stroll was penalised for the crash by the stewards, but was it i fair penalty? Here’s a look at what happened, what caused the crash and whether the penalty was too harsh.

Safety car

On lap 22 Valtteri Bottas’ Kick Sauber suffered engine failure. The Finn parked his dead car up the the side of the road. Initially a Virtual Safety Car was called, but that soon turned to a full safety car when the marshals realised it would take them longer than expected to remove the stricken Sauber.

The safety car was called in at the end of lap 26. Verstappen lead the field at that point and controlled the restart, electing to start accelerating just after he’d apexed Turn 14.

The crash

The collision between Stroll and Ricciardo occured on the entry to Turn 14. Check it out in the video below.

As the cars were slowing for Turn 14, Stroll was caught out by how quickly those directly ahead of him braked. He hit the back of Ricciardo’s car HARD, lifting the VCARB up and over the front of his own Aston Martin.

The concertina effect

In the aftermath of this incident, everyone has been talking about the concertina effect being the main reason behind the crash.

The concertina effect is where one car at the front of a train slows down, and the following cars each slow down a little bit later and a little bit harder until someone can’t slow down in time. In this case, that driver was Stroll.

Concertinas are common under safety cars, but there’s usually a specific reason for them starting. If everyone maintained a constant speed and distance from the car ahead, it wouldn’t occur. So let’s look at what caused it.

Sainz Alonso Chinese GP

In the image above you can see Max slowly leading the line of cars in to Turn 14. At this point the safety car has pitted, so it’s up to Max when he decides to accelerate. But he hasn’t gone for it just yet.

Drivers will want to be as close as possible to the car in front to avoid losing time when they accelerate away.

The image above shows that Sainz is snoozing and has left a big gap between him and Perez in front.

Sainz Alonso China 2024

Sainz then realises he needs to catch up so accelerates up to the cars ahead, which are still going slowly behind Max.

When he does so, Alonso sees Sainz start to accelerate. I think that as soon as Alonso sees that, he assumes that Max has also accelerated to restart the race. Being in a long straight line of cars Alonso has no visibility of Max so he has to go off what the car ahead is doing.

However, Max is still holding the cars up by going slowly. It’s not until Max passes the apex of Turn 14 that he accelerates.

The speed of the 4 cars at the front caught Sainz out slightly on the way in to Turn 14 meaning he has to brake hard.

Alonso has assumed everyone is getting back up to race pace, so is then suprised to see Carlos slow down so much. To avoid hitting the back of the Ferrari he has to brake so hard that he locks up both front wheels.

That then causes the following cars (Russell, Piastri, Ricciardo & Stroll) to do the same thing until contact happens between the VCARB and Aston.

Stroll Ricciardo crash China 2024

Stroll's fault?

Concertina effects are common and usually just classed as part of racing. But in this case the stewards held Stroll at fault and gave him a 10 second penalty and 2 penalty points on his license. So let’s look at why he’s especially to blame in this case.

Coming to Turn 14, Stroll has a big gap between him and Ricciardo ahead.

Stroll China crash 2024

He briefly accelerates to close the gap (you can see his rev lights at the top of his steering wheel fully illuminated) but quickly lifts off to try and anticipate the cars slowing for the corner ahead.

Lance Stroll China crash 2024

At this point, Alonso has narrowly missed the back of Sainz a few cars ahead. There’s still a reasonable gap between Stroll and Ricciardo, but that’s about to get a lot smaller. Stroll’s helmet position in the image above indicates he’s currently watching the car ahead.

Stroll crash in to Ricciardo China GP 2024

As he gets closer to the corner, however, you can see his helmet turn to the right.

Instead of watching the car ahead of him, he’s looking through the corner to try and see if the cars at the front of the pack have started to accelerate back up to racing speed.

He wants to know, because that will determine how aggressively he needs to accelerate on the exit of Turn 14. And that’s also determined by his line on the way in to the corner.

But watching the cars further up the road means he isn’t paying attention to what’s going on ahead.

Stroll Ricciardo China 2024

At the last minute he notices Ricciardo ahead is slowing much faster than anticipated due to the concertina effect, but it’s too late. He tries to swerve left on to the grass to avoid Danny, but his evasion efforts are in vain.

Stroll crashes in to Daniel Ricciardo China 2024

He rear-ends Ricciardo so hard that the VCARB rides up over the front of Lance’s Aston.

The penalty

After the incident, the stewards deemed that Stroll was at fault for the collision. They handed him a 10 second penalty and gave him two penalty points on his racing licence.

Obviously they’re correct in deeming Stroll at fault, but it seemed a little unusual to penalise him for it.

The official infrigement which Stroll was penalised for is ‘causing a collision’. Did Stroll actually cause this collision, or was it pretty much an inevitability given the cars bunching up ahead? Was Stroll just an innocent party in the ever-worsening concertina, was it actually Sainz or Alonso at fault for the cars bunching up?

The concertina effect was severe and meant that a crash was pretty likely to happen. Sainz, Alonso, Russell, Piastri and Ricciardo all got very close to the cars ahead of them. But crucially, those guys all avoided any contact.

So if everyone else avoided a collision apart from Stroll, then by the letter of the FIA law he’s the one who caused it.

Again, like we saw with the Alonso & Russell incident at Melbourne, the consequence of Stroll’s actions ruining Daniel’s race may well have played a part in the stewards’ decision making, even though they shouldn’t have.

But either way, I think it’s a justified penalty.

I think that the stewards have seen Stroll wasn’t watching the car ahead, but instead was watching the ones at the front of the line, and that’s the reason he’s been handed the penalty.

Aston Martin said that the concertina effect was to blame and there was nothing Stroll could have done to avoid it. The wording of the stewards’ decision states that Stroll ‘ought to have anticipated the pace of the cars in front…. and prepared to brake accordingly’. 

He could definitely have done more to avoid it; if he was watching Ricciardo ahead the whole time he would seen that he needed to slow down more rapidly. Or moved to the inside to avoid a crash…

Could Stroll have avoided Ricciardo?

One thing that might seem obvious at first is why didn’t Stroll just dive to the right, up the inside of Ricciardo, to avoid him? That’s exatly what Hulkenberg did just as Stroll crashed in to the back of Danny Ric.

Hulkenberg

Hulk anticipated the cars ahead slowing down so pulled to the right to avoid going in to the back of Stroll, and avoided being part of the pile-up.

So why didn’t Stroll do it, or any of the cars ahead of him for that matter? Even Ricciardo and Piastri stayed glued to the left hand side of the track on the way in to Turn 14, despite everyone bunching up.

Ricciardo & Piastri Chinese Grand Prix

Well it comes down to them all anticipating the restart. As a racing driver you know that the guy leading the field under the safety car is going to wait for the most opportune moment to accelerate back up to race speed.

The layout of the Shanghai circuit means that Turn 14 is an ideal place to do that. The super-tight hairpin would give the leading car an advantage, and the ability to pull a bit of a gap, if he guns it right after he’s apexed the corner.

All the drivers behind would have been anticipating Verstappen doing that. And to maximise their restarts, they all want to get the best possible exit from Turn 14 as well. To do so they need to take as wide a line as possible on the way in to the corner. That allows them to straighten it out and get maximum drive as they accelerate towards the final turn on the track.

So they’re all glued to the left-hand side of the circuit before they turn in to the T14 hairpin. No-one wants to go more towards the inside, to give themselves some space, as that would compromise their exit and their restart.

Join the oversteer48 F1 Insider's club

I’ll send you a weekly email with insider info on the latest F1 news & race results. 
Read by over 5,000 busy F1 fans each week.

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.

leave a comment

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Join the oversteer48 F1 Insider's club

I’ll send you a weekly email with insider info on the latest F1 news and results. 
Read by over 5,000 busy F1 fans each week.