What Alonso got right – and wrong – with ‘different rules for different people’ claim

2021 F1 season

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Fernando Alonso has taken aim at Formula 1’s stewards over their reaction to incidents in recent races.

The Alpine driver performed an eye-catching move at the start of the Russian Grand Prix by cutting across the run-off area at turn two. Asked about it ahead of the following race in Turkey, Alonso seized upon the opportunity to question whether incidents in Formula 1 are treated consistently by the stewards.

At Sochi the stewards decided against issuing a time penalty to Lando Norris for crossing the white line at the pit lane entrance later in the race. Alonso questioned why this had been treated differently similar past incidents.

He described the reaction to his Sochi manoeuvre as “a confirmation of many things” for him including that “there are different rules for different people or different, let’s say, talks the week after for different people”

This isn’t the first time Alonso has questioned the consistency of stewarding decisions. It has been a theme in his comments previously this season, overlapping with his growing suspicion that other drivers get away with more than he does.

Alonso criticised stewards’ decisions in Sochi
In both of F1’s two races at the Red Bull Ring, Alonso accused rivals of moving or staying ahead of him at the start by using the run-off area at the first corner.

“The FIA should police more the track limits,” said Alonso after the first Austrian race. “In turn one I was the only one making a move into turn one at the start and the two cars that I overtook they missed turn one and the exit in front of me.”

He described the same after the following race at the same track. “I overtook Ricciardo and Leclerc this time and they went off-track the exit of one and they exit in front of me,” he said.

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“Even more than that, they take the run into the next car in front from the slipstream into turn three. So I don’t know, I felt that was very unfair today, again.”

Start, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Gasly and Leclerc hit each other after rejoining the track
Did Alonso have a point? At the first race he clearly arrived at the first corner slightly ahead of Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc, both of which were on the outside of him, ran fully onto the run-off and rejoined the track ahead of him. The pair then collided and dropped behind him, so even if the stewards had penalised them it would have made little difference to Alonso’s race.

The second case was less clear-cut. Alonso again arrived at turn one on the inside with two cars on his outside, though he nosed ahead much later as they arrived at the corner. Leclerc, again, and Ricciardo ran wide at the exit and maintained their positions ahead of him.

Following these incidents, Alonso resolved to take a tougher line in future. Tellingly, he claimed his rivals had chosen to use the run-off areas on lap one in order to gain an advantage, rather than being forced off and benefited as a result of that.

“It’s written and it’s quite clear that on the first lap, they are a little bit more flexible on penalties and track limits because we are fighting,” said Alonso. “Sometimes you are forced to go outside the track because you are fighting and you are forced by another car and you take the run-off area.

“I certainly could feel a bit of frustration in him” – Ricciardo
“But it was not the case. It was just a pure performance decision to go outside and to keep the throttle on. It was no one side-by-side. So I don’t think that is a grey area. It was quite clear.”

Others may argue it wasn’t quite so clear. In Ricciardo’s case at the Austrian Grand Prix, he would have risked a collision with Leclerc and Alonso on his inside by not running wide. And, being on the outside, Ricciardo would have been the most vulnerable.

Asked about the incident almost three months later in Turkey, Ricciardo couldn’t recall it. But he was in the press conference where Alonso made his claim of “different rules for different people”, and said he could understand Alonso’s frustration.

“I sat in the press conference with him and I certainly could feel a bit of frustration in him,” said Ricciardo. “I think he obviously felt – and I’m not saying that didn’t happen – but he obviously felt at times this year that he was hard done by people gaining an advantage.”

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Firm in his conviction that other drivers had deliberately cut across the run-off area at the start before and got away with it, Alonso did exactly that at Sochi, even practising his line through the designated route back onto the circuit to maximise his speed.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Sochi Autodrom, 2021
Analysis: The grey area Alonso exploited with his first-lap corner-cut at Sochi
Having rejoined the track in third place and allowed two driver to pass him, Alonso then lost further places later around the first lap by running wide. Whether the stewards would have taken a different view of his behaviour at turn two without that is an intriguing unknown.

“I think it was his way of saying kind of ‘screw everyone, I’m going to make it really obvious and see how many people talk about it’,” said Ricciardo. “So I guess it was him certainly making a point of it.

“Of course it’s frustrating if someone goes off and passes you, you’re like ‘you’re not on the track’. Obviously he felt at times that it has been inconsistent. Maybe so. I mean, he’s probably the most experienced guy on the grid, so he probably knows better than most of us.

“I think the biggest one is you know if you’ve gained an advantage from going off the track, then you need to you need to do something about it and give it back. So I guess there is some inconsistency.”

The McLaren driver has first-hand experience of that inconsistency: At the Red Bull Ring last year Lance Stroll went unpunished for passing Ricciardo off the track. FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi later clarified Stroll should not have kept the position, according to Ricciardo.

Analysis: The “unfair” decision to penalise one driver when many were at fault
Through the various controversies, Alonso has made it clear he wants a more rigid interpretation of the rules. He was involved in another incident during the second Austrian round when his final lap in Q2 was ruined when he caught Sebastian Vettel. Alonso made it clear it was not simply the case that Vettel was to blame, but the queue of drivers who had come to a near-stop ahead of him waiting to start their flying laps.

“I’m sure the FIA will have to learn as well and police this a little bit better because in the top category of motorsport, you cannot see turn nine and 10 with 10 cars waiting to open the lap at 5kph,” said Alonso.

“I think that has to be managed a little bit better in the top category and be harsh with penalties. This is a consequence of being too soft on penalties.”

Vettel was penalised but others ahead of him were cleared. The stewards ruled that although they had contravened the race directors’ guidance “given the situation that many drivers ended up queuing at this part of the circuit, the stewards determine that too many drivers contributed to the situation”. In short, Vettel was penalised for holding Alonso up, but those ahead who delayed Vettel were cleared.

Alonso made it clear the stewards should have stuck to the letter of the law. “There was a rule in place this weekend that you cannot slow down from nine to 10,” he said. “So when you see now 12 cars in front of Sebastian at 5kph between nine and 10, in my opinion, that’s a penalty for 12 cars.

Many expected Norris to be penalised in Sochi
“Also for Seb, because he didn’t let me go, but what happened with the other 11 cars, that is written that you cannot slow down between nine and 10.”

As Alonso pointed out, he isn’t the only person calling for the stewards to take a tougher line on incidents. “I also read Frederic Vasseur, the Alfa Romeo [team principal] saying the same thing, it was a surprise for many people.

“But sometimes I guess you need a driver or someone to say, to maybe open the eyes for more people. I think this year the consistency was not great and it was always like in the same direction.

“Probably the turn two incident in Sochi if it was another driver, no one will talk here but because I cut the corner it was a big thing, a big topic.”

Do inconsistent decisions by the stewards tend to go against Alonso as he suggests? Several of his rivals might disagree given the outcome of the deliberations which were going on when he spoke those words on Saturday in Istanbul.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Istanbul Park, 2021
Report: Drivers to ask Masi why Alonso and Norris went unpunished for “very clear” incidents
Alonso was cleared of failing to slow sufficiently for double waved yellow flags in qualifying. Stroll, who slowed down around 15 seconds more than Alonso for the same incident, was deeply unimpressed. So was Pierre Gasly, who also criticised the stewards’ failure to penalise Norris.

“These last two events I don’t really understand the regulations,” said Gasly. “To me it’s either black and white, and these two situations for me were very clear.”

By taking mitigating factors into account when handing down penalties, the stewards inevitably create the possibility that similar misdemeanours may be handled differently. But Alonso’s experience surely shows there isn’t a pattern of favouritism lying behind that inconsistency.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2021 F1 season

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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32 comments on “What Alonso got right – and wrong – with ‘different rules for different people’ claim”

  1. What did maradona say?

    1. I think he said he can walked pass five other players with ease.

  2. Alonso’s point about nationalities is probably correct as the stewards, where ever they are from, will read F1 news and fans comments written in English and therefore be more influenced and wary of their disagreements and criticisms.

    They probably thought that punishing Norris in Sochi after his heart break would cause a huge backlash, and they were probably right too. If it was a low-ranked ‘foreigner’, I have no doubt they would have punished him.

    1. @balue You too. A nationality bias theory is 100% false.

      1. @jerejj If you say you believe 100% the reaction to a Maldonado or a Mazepin would have been exactly 100% the same, I’ll call that 100% false.

        1. @balue Just like how England a favourites to win the World Cup every time? …oh wait, they really are now!

    2. Not sure the press is the reason for the biased calls, but there is certainly a lot of bias coming from the english written press. @balue is 100% right on that, and @jerejj I want to see you justify why Russell got a lenient penalty for using bottas’ tyres, why Ham didn’t lose monaco’s win yet vettel lost canada and why in the past 3 decades anyone caught crossing the pit in line got a drive through? To name a few inconsistencies involving Brits and the only ones of this type, exceptions to the rule.

      Also don’t get the title of the article, upon reading Alonso, got nothing wrong. Is he right? maybe. Above all else what he said sounds reasonable. One can debate the merits of some of the claims, or rather whether or not these are conclusive true or false. None of his claims can be resolutely debunked.

      1. @peartree Russell pitted immediately the next time approaching pit entry, i.e., at the earliest possible opportunity.
        HAM ’16 Monaco & VET ’19 Canada situations are quite incomparable.

        1. @jerejj Russell was not the only to have pitted in order to fix the mistake, also his mistake was worse than Bottas’ in the williams because Bottas at least was using a mismatched set of his.
          Hamilton chose to cut through the chicane and squeezed Daniel, Seb lost the rear and cut the grass and squeezed Ham. Ham might not have been able to make the turn, whilst Seb surely did not choose to cut through the grass, this fact makes the Hamilton situation worse, yet I don’t agree with penalising either.

  3. Run off area troubles fade in comparison to the Silverstone and Monza errors which determined the 2021 season (with some credit to bowling Bottas as well in Hungary ;-))

  4. Jose Lopes da Silva
    21st October 2021, 9:39

    “the queue of drivers who had come to a near-stop ahead of him waiting to start their flying laps.”
    Enforce the rules or change the qualifying system.

  5. So it’s mainly moaning about track limits again… and again… and again.
    No moaning about track limits or cutting a chicane happened at Zandvoort.. I wonder why

    Stop making these run offs and you can stop policing them. Result: no moaning, no more 25 lap discussions whether an advantage has been made in the stewards room to dish out an ineffective 5 second penalty

    1. Maybe there needs to be a rule that adds a Penalty time of 2 seconds for each track excursion to a driver’s race time. If a team believes it can excuse their driver for some infraction then they can argue their case with the Stewards.

    2. It wouldn’t be about track limits again and again if they just enforced exactly what is written in the sporting regulations each and every time – that the white line is ALWAYS the edge of the circuit.

      The reason that nobody went off at Zandvoort is not strictly because it was grass and gravel, but because the penalty (or deterrent) for going off the track was large. That penalty should be the same (or similar) regardless of which surface is out there – if there was always a penalty for crossing white lines, then nobody would seek to gain advantage by doing it.

      1. @drycrust @S
        I feel when you say they need to enforce it better it actually doesn’t change anything. Maybe even make it worse. It will still leave room for grey area’s where it is not a clear cut long lasting advantage. Or worse (since we’re heading to COTA) they will say that going wide through a corner is the long way around so there is no way you can have a long lasting advantage… while everybody knows it just means more speed on the straight. It just means we’re still left with necessary stewards decisions.

        I think we need less. Transponders measuring white lines or auto 2 second penalties for every track excursion just increases policing and discussions. It will be very busy at the stewards office after the first two corners with all team members defending their cases. It will just increase the time for the stewards to decide massively.

        So I advocate no policing at all. Make going off track a physical penalty so there is no incentive anymore, by means of grass, astro turf, gravel, kerbs, walls whatever. And we will be done with discussions after the race to determine the final result. Did someone put a wheel on the grass and he didn’t crash? Fine. Good for him. It just means he got extremely lucky and he will know that so he won’t do it again. Oh, he slid off? Well, tough. Don’t go on the grass then.

        1. Are you seriously suggesting that all F1 circuits tear up their tarmac and lay down grass or gravel just for the weekend? Or put temporary walls around the edge of the racing surface? The FIA’s circuit grading requirements clearly seems to be a complete waste of time and energy for you. Safety is clearly unnecessary in your opinion.
          Instead of discussions about track limits, we’d be having discussions about what a great person that driver was and how tragic it is that they lost their life today.

          ‘Lasting advantage’ is the worst metric for anything. If your car isn’t a mangled, steaming wreck like it would be if there were a wall there, then you have gained a lasting advantage. Not losing time is a lasting advantage. Not spinning on the grass is a lasting advantage. Not getting stuck in the gravel is a lasting advantage. Not staying on the defined track is a lasting advantage.
          Not getting a time or performance penalty of any kind for leaving the race track (as defined in the regulations) is a lasting advantage.

          So I advocate no policing at all.

          A truly awesome statement. Only on an F1 fansite would we find such a “solution.”

          1. Jose Lopes da Silva
            21st October 2021, 14:22

            Keith could get back to economics about why modern circuits include asphalted run off areas. Lots of people are not learning about them.

          2. Indeed, safety isn’t the only reason they are used.
            But even at a circuit built exclusively for F1 without any consideration for money or versatility, those sealed runoffs would still be there.
            Just like they are at many high-speed/high-risk areas around street circuits…

          3. @S @Jose Lopes da Silva
            Ok. Let’s deconstruct this one. First you attribute things I didn’t say to me and then you attack that misinterpretation. Add an assumption based on your misinterpretation and then gloat afterwards from a higher moral ground. You just applied a classic logical fallacy, the straw man: logicalfallacies.org/strawman.html

            Are you seriously suggesting that all F1 circuits tear up their tarmac and lay down grass or gravel just for the weekend?
            – Err no? You could know that because I did not say that. I said they need to make going off track a physical penalty by a range of means.

            This is where you set up the straw man. Since I advocate physical deterrents I therefore applaud racing drivers dying? That’s quite a stretch man.

            ‘Lasting advantage’ is the worst metric for anything.
            Good, we agree there?

            Now just to ‘build your case a bit more’ add the assumption I don’t know the tracks need to attract people the year round and do so with friendly tarmac run offs. And there is left to do is finish off with feeling good about an “argument won” and someone put in their place. Add some mockery:
            A truly awesome statement. Only on an F1 fansite would we find such a “solution.”

            Now I know this is the norm for “discussing” on the internet I would like to promote a better way. Nothing is gained with the above example. So here is some advice.

            If you have a question about my statement about physical penalties you could try a different approach. You could ask:
            But tracks need tarmac run offs, how do you see it is economically viable for a track to do that? And what about the safety concerns?
            With these two questions you still raise the points you wanted except it opens a discussion instead of “trying to win an argument on the internet”.

            On such questions I could respond with:
            Well, if we look at Monaco and Zandvoort they have in common that there are physical penalties for going off track. Still, no safety concerns there. In general I prefer grass and gravel over walls. I do like ‘the wall of champions’ though. And to me it seems: if it is possible there, it should be possible on other tracks as well. Sure, higher speeds need different approaches but that doesn’t make it impossible. So do we need to tear up tracks to reach this goal? I think I would prefer it yes, but it is not necessary. Since the article is about Alonso, let’s look at his first corner cut. Why was that even possible to do at that speed? That is clearly a design error. If they insist on keeping it tarmac, they could make an ‘escape road’ there. Like in Baku. If you miss a corner you go straight. That is safe. Except there is no option to actually cut the corner, there is an actual building in the way… Or in Sochi’s case all they needed to do was bolt a speed bump to the tarmac perpendicular to the track. No way Alonso could cut the corner at that speed without destroying his car. Then you would have tarmac run offs where needed if you overshoot a corner, but no corner cutting without a severe loss of time possible. Therefore no policing necessary, hurray!

            I’m not fully convinced tracks need all that tarmac though. There are track days held on Zandvoort as well. They actually have put down tarmac as an extension of the straight(s). So overshoot a corner and you are on the tarmac. The gravel trap starts right next to it, so you can’t cut across. It just seems fine by me.

            See how a change in your approach can help change this board from a shouting competition towards actual discussion?

          4. tl;dr

            Replying with sweeping statements bad
            Replying with questions good

  6. Interesting, Alonso did not only had some criticism on stewarding but also at the mostly English media.
    “the rules” was a broader vision on the way media reacts to incidents.
    He is correct in that vision. Non British drivers do receive a lot more flak even on this site.
    Not strange knowing the majority of publications is English by origin, but it should trigger some objectivity in views.

    1. No one is forcing you or Alonso to read the English media. I read the French, Belgian and *British* media and am fine with that. I wouldn’t dream about going on a Dutch site to complain about a bias towards Max…

      1. Sorry Learnon, but that’s not an argument. “No one is forcing you” is something people say when they have nothing else to say. We’re free people and we can go wherever we want and speak our mind. I’m forced to watch Sky and listen to the British commentary, sometimes it’s too “patriotic” indeed, even though their audience is international. I remember one time one of the guys, in live program, said something about supporting British drivers and added “…after all, we’re all British here”. His Indian colleague obviously felt rather insulted by that, but just politely responded with “I’m not”, with surprise in his voice. British media does act like we’re all supposed to love UK and favour UK drivers, but that just creates the opposite effect. Yes, I watch British broadcast and here I am on a British blog. Deal with it… If I could speak Dutch maybe I’d go on a Dutch site too, as you say. But you know, I see tons of British tourists every year. Imagine we send them all back to UK as soon as one complains about something. :) Not nice, eh?

        1. Being dutch I’d advise you not to. There’s a reason so many dutch fans are here. And Ik do think the point is that if you don’t like the way british media is handling F1 you still have the choice of watching somewhere else or not watch at all. You are the one who decides whether you like watching F1 enough to deal with biased commentators. I for one am not bothered at all, although I certainly feel the british media is biased. But so is the dutch media and every other country. Part of the game.

          1. I certainly feel the british media is biased. But so is the dutch media and every other country.

            agreed, but 90% of the news sites are british media ( or repeating the storys told there)
            So thats why Alonso feels there is something wrong.

  7. It’s symptomatic of Masi’s weak leadership since he took over. Alonso is right when he says the disobedience is a consequence of soft penalties. Drivers know there’s a good chance they’ll get away with stuff. It starts at the top, and Masi is a catalogue of misjudgements.

    1. I’m not convinced that it’s all Masi’s fault, unlike a lot of people here.
      To me, the underlying structure and culture in (all parts of) F1 creates a huge amount of resistance to tightening up sporting regulations enforcement. Add the ever-increasing commercial pressures to that, and it’s easy to understand why track limits are changed in between sessions to reduce the number of penalties that are awarded.
      It’s totally representative of the way F1 works – ‘fixing’ the symptom instead of the cause.

      Basically, I think Masi is trying to improve the application of the rules to more closely represent what is written in the regs, but is being held back by internal and external pressures.

      1. IMO, things got worse when Masi took over, although I agree that the issue is more structural, rather than depending on a single person.

    2. What about the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix where Michael Masi did a very dangerous decision by restarting qualifying while a crane was still out on the track?

  8. dreamt that Alonso would win next race, if you believe in this sort of things and want to pull a move in the predictions championship

    1. Dreamt that raikkonen had a freak accident where some sort of gear (disk) hit him on the head while he was driving normally at the middle of the track, and especially since he’s about to retire that was quite shocking, was a relief to wake up and see he was still alive.

  9. Weird. This article, and many others here, seem to mix up Alonso’s comments about lack of stewarding consistency and media reaction. They failed to access his claims about British bias in the vast majority of Formula 1 news sites. Is it on purpose?

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