Alonso avoids penalty after driving a lap on loose wheel as FIA rules pit stop was ‘normal’

2022 Austrian Grand Prix

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Fernando Alonso kept his tenth-place finish, and the point for it, after the stewards ruled his team did not send his car onto the track in an unsafe condition following a pit stop.

The Alpine driver and a representative of his team were summoned to the stewards after the race to answer questions over why a wheel had worked loose following a pit stop on lap 57.

Following the discussion and after studying broadcast and CCTV footage of the pit stop, the stewards ruled Alpine’s pit stop procedure had been safe and Alonso’s front-left wheel had come loose due to a technical failure. They therefore took no action against the team and driver.

Alonso made the pit stop, which was his third of the race, during the Virtual Safety Car period triggered by Carlos Sainz Jnr’s retirement. “The left front wheel subsequently came loose by a small margin and the stewards investigated to see if the car was ‘released in an unsafe condition’ which is a potential breach of Article 34.14 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations,” the stewards noted.

They found there was no indication of any problem with the wheel until after Alonso returned to the circuit. “There is nothing in the video to indicate that the pit stop was anything other than a normal pit stop, including that the wheel concerned appears to fully engage and become fully tight,” the stewards noted.

“The team manager reported that the mechanic fitting the wheel reported that everything felt normal, and indeed his body language on the video appears completely normal. Nothing appears to be wrong until just before turn three, where the wheel slightly disengages from the car, by a very small amount.”

After Alonso noticed he had a problem with his car, he told his team only that he needed to come back into the pits. “Shortly after turn three the driver [stated] on the radio that they will need to box again,” the stewards continued. “When asked by the crew the driver simply reported that they needed to box again.

“In the hearing, the driver stated that he cannot see the rim of the wheel and that all he felt was a small vibration. This is consistent with the video, in that the movement of the tyre was hardly distinguishable.

“After entering the pit lane, the driver stated ‘check left front.’ In the hearing he stated that it felt worse when he turned to the right than when he turned to the left, but that there was still nothing obvious from his vantage point.”

The FIA’s technical delegate Jo Bauer and its head of single seater technical affairs Nikolas Tombazis inspected the Alpine’s wheel. “They reported to the stewards that the damage to the wheel and [axle] is consistent with a parts failure in all likelihood subsequent to the exit of the car from the pits.

“Based on the footage of the car from the moment the wheel was fitted, until the failure became apparent, the stewards conclude that the wheel was fully fitted, and that subsequent to the failure, all the retention systems worked as designed.

“The stewards therefore conclude that the car was not released in an unsafe condition and take no further action,” they concluded.

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2022 Austrian Grand Prix

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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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25 comments on “Alonso avoids penalty after driving a lap on loose wheel as FIA rules pit stop was ‘normal’”

  1. This is the only somewhat surprising judgement from the stewards this weekend. In the past I understood it as a slam dunk penalty.

    But I guess they conlcuded that the evidence was clear enough that the car was safe when released and the wheel hub got damaged while exiting the pits / coming on track again. In any case, let’s be glad Alonso found out immediately there was something wrong and the VSC enabled him to bring it back to the pits again for fitting a new set without any danger.

    1. It seems to be more that the stewards couldn’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that the wheel was definitely not fitted correctly during the pit stop, so couldn’t conclusively prove that they had broken the rules. It’s still possible that the wheel wasn’t fitted properly – the stewards just couldn’t prove that was the case.

      1. Yeah, that must have been it Anon. As @peartree mentions, wheels don’t just fail by themselves.

      2. I agree with that. In all likelihood it was an error in the pit stop. Very marginal, mind you. But I think Alonso was incredibly smart through it all in how he handled radio comms. At no point he acknowledges what happened or says anything on record.

        If you haven’t seen it, this will be an interesting one to watch:

    2. Wittich at it again. I don’t care about the circunstances, wheels cannot fail. Give the team a fine then.

  2. I find it hard to believe that a properly fitted wheel endured a mechanical failure immediately on leaving the pits without any incident. Seems Alpine got away with one.

    1. @dmw
      I agree. Not to mention that it is very odd that Alonso just told his team that he had to box and didn’t report or even speculate any reason to his team. Surely he knew the wheel was loose, but he was clever enough not to say anything.

      1. Correct he knew. But did tell on radio. Masterclass… 😀

        1. Indeed, that was clever!

        2. Then again alonso has experience with that team fitting wheels wrongly, happened already in 2006!

          1. And again in 2009, @esploratore1. Both at the Hungaroring. The 2009 one was actually worse as the team didn’t tell him what was happening and tried to get him to recover the car back to the pits. They got a one-race ban for that one, albeit overturned on appeal.

      2. @dmw, you don’t believe you could have a mechanical failure immediately on leaving the pits? Why not. Bolts fail. Rods fail. Valves fail. And when it is due to a manufacturing defect, they fail at the times you least expect them to.

        @hotbottoms, I see no reason to think Alonso was being deliberately obscure. His knowledge of the car told him something wasn’t right, but all he was feeling at that stage was a small vibration. That could be a loose wheel, or an unbalanced wheel, or something that has become stuck to the hub or rim. Even when he is returning to the pits he says it feels worse turning one way than the other, which indicates he still doesn’t know exactly what is wrong and is giving the team information.

        1. Even when he is returning to the pits he says it feels worse turning one way than the other, which indicates he still doesn’t know exactly what is wrong and is giving the team information.

          That’s not what he told his team. That’s the explanation he gave to the stewards.

          All he said during that one lap was “box again” (twice) and then at the pit entrance “check left front”. He didn’t give any other explanation to his team even when they asked what’s the issue.

        2. Alonso has more than enough experiance to ‘know’ when he has a loose wheel. He deliberately doesn’nt speculate for a reason. To hide what he knows would have produced the responce ‘stop the car’.

          1. Indeed, very clever.

    2. @dmw
      I watched the race from Alonso’s camera. It’s clear that the wheel was not properly attached. They put it at an angle on its place, which is why it started vibrating as it touched the parts it shouldn’t.
      That was the problem of the mechanics. And yet another failure of Alpine. The team is a mess.

  3. Its one thing to say they can’t prove the wheel wasn’t fitted correctly, but surely the fact that Alonso continued to drive the car with a loose wheel raises other questions and other sanctions? if not applicable to the team, then surely applicable to the driver.

    1. Also the artical doesn’t mention if Alonso significantly slowed down for that lap , eg did he continue to drive the car at roughly the same pace? Also is there an FIA rulling for where a driver drives a car knowing it to be unsafe? This is information which would give us a better perspective on this situation.

      1. someone or something
        11th July 2022, 19:46

        That was under the VSC. With a target lap time in the 1:30’s, driving to the delta and limping back to the pits could result in identical lap times.

        1. Yes, depending on the entity of the problem ofc, sometimes the wheels are in such a condition that it’d take 2 mins to do a whole lap.

          1. someone or something
            11th July 2022, 23:50

            Well, in this case they obviously weren’t. He had a problem with the left front wheel, on a circuit that’s essentially just right-handers. If the issue had been substantial, everyone would’ve been able to see the wheel moving in the wrong direction, because a loose left front wheel does not like right-handers. At all.
            Instead, the issue presented itself as a weird vibration, and it took Alonso a moment to figure out that certain corners make it worse (implying that it got better in the left-handers, which would never happen with a wheel that’s properly loose). That’s alarming and prompted him do demand an immediate pit stop, but it doesn’t lend itself to the interpretation that the wheel was about to go ballistic at any second.

  4. Alonso master class! Driver of the year.

  5. Alonso: “we need to box again” he was fully aware of the problem and the risk of a penalty. Smart thinking. But why was LEC and Ferrari not questioned by the stewards on the throttle issues? I think this was also a saftey concern for the driver so how could they be sure that it was a minor problem and not a risk?

    1. someone or something
      12th July 2022, 11:06

      How can one be sure of anything? There’s a whole branch of philosophy dedicated to that question, and there haven’t been any major breakthroughs in the past two and a half millennia, just new perspectives …

      In this case, we’re not talking about the archetypal ‘stuck throttle’, which is usually caused by the complete failure of a component that isn’t the throttle pedal, and results in the car accelerating at full blast through a braking zone. Very dangerous.
      In Leclerc’s case, however, there seems to have been a mechanical issue on the pedal itself, that prevented it from going fully back to its initial position when he took his foot off it, resulting in a remaining torque demand in the order of a single-digit percentage of full throttle. That is clearly not a desirable behaviour, at least not under a regulation that outlaws blown diffusers, but apart from interfering with the car’s slow-speed cornering abilities and making it very hard not to understeer away from the apex, there is little to no reason to think it might cause a serious accident in the way a fully stuck throttle might.

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