Race start, Hungaroring, 2023

Alfa Romeo baffled by fault which caused Zhou’s poor start before crash

2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Alfa Romeo say they do not understand why Zhou Guanyu’s car fell into a failsafe mode, causing him to make a very slow start in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The Alfa Romeo driver secured his career best grid position of fifth in Saturday’s qualifying session but finished a lowly 16th after triggering a dramatic collision at the start of the race.

As the starting lights appeared on the grid, Zhou applied throttle but appeared to suddenly lose revs in his power unit. When the lights went out, Zhou failed to get away initially, causing him to be quickly swallowed up by the cars behind him, including team mate Valtteri Bottas who had to take avoiding action.

“I have a problem, guys, on the clutch,” Zhou reported while on the run down to the first corner. “Fucking RPM.”

As he braked for the first corner, Zhou nudged the rear of Daniel Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri, which sent him into Alpine of Esteban Ocon, who then hit his team mate Pierre Gasly. The clash put both Alpine drivers out of the race, while Zhou and Ricciardo were both able to continue without needing to pit for repairs.

The stewards investigated the incident and quickly handed Zhou a five-second time penalty for causing a collision, which he served during his first pit stop. Zhou also received two points on his superlicence for the incident.

“I was holding the revs before the five lights and I just lost all the response from the throttle,” Zhou explained to media including RaceFans after the race. “So I started basically with zero throttle. I was flat on the pedal.”

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Alfa Romeo’s head of trackside engineering, Xevi Pujolar, said the team were trying to establish the cause of the problem that caused such a poor start for Zhou.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, Hungaroring, 2023
Gallery: 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix in pictures
“We’re still investigating what went wrong there,” Pujolar explained. “It looks like something with the brake system strategy that caused a failsafe on the engine side and now we’re trying to understand how that would be triggered at that point.

“It also had an effect on Valtteri, who was just behind. Valtteri lost three positions there and then lost the rhythm and then another three positions during lap one.”

Zhou said he was affected by dirty air on the run down to the first corner which led to him causing the accident which took the two Alpine drivers out of the race.

“I was trying to obviously brake as late as I could, trying to gain some positions back,” he explained. “But then I got into that the dirty air of the cars ahead and unfortunately locked up into them. So it’s not what I wanted.”

The stewards ruled Zhou failed to anticipate how quickly the cars ahead of him would slow down. While more leniency is often applied in the case of first-lap incidents, the stewards decided against doing so on this occasion.

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“Although this was a lap one incident, where some leeway is given to the drivers who get caught up in the middle of a number of cars, this particular incident was not one of those,” they ruled.

“Here, car 24 [Zhou] got off to a slow start and simply did not slow down enough when approaching the corner, resulting in an unnecessary collision.”

Neither Alfa Romeo driver finished in the points despite their strongest qualifying performance of the season so far. Zhou says the Hungarian Grand Prix was a missed opportunity for his team.

“We lost a chance today,” he said. “We need to continue to show we have a strong car, especially on Saturday and then make more chances happen on Sunday’s race. Not the best day of course, for the team.”

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2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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9 comments on “Alfa Romeo baffled by fault which caused Zhou’s poor start before crash”

  1. While the unusual rev glitch was entirely out of his control, rear-ending Ricciardo & consequently causing a chain-reaction that caused a double DNF for Alpine would’ve been wholly avoidable if he’d simply started braking a bit earlier, anticipating the possible dirty air effect.

    1. While the unusual rev glitch was entirely out of his control, rear-ending Ricciardo & consequently causing a chain-reaction that caused a double DNF for Alpine would’ve been wholly avoidable if he’d simply started braking a bit earlier, anticipating the possible dirty air effect.

      He probably wasn’t expecting DR to brake quite as early as he did. A thing which DR would need to do to avoid the problems the AT has with the rear end in corners.

      It should be noted that this is the first time that Gasly and Ocon have crashed, and both of them can honestly say it wasn’t the other guy’s fault and not have to own up to a mistake.

      1. DR didn’t necessarily brake unusually early, though, but when necessary, given Ocon was right ahead.
        Ofc, they also collided in Melbourne, but fortunately for them, in neither case, they didn’t collide alone but because of a chain-reaction, more or less.

        1. On the other hand, it was Daniel going for relatively tight gaps that both enabled him to shoot ahead at the start but also got him in the middle of that accident @jerejj, SteveP.

          That is one of the risks of the tight midfield – one has to go for those gaps to get up the field at the start, but it’s also a high risk of something going wrong in the melee.

          I guess Zhou was still somewhat distracted and upset and felt he had to hurry, so he did not notice in time to brake a tad earlier / more.

    2. After checking the telemetry and align it with the F1TV onboards, I noticed that, Zhou immediately applied brake after Daniel swerved in front of him. However I think Zhou wanted to be a bit more aggressive to gain back some positions and released the brake a bit. But he quickly realized that Daniel was slowing down and applied brake again. But his car was not slowing down enough and hit Daniel.

  2. Archibald Bumfluff
    24th July 2023, 8:08

    the real question is how come Zhou didn’t recover after his terrible start? he was hanging around the back markers for the whole race.

    1. possible front wing damage plus big tyre deg

    2. Alfa Romeo actually does very detailed race debrief on their Chinese social network account. Not sure if they do it in other languages but I haven’t found an English one. According to that debrief, two thing caused the poor performance:
      1. They were experiencing higher fuel consumption than they expected and they had to manage the speed to avoid having to pit to replenish the gas for the valve control system.
      2. They overestimated the tire degredation, believing that they would gain an advantage compared to people to pitted earlier, they over managed the tires.

  3. Prashanth Ramadas
    27th July 2023, 0:46

    I sometimes get very angry with these things both print and electronic media. Their only motive is is turn political money black into white.

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