The issue became a talking point in Azerbaijan last weekend after Fernando Alonso took a loophole near the end of Q1, bringing out a yellow flag and spoiling the laps of anyone behind who might have had a chance to beat him. .
Alex Albon, who was immediately behind the Alpine driver, made it clear he believed Alonso had swerved in a deliberate effort to frustrate his rivals.
The issue of drivers playing such games, especially on street circuits, made headlines during the 2006 Monaco GP.
On that occasion, Michael Schumacher was ruled out of qualifying after the stewards determined that he deliberately stopped on track at Rascasse, ending the session early and securing pole position.
A similar incident happened at the same location in 2014, when Nico Rosberg took Mirabeau’s escape route, thwarting teammate Lewis Hamilton’s last ditch effort. The German survived an investigation without punishment.
After qualifying for this year’s race, Max Verstappen has suggested penalties be imposed on those who cause red flags after losing his final Q3 lap to someone else’s crash for the second consecutive year.
Although there is no official documentation associated with their investigation, it appears that FIA stewards conducted an informal inquiry into the Alonso incident last weekend, Spanish and Alpine sporting director Alan Permane having been seen leaving Baku race control on Sunday morning. Team boss Otmar Szafnauer also paid a visit.
Although the stewards did nothing, their suspicions were alerted enough to spark a discussion about a possible solution to the problem.
The F1 Sporting Regulations already contain an article which may apply to anyone using an escape route or going to an escape zone, and which reads as follows: “Drivers must make all reasonable efforts to use the track at any time and cannot leave the track without a good reason.”
Appendix L of the FIA International Sporting Code, which applies to driving, contains a similar clause: “Drivers must use the track at all times and may not leave the track without a valid reason.”
Stewards have the discretion to remove all or part of the lap times if a driver is deemed to have committed an offense that falls within this description.
If it is agreed between FIA stewards and F1 race directors that such a run would stop, the kind of maneuver Alonso was suspected of drivers could be warned of potential penalties as early as the Canadian GP, either in the race director’s event notes or during the regular Friday briefing.
Awarding penalties for an actual accident that ends a session early, such as those involving Charles Leclerc in Monaco in 2021 and Sergio Perez this year, would likely require further discussion.
Asked by Motorsport.com if the FIA could crack down on controversial flag situations in qualifying, Alonso said he would support the idea.
Fernando Alonso, Alpine
Picture by: Alpine
“Yes, I think so,” he said. “There will always be difficulties, as now in the [Baku] race, if you crash in a bend or park – there was a Haas [Kevin Magnussen] parked at turn 15.
“If you park there or you park 10 meters after, maybe you have a safety car deployment, depending on whether you take a good position or not. And then we will penalize the Haas driver because he has chose the wrong thing?
“So we have to be careful how we come in and how we do those things. But yeah, I agree. Especially qualifying, it should be different.
“We are dealing with problems of slow laps, minimum times, traffic in the last corner, tows, no tows. So I think you have to be smart and think of another format in qualifying.
Lando Norris, himself involved in a flag incident in Baku, also backed the idea.
“Yeah sure,” he replied when asked by Motorsport.com if he was okay with a possible crackdown. “I think I was one of the guys who caused the yellow yesterday, but just to avoid Seb [Vettel].
“I think there’s a difference between people who do it by accident and people who do it to get away from people by not causing blue flags and whatever during qualifying, versus people who obviously do it on purpose, especially when you’re a second and a half ahead on a hard lap!
“You always say it until you’re the one doing something wrong. And then you’re like, Oh, I wish this rule wasn’t introduced, because you just made a simple mistake, like when I went to Imola.
“I guess I’m saying I wish there were no rules, but obviously when someone else does it you’re saying you wish there were a rule. It always bites someone. ‘one at some point. Of course. the people who talk about it the most are the ones who I haven’t made a mistake yet.”
Norris’ teammate Daniel Ricciardo also agreed a crackdown would be a positive move.
“It’s difficult because every incident will probably be a little different,” said the Australian.
“But unless you completely wrecked your car, if it’s just like a little confinement or an escape route or something, then I feel like if you caused something, so maybe we should consider getting penalized or something. Maybe a suppressed hour might be a good way to look at it.”
Asked about Alonso’s claim of innocence after the first-term incident in Baku, Ricciardo added: “His conviction is impressive! I mean it’s the experience. That’s why I love him. But I mean, obviously Alex talked about it yesterday.
“We all know we all play tricks, and I know Lewis tried not to give us the DRS, I think, with Lando. I mean, it’s just a bit of tactics and strategy. But then , there’s a bit of the other obviously what Fernando did. Maybe suppressed laps could be the way to go, we’ll see.”
Alonso’s teammate Esteban Ocon also backed the idea of penalties.
“I think so, because in Monaco and Baku I suffered from it in qualifying,” he said. “And, yes, people would probably be more careful if they were penalized, and it would be less easy to take a risk and just go down the escape route. I would definitely be in favor of changing that to street circuits.”