Tomorrow Renault will face the FIA Court of Appeal in Paris. The court will determine whether the race ban handed to the Renault team during the Hungarian Grand Prix was appropriate or not. Renault feels that the Valencia race ban was way too...
Tomorrow Renault will face the FIA Court of Appeal in Paris. The court will determine whether the race ban handed to the Renault team during the Hungarian Grand Prix was appropriate or not. Renault feels that the Valencia race ban was way too harsh and had therefore appealed the decision made by the FIA representatives in Hungary.
During a pit stop the Renault team had send Fernando Alonso on his way again while a wheel nut retaining device was not properly secured, resulting in the departure of the retaining device, and ultimately, the wheel of the car which dangerously bounced around the track before it ended up in the barriers. Alonso said he didn't know the wheel was about to come off: he thought he had a puncture and was trying to make his way back to the pits.
The FIA officials motivated their decision as following (from an official FIA press release):
Renault knowingly released car N°7 (Fernando Alonso) from the pit stop
position without one of the retaining devices for the wheel-nuts being
securely in position;
- being aware of this, Renault failed to take any action to prevent the car from leaving the pit-lane;
- Renault failed to inform the driver of this problem or to advise him to take appropriate action given the circumstances;
- This resulted in a car part detaching at turn 5 and the wheel itself detaching at turn 9.
The Renault team has therefore breached article 23.1i (It is the responsibility of the competitor to release his car after a pit stop only when it is safe to do so) and article 3.2 (Competitors must ensure that their cars comply with the conditions of eligibility and safety throughout practice and the race) of the 2009 Sporting Regulations.
Article 23.1i really says that the Renault team should not have allowed Alonso to leave the pits, and when they finally figured out what had happened, the team, according to article 3.2, should have notified Alonso to come back to the pit or should have told him to stop immediately. Article 23.1i has been used in the past to penalise drivers when they were released from the pit lane and caused a collision with another car in the pit lane, or in the case of Felipe Massa and Christijan Albers, they left the pit lane with the fuel hose still connected to the car.
Many people believe the very harsh penalty was also a result of the accident of Henry Surtees during a Formula Two race at Brands Hatch a week earlier, and the accident of Felipe Massa that same weekend in Hungary. On the other hand, one could also argue that FIA officials did not intervene, they could have told the Renault team to stop Alonso, or take the initiative themselves and give Alonso a black flag.
There has been only one similar incident this year, during the first race of 2009 in Australia, the FIA officials told the Red Bull team to call Sebastian Vettel on the radio and advise him to stop immediately, when he, as a result of his accident with Robert Kubica, was driving around with one wheel dangerously trailing alongside his car. When the team failed to do so, the FIA gave the Red Bull team a $50,000 fine.
The general consensus about the imposed penalty is that Alonso and his (new) teammate were given a race ban for something that the Renault team did wrong, and therefore the team and not the drivers should have been penalized. And the absence of local hero Fernando Alonso would definitely influence the number of spectators in Valencia next weekend.
The Spanish motorsport federation has labeled the Renault exclusion as 'an unusual and disproportioned penalty that hurts the team's drivers (especially Fernando Alonso), the European Grand Prix, the promoters, the sponsoring companies of the GP and the driver, the citizens, and the city of Valencia directly and seriously'.
But this should of course never be an argument when it comes to determining an appropriate penalty for the Renault team. Meanwhile, the Renault trucks and motor homes have already arrived at the Valencia circuit. This doesn't mean Renault is confident the race ban will be lifted, but is a result of the very late date of the hearing, just three days before the European GP. If the ban is lifted, the Renault team has to be at the circuit on Thursday afternoon for the technical scrutineering of their cars. Let's see what the FIA Court of Appeal decides; within 24 hours we will have our answer.