Last weekends German Grand Prix was one of the most exciting races we have seen all year. However it definitely wasn’t without its controversy. Here are some of the interesting stories that came out of the race as we head into the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend.
Alfa Romeo’s Penalties
Alfa Romeo appeared to have had a solid race last Sunday. Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovanazzi finished 7th and 8th respectively; bringing extremely valuable points to the team. However, after the race it was announced that both Alfa Romeo drivers had been given 30 second penalties. In a race with 4 safety cars, 30 seconds is a lifetime due to how close all the cars were. Räikkönen fell down to 12th and Giovanazzi fell to 13th, which promoted the Haas drivers of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, Lewis Hamilton, and the Williams cars of Kubica and Russel. The penalties were for clutch infringements which broke article 27.1. According to the stewards, the Alfa’s clutch movements didn’t match the torque demand within the 70 millisecond period. The time on the cars was seen to be closer to 300 milleseconds.
These times, of course, are extremely marginal. However there was a clear gain for the two Alfa drivers who got lightening starts. Räikkönen for example was running in 3rd after starting 5th. Meanwhile, race winner Max Verstappen in comparison got off to an awful start. So yes, I do think that it was right for Alfa Romeo to be penalised. They clearly broke the rules and therefore they should be punished. But shouldn’t the punishment match the crime?
Overall I highly doubt that the cars gained more than 5 seconds. However it is extremely difficult to tell how much time they actually gained. 30 seconds however seemed extremely excessive. This was a 10 second stop go penalty in effect which has in my view just ruined the driver’s efforts. A good start isn’t worth 30 seconds. In wet conditions it is worth 5 at the most in my view. Alfa Romeo team principal Frederic Vasseur said “We respect the FIA’s process and the steward’s work, but will appeal this decision as we believe we have the grounds and evidence to have it overturned. In this regard, we will be in touch with the FIA soon.” Whilst I don’t think the decision will be overturned, I think that the penalty should be reduced.
Leclerc’s Unsafe Release
Charles Leclerc sadly didn’t have the best of days during the German Grand Prix. After everything looked so promising for the Monegasque driver, the slippy exit of the penultimate corner was where his race would end; after his car aquaplaned over the drag-strip. Charles wasn’t the only one to be in that situation over the weekend as many other drivers followed including Nico Hulkenberg and Lewis Hamilton.
However, if you rewind to lap 4 which is where all of the pitstop drama of the first safety car unfolded, Leclerc was released from his pit-box too early, and straight into the path of Romain Grosjean. This would normally result in a penalty of some sort, a drive through or maybe a 5 second penalty or something similar. However, this seems extremely unfair on the driver as at the end of the day, he didn’t do anything wrong. One could argue F1 is a team sport, and a mistake from the driver, for example an incident that gets a driver a penalty also affects the team and the result. There is an argument that a mistake from the pit crew should be the same as this and should affect the driver. F1 is a team sport after all.
However, the FIA punished Ferrari as a team, rather than punishing Leclerc and the pit crew with a time penalty. Ferrari were fined €5,000. €5,000 is nothing to a top team like Ferrari however and so this begs the question. Will teams with lots of money use unsafe releases in the future on purpose to gain time? It allows for teams to gain time over rivals and potentially slow other cars down in the pitlane. However, the FIA need to address this in my view. Unsafe releases are “unsafe” for a reason and they put drivers at a heightened risk; let alone the increased risk to pit crews in the pitlane. I’m not saying there is an easy answer to this, but it needs to be solved for the safety of everyone involved.
Vettel’s Incredible Performance
Poor Seb Vettel. He has not been having the season he needed at all. He currently sits 4th in the championship, 84 points behind his rival Lewis Hamilton; and it’s not even the summer break yet. Sadly for Ferrari fans, this year just appears to be another year of pain, with poor strategy calls and driver error hurting their season badly. Ferrari are still yet to win a race this year which is really disappointing, considering how strong their car looked at the start of the year.
The German Grand Prix seemed to be same old same old for Ferrari. With Vettel starting last due to reliability issues and teammate Leclerc 10th for the same reasons, it just seemed painful for the team. However, as the saying goes you never know what will happen in F1, and Vettel was one of the drivers last Sunday who proved how unpredictable racing can be. Despite a lack of pace early on in the race, Vettel had a mistake free race and showed us form that we haven’t really seen for a while. It reminded me of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix of 2012. Vettel started from the pitlane and flew up the field to claim a vital 3rd place. Whilst he isn’t quite in the same position championship wise as he was in 2012, you can’t take away the fact that it was a flawless drive from Vettel and he was truly fantastic.
Haas’ Double Points Finish
Haas are having a tough season. They have been struggling for pace all year and they seem to have taken a step backwards compared to last year. The car just really seems to lack pace which is strange considering the steady progression that the team made since joining the sport in 2016. A double points finish of 7th and 8th for Grosjean and Magnussen seems on the face of it fantastic for the team.
However, there are clearly relationship issues within the Haas team. Both teammates collided late on in the race at the hairpin whilst battling for position. Grosjean told his engineer “This guy is incredible, he will never learn!” Meanwhile, on Magnussen’s side of the garage, Grosjean was clearly the driver at fault in the incident. Magnussen simply said “What is he doing?”
Team boss Gunther Steiner is clearly unhappy at the hostility between the two drivers. This is the second incident in two races after all so I don’t blame him. He described himself as “baffled” and has said he will speak to the drivers before the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend. I think that he really needs to, as Haas have enough problems to deal with regarding their car before they get on to their driver lineup. With Magnussen contracted for next year and clearly outperforming his teammate too, could Grosjean leave Haas at the end of the year due to tensions with his teammate? It would be difficult for the Haas team, as Grosjean has been extremely loyal, after pledging his allegiance to the new team in mid 2015, before Haas were even an F1 team. However, in my view, him and Magnussen appear to be struggling to get along. Haas need to change something.