When does a slight mistake stray over the boundaries into negligence? That was a question which obviously preoccupied the FIA stewards at the recent Hungarian Grand Prix when they concluded that a one race suspension was the appropriate penalty for the Renault team after Fernando Alonso’s car shed its insecurely fastened right front wheel shortly after a routine pit stop.
Having watched the re-run of this incident – and mindful of the death of Henry Surtees the previous weekend at Brands Hatch in addition to Felipe Massa’s qualifying accident the previous day – a chill went down my spine. How easy it would have been for Fernando himself to have become another victim, but thankfully the errant wheel bounced harmlessly to a halt at the track side.
I have to say I can quite see why the FIA stewards reached the decision they did on the day. Yet at the same time I think the governing body’s Court of Appeal was correct in replacing the one race suspension with a reprimand and a $50,000 fine. In the heat of battle it might have seemed appropriate to penalise Renault, but with the benefit of hindsight, it was equitable to amend the punishment.
I’m not saying this because I think it is unfair to penalise the drivers – Alonso and his new team-mate Romain Grosjean – because the whole ethos in F1 is that one wins or loses as part of a team. Nor am I suggesting that it would be unfair to penalise the Spanish paying public by depriving the fans of their former twice world champion.
I believe that the decision to change the penalty was correct because the Renault team made a slight error in a high pressure situation.
There was nothing slapdash or casual about what they had done.