Fernando Alonso’s determination not to let his rivals get the better of him by exploiting the grey areas of Formula 1’s rule book was on display at the start of the Russian Grand Prix.“felt a little bit like an idiot” for “respecting the rules”, claiming other drivers had gained positions from him by driving through run-off areas at the start of races.
Before Sunday’s race began Alonso was clearly minded to make sure that didn’t happen again. During his laps to the grid he explored the run-off area at turn two, familiarising himself with the route drivers were required to take as they rejoined the circuit.
The instructions from race director Michael Masi to the drivers was clear. Any driver who failed to negotiate the corner had to rejoin the track by driving through a set of polystyrene blocks positioned in the run-off area.
But the regulations were seemingly written in the expectation that any driver who found themselves in the run-off at turn two would have lost time by running across one of the many ‘sausage kerbs’ positioned at the corner. They appear not to account for the possibility a driver would intentionally aim to miss the corner on the first lap.
From sixth on the grid, Alonso was seventh as he began to brake for turn two. But he didn’t slow as much as his rivals. With several other cars to his right blocking his route into turn two, Alonso knew there was a quicker way through the opening bends: He bailed out of the corner, drove around the first sausage kerb and got on the throttle, negotiating the polystyrene blocks as quickly as he could.
Alonso came back onto the track in third place but didn’t have the same momentum as cars behind him. He was no doubt also mindful that past precedent requires drivers to relinquish any positions they gain by going through the run-off at a corner.
Through turn three he lifted the throttle briefly, allowing George Russell back ahead of him. Lance Stroll also took him on the way into turn four, leaving Alonso fifth.
This was still a net gain on his position heading into turn two. Alonso had been behind Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton when they began slowing for turn two, yet did not cede positions to them afterwards. Ricciardo did pass the Alpine on lap one, but only because Alonso had run wide while trying to regain his position from Stroll.
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Nonetheless Masi was satisfied Alonso had complied with the rules and denied he had ‘got away’ with gaining positions in the run-off area.
“He didn’t get away with it,” Masi insisted when asked by RaceFans. “On the first couple of turns of any race, if there are areas like that, the drivers need to get back behind the driver that they entered the corner behind, which Fernando did. Very quickly.”
There is a grey area here, which Alonso exploited. While he was behind Ricciardo and Hamilton as they braked for turn two, he was ahead when they began turning into the corner. But would Alonso have been ahead of them had he braked hard enough to turn into the tight corner, instead of negotiating the quicker route through the run-off area?
Three other drivers cut through the run-off on lap one but unlike Alonso, all made the decision much later than he did and therefore had already slowed down considerably. Pierre Gasly bailed out mid-corner, Antonio Giovinazzi was hit by Mick Schumacher and Max Verstappen also took a trip over the sausage kerbs.
The precedent for how these incidents are handled was established in 2019 when Sergio Perez was penalised after gaining places by going through the run-off at Paul Ricard. Based on that, Masi was satisfied with how all four drivers rejoined the track on Sunday.
“Perez was penalised cutting effectively from three to five – the chicane right, left, right – and we said from that point forward, for the first few corners where that happens, either the team automatically tells their driver to give the position back to where they entered the corner, or I would suggest that they give the position back. And we looked at all four of those that went off there today and all four did exactly that.”
Formula 1’s rules and the run-off at Sochi was designed to penalise a driver who attempted to make the corner and bailed out of it. It was not designed for a driver savvy enough to realise that purposefully taking to the run-off instead of tackling the corner could actually be the quicker option on lap one.
No doubt Alonso’s rivals will have taken note of this and we can expect to see more of it at other circuits where the same opportunity exists. If Formula 1 wants to ensure drivers stick to the circuit, it needs to make its run-off routes slower than the one at Sochi, or install more gravel traps.
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2021 Russian Grand Prix
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- F1 race start times could be brought forward to avoid Spa-style wash-outs
- New technology in Ferrari’s power unit update vital for 2022 – Binotto
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107 comments on “The grey area Alonso exploited with his first-lap corner-cut at Sochi”
27th September 2021, 10:34
Yep noticed that Alonso excursion at the beginning of the race. Interestingly one of the commentators mentioned he’d tried it out during the warm up lap, he’s a crafty one.
27th September 2021, 10:58
@johnrkh He may have done so on the reconnaissance laps, but not on the actual formation lap anymore.
27th September 2021, 11:29
John H (@john-h)
27th September 2021, 13:43
Good for him. The lack of action previously meant he’s taken matters into his own hands. Weak stewarding and rulemaking is the cause.
27th September 2021, 14:07
If you saw he also “slowed” down just enough that his off track excursion wasn’t seen as gaining an advantage.
27th September 2021, 10:36
The old fox making a point by exploiting the rules
27th September 2021, 11:35
He clearly gained a lasting advantage by braking later and then leaving the track.
He is behind Riccardo and Hamilton as they brake, and its pretty clear Alonso would not have made turn 2 at that speed.
27th September 2021, 11:40
@tricky Only temporary if anything.
27th September 2021, 14:39
I disagree. He never tried to make the corner and perfectly optimized his route back to the track. There’s no way he would have been ahead of Ricciardo had he tried to make the corner.
28th September 2021, 12:45
@paeschli Ricciardo eventually overtook and finished higher anyway, same for Hamilton.
27th September 2021, 15:31
@tricky holy smokes. From the onboard he looks like Han Solo going through that thing :)
27th September 2021, 20:22
But that’s the point; according to Masi’s interpretation of the rule, which Fernando is exploiting here, he only has to give back places to drivers that he overtook while actually off-track.
So he gained places in the braking zone by not attempting to even make the corner, and Masi says that’s fine. This may not end well. Expecting all of the other drivers are studying this trick very carefully right now.
27th September 2021, 21:03
Yeah, Masi is a disaster waiting to happen do to his decisions.
28th September 2021, 12:49
@dkor Indeed. His actions consequently set a precedent. Other drivers (not only those presently racing in F1 but Albon and likely Zhou) may attempt the same next season, knowing they can avoid a penalty.
27th September 2021, 10:37
27th September 2021, 10:42
How come that there is an escape trajectory that one can take absolutely straight like a rocket. Some grass, a gravel trap or even an additional polystyrene block would have been enough. A bit cynical from him but the layout is so bad that it was always going to happen. In the meantime he made it abundantly clear, I can’t help but thinkthere is some message to the FIA in this.
27th September 2021, 11:15
Wasn’t it changed from last year to prevent another crash like Sainz’s?
27th September 2021, 11:42
No, the polystyrene arrangement has remained the same for a little while, or at least I haven’t noticed any difference.
27th September 2021, 13:25
I think they did change it a bit, so you could not go flat out there following the Sainz crash. Apparently they didn’t change enough.
28th September 2021, 12:50
@tielemst The arrangement change happened for the 2018 event IIRC.
27th September 2021, 10:43
He made no attempt to make the corner, he even practiced going through the polystyrene markers on the formation lap. I admire the creativity, but whilst he didn’t break any rules, I thought it was cheeky and on the verge of cheating, almost unsportsmanlike.
28th September 2021, 9:53
It’s Alonso, it’s never cheating if it’s accepted.
27th September 2021, 10:43
I am very curious why this suddenly draws so much attention. Because Alonso did it, I assume.
1) Some drivers were doing this. Alonso complained not once that he was ahead of or side by side with people, they cut the corner and appear 50 meters in front. No penalty, even when those drivers gained places or space. Everyone is quiet about that.
2) Alonso cuts the corner on the start, gives back all of the positions (in other words, he won nothing, but just avoided any crash in the corner), wins nothing from this.
3) The public runs rampant on the streets “oh no, how Alonso could do this? What a disgrace”, etc etc
I am speechless.
27th September 2021, 10:47
No and no. Listen to Alonso’s radio. After lap 1 he asked his engineer if he gave up enough positions after cutting the corner. His engineer confirmed.
27th September 2021, 10:53
I think the point is, where other drivers did this as a pure reaction in the race, Alonso pre-meditated doing it to avoid losing any ground and possibly to gain an advantage if he could. He certainly didn’t lose any places on the start did he?
27th September 2021, 13:00
Sometimes you got to do things to make a point. He asked for stricter lap 1 policing a few times already but was there any response from the FIA?
28th September 2021, 11:57
@davewillisporter how many of those did Ferrari win?
By your logic Alonso should have been at Ferrari in times of Schumacher and just won all of those. Add to that Alonso should have also been at merc and he had 14+ titles, sure Alonso is the greatest in that logic.
In the after 2008 time frame Ferrari lost their way and just wasn’t the place to be.
2017 and 2018 weren’t serious competition, it just started competitive but were an easy slam dunk for merc.
28th September 2021, 18:03
@maxv My point was he could have been more successful than he has been if he’d checked his ego. If he’d played the team game at McLaren instead of demanding number one status he may have won the 2008 title and may have stayed there instead of Button. He may have been able to make the move to Mercedes if he hadn’t made himself toxic to them in 2007. Norbert Haug wanted to sack him on the spot when he threatened Ron. Mercedes wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole after that, neither would Redbull and history was written.
28th September 2021, 19:11
Play the team game? You must not be serious, no great driver ever compromised to “playing the team game” when it’s clearly disfavouring you, this is highly ingenuous. Leclerc didn’t send team orders to hell at Ferrari and remained there as number 1 driver only because Vettel was clearly declining. Russell has the same chance against Hamilton who’s heading towards the end of his career and is currently not as reliable as he used to be. But Alonso couldn’t afford to be treated as a second driver not even a minute against a rising star like Hamilton was. Of course he could turn it around later, but it would be too dangerous for his career which was still near the beginning (people seem to forget that), and humiliating as well. So while I’m not condoning his and Hamilton’s feud against each other in that self-imploding 2007 McLaren team, that all was ugly, but it wasn’t as easy as you made it look. All great drivers have proud big egos behind the wheel, anyone who thinks differently are deluding themselves.
27th September 2021, 10:54
He didn’t give the places back.
He lost one after making a mistake (Ricciardo passed him) but didn’t go back behind Hamilton. He also disrupted the momentum of all those from positions 3 back when he popped back out onto the track in P3 without the momentum they had causing them to back off.
It was obvious that it was deliberate and the reaction has been consistent with the reaction to others doing the same. The only people that don’t seem to see it as an issue is the FIA representatives..
27th September 2021, 12:57
27th September 2021, 14:41
I never heard of a driver trying out the fastest way through the escape route on the reconnaissance lap. It’s not an ‘escape route’ if it’s premeditated before the race has even started.
27th September 2021, 20:27
Alonso’s position then (and now, AFAIK) is that the rule interpretation is stupid. But, since that’s how the race director is interpreting it, Alonso clearly decided to exploit the apparent loophole on purpose, and was able to use it to gain an advantage by not even attempting to brake sufficiently to make the corner, because he never planned to make it.
I don’t think anybody is blaming Alonso for the situation here. This is on the race director for allowing the loophole to exist. Whatever the rulebook says, the rules are always whatever gets enforced.
28th September 2021, 9:54
Alonso is great, nothing to see here, move along.
27th September 2021, 10:49
Regardless of the takes above, it’s a good insight into Alonso’s mind, which I have seen numerous times over the years. He looks at his environment and decides how best to take advantage of it. No surprise. He’s a Briatore protege!
I respect his skill on track as almost second to none and his quick thinking but not his morals. He’s probably the most ego-centric driver on the grid and has only made hay with one team who have and always will bow down to him. Enstone.
Could have been a great, but his ego got in his own way too many times.
David BR (@david-br)
27th September 2021, 13:51
@davewillisporter That’s my feeling about this. It may be ‘smart’ but ultimately, as his career has shown, Alonso doesn’t do himself many favours (or make himself the right friends) with this kind of behaviour. And so at the end of his F1 career being ‘clever’ is all that’s left for him – rather than racing for a championship-contending team, which his skill and experience, even today, would merit.
28th September 2021, 9:57
Alonso just got unlucky like everyone not in a Mercedes the past 7 years.
Where is the championship winning Ferrari and McLaren?? He tried and those teams were just not up to it. You can bet he over drove every of those cars.
28th September 2021, 10:59
He hasn’t won a race or fought for a championship since he was at Ferrari, whereas Ferrari have won many races and fought for 2 Championships since. The circumstances by which he gave up that drive are well known, airing his dirty laundry in public which you do not do to Ferrari. Arguably he would have done a better job at the championship fight in 2017 and 2018 than Seb did. At least then he wouldn’t have mouthed off at Honda and gotten himself banned from driving Honda engines in Indycar, and I’m not even going to go into how he completely, utterly and singlehandedly torpedoed his chances for a championship in 2007!
The guy’s ego is as big as his talent and it has cost him dearly.
28th September 2021, 11:37
@maxv 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 McLaren. 2017 and 2018 Ferrari. 7 championship challenging cars he could have driven if his ego hadn’t stopped him.
28th September 2021, 11:58
Somehow my response went somewhere else, just like Alonso
28th September 2021, 18:50
Not 2011, Red Bull was fully dominant this season. Ferrari was championship challenging in 2010 and 2012 so Alonso missed 2008, 2017 and 2018 opportunities from those of your counts.
27th September 2021, 11:05
Perez rejoined the right way yet gained positions. For Sochi Autodrom, driving between the polystyrene blocks is definitely slower than staying on track lap time-wise + against one driver, but opening lap can be different because everyone’s bunched up. The same for Paul Ricard’s T3-T4 runoff area’s marked rejoining path, which is the same as Singapore and Mexico opening corner sequence equivalents.
27th September 2021, 11:08
This is like a driver overtaking on the outside when he knows he cannot make the corner.
I don’t mind that Alonso did this, what I have trouble with is the FIA interpretation.
28th September 2021, 9:58
Masi is just not up to it.
27th September 2021, 11:08
Ragunathan was onto this years ago
27th September 2021, 11:10
It’s not the one who obeys the rules it’s the one who breaks them.
27th September 2021, 11:11
Reading back on here and elsewhere Fernando has been very vocal of the rules and the apparent lea way with lap 1.
I think he pretty much told the powers that be it was tantamount to cheating that he was doing everything he could to stay on track and watch other cars sail round the outside off track gaining places.
Fer no.65 (@fer-no65)
27th September 2021, 11:28
Let alone the net gain, he was completely risk-free after bailing out from turn 2… that little turn 2 and 3 complex gets people in contact with each other.
I admire Alonso for using every bit of the rulebook. That’s a champion’s mind…
27th September 2021, 11:35
This is not the first time Alonso’s done it, it may go back as far as Suzuka 2013 (I think it was Suzuka but no guarantees). And Verstappen got away with it a couple of times as well.
27th September 2021, 11:45
2005 Suzuka, but that was different as he cut the last chicane rejoined behind a driver who he subsequently passed into T1. I don’t recall Max doing anything, though. Mexico 2016, but so did Mercedes drivers in the same race.
27th September 2021, 12:05
I think maybe France 2018. At least there actually was contact on the first lap into the chicane, but he we mighty quick deciding to bail out and into 2nd place or something… But at least there was ground for the decision then. Alonso this sunday doesn’t have that excuse imho.
28th September 2021, 12:53
@baasbas Yes, 2018 French GP.
28th September 2021, 12:30
@jerejj Verstappen did exactly the same in Sochi last year…
28th September 2021, 13:04
@Aleš Norský I don’t recall him doing so.
@mashiat The same, although the 2016 race had carnage, so no wonder if no one noticed.
28th September 2021, 15:55
@jerejj Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmZtTd1YRmA
I have no doubt that if he was in danger of losing position(s) at that corner, he always planned to take that route. Sainz tried too…but failed :-)
27th September 2021, 13:09
Alonso did the same in Russia 2016 and gained a few positions.
27th September 2021, 11:43
Okay, I’m happy he did it, I hope he does this every race and I hope lots of other guys follow suit. That is the quickest way to finally stop these idiotic tarmac run offs. Exploit the crap out of every one of ‘m. They’ll defend the choice of not penalizing by saying he didn’t gain an advantage. Well, that is debatable. Get a free no-first-corner-carnage-front-wing-change card seems like an advantage to me.
Just a reminder: no track limits discussions, no cutting chicanes, no do-I-need-to-give-the-position-back-nah-f-it-we’ll-get-a-5-sec-penalty-but-we-make-that-up nonsense at Zandvoort.
The Edge (@the-edge)
27th September 2021, 11:50
Was I the only one screaming penalty at the tv on Sunday
Absolutely unacceptable, blatant clear breach of rules
stewards need to clamp down on this
27th September 2021, 11:56
but they haven’t at any point this season, and he’s not the only one that’s done it
27th September 2021, 11:57
I disagree, just don’t design the tracks like this ….and there is no discussion, no stewards decision, no clamping down, no rewriting rule books. Seems so simple.
David BR (@david-br)
27th September 2021, 13:53
It’s a fair point, TBH, that the track design is terrible. Possibly the worst corner in F1. They’ve never known how to deal with it properly.
27th September 2021, 21:43
The track in inside the lines, he left the track, obviously gained an advantage. He may have been making a point, but never seen it so blatant, track design has nothing to do with it. He passed half the field off track at Spa years ago in the Ferrari, no penalty either.
27th September 2021, 22:32
The track has everything to do with it. Here we have a track with ridiculous tarmac run offs. And again we have track limits moaning. None of this in Zandvoort for instance. The rule book could be a lot thinner I believe by not making these design errors.
27th September 2021, 12:03
When I saw on my TV screen i believed it was Stroll, and I though “wow, that dude clearly cheated”.
And then I saw it was Alonso… how unexpected!
27th September 2021, 13:31
Yeah, Alonso certainly never did any cheating during his career. Definitely none at Renault and almost certainly none at McLaren. Very unexpected from the saintly driver.
28th September 2021, 11:22
7th October 2021, 19:09
It was not cheating (read the rules again – no off-track overtake), so you’re right: this is expected from him to show enough guile that other drivers don’t have.