Not penalising Alonso for Melbourne F1 crash would’ve opened a «can of worms»

The F1 pack has been quizzed extensively about the incident late in the race last time out in Melbourne as this weekend’s Suzuka race gets underway, with a notable split in opinions amongst the racing cohort.

Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg “wasn’t very impressed with Fernando’s tactics”, while Sauber racers Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu both called the decision to penalise the Spaniard “harsh”.

Russell aired his views in the pre-event press conference in Japan, where he made the case that if the FIA stewards had not penalised Alonso, such tactics might have started appearing in different F1 racing scenarios and possibly even developed into dangerous situations in junior single-seater competition.

“I think it was obviously a strange situation that happened last week,” said Russell.

“As I said at the time, [I was] totally caught by surprise.

“I was actually looking at the steering wheel making a switch change on the straight, which we all do across the lap, and when I looked up I was in Fernando’s gearbox and it was too late and then next thing I know I was in the wall.

“So, I think if it were not to have been penalised, it would’ve really opened up a can of worms for the rest of the season and in junior categories, saying, ‘are you allowed to brake in a straight, are you allowed to slow down, change gear, accelerate, do something semi-erratic?’

“I don’t take anything personally with what happened with Fernando and it probably had bigger consequences than it should have.

“But if it went unpenalised, can you just brake in the middle of the straight? I don’t know.”

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

When asked by Autosport for his thoughts on the ethics of tactics such as Alonso deployed, which have long been considered a legitimate part of racing in many quarters, Russell replied: “What you say is absolutely correct – every driver is open to change their line, brake earlier, power through the corner, do whatever.

“[But] when we start braking in the middle of the straight, downshifting, accelerating, upshifting again, then braking again for a corner, I think that goes beyond the realms of adjusting your line.

“And, as I said, I was actually looking at my steering wheel in that straight – as I’ve done every single lap prior.

“And when I looked up 100m before the corner, I realised I was right behind Fernando, rather than the half a second that I was.

“We’ve got so many duties to take care of when we’re driving – going around the race track, changing all the settings on the steering wheel, making sure you’re in the right engine mode, taking care of the tyres, talking to your engineer, managing the deltas on your steering wheel when it’s an in-lap, out-lap, safety car – whatever it may be.

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“And if you add into the mix that you’re allowed to brake in the middle of the straight to gain or get a tactical advantage, I think that is maybe one step too far.

“And the same when we talk about moving down the straight to get out of the slipstream.

“There was lot of talk about that in the past. It’s not overly dangerous, but it has a concertina effect. If everybody is moving around and if suddenly you brake test and there are 10 cars behind, it probably has a greater effect by the 10th driver than it does for the first driver behind.

“So, as I said, I don’t think what Fernando did was extraordinarily dangerous, but it will open a can of worms if it wasn’t penalised.”

The fallout from the incident is set to be discussed between officials and the drivers at the Suzuka driver’s meeting post-practice on Friday.

The location of Russell’s crash at Albert Park will also be a key point of order in that meeting.

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