Scuderia Ferrari Spanish driver Carlos Sainz vocally and repeatedly expressed his disapproval to his Ferrari race engineer Riccardo Adami over the radio before the last Safety Car restart at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, as the race stewards decided to hand him a five second time penalty following his collision with the Aston Martin car of Fernando Alonso in the final stages of the Australian Grand Prix.
The Ferrari man attempted to overtake his compatriot after the restart, but braked too late, not being helped by the cold tyres and hit the rear of Fernando Alonso, which sent the Aston Martin into a spin and outside the top ten. Luckily for the ex-Ferrari driver, the Australian Grand Prix was immediately stopped once again with another red flag, the third and final time, as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen crossed the Melbourne start/finish line in the pits to start Lap 58 – the last of the race.
Despite the fact that the race restarted from the order in Lap 56, which meant it did not take into consideration the events that took place on Lap 57, the race stewards still decided to investigate and give Carlos Sainz a penalty due to the incident with Fernando Alonso.
Yet why did they take this decision when the incident technically didn’t even happen?
By looking at the current Formula 1 Sporting Regulations, Article 58.15 informs that “if the sprint session or the race cannot be resumed the results will be taken at the end of the penultimate lap before the lap during which the signal to suspend the sprint session or the race was given.”
As explained by the rules, the stewards re-established the order by using the positions from Lap 56, before the red flag was shown.
Show your support for Scuderia Ferrari with official merchandise collection! Click here to enter the F1 online Store and shop securely! And also get your F1 tickets for every race with VIP hospitality and unparalleled insider access. Click here for the best offers to support Charles and Carlos from the track!
Despite the fact that there was some debate whether this could be done from Safety Car Line 2 at the start of Lap 57 – as later indicated by Haas with an official post-race protest – Lap 56 was considered the most credible by the officials.
As a result, several drivers which lost places at the restart on Lap 57 got their positions back, starting with Fernando Alonso.
The count back technicality
Places can often be given back to drivers who have been involved in crashes after a red flag as a result of the count back rule.
This also happened at the 2020 Formula 2 Sprint Race at Sochi, when both Jack Aitken and Luca Ghiotto were classified on the count back despite causing the race-ending red flag. Yet it does not exempt drivers from taking responsibility for what happened on the race track.
Article 54.1 of the F1 Sporting Regulations explains: “The Race Director may report any on-track incident or suspected breach of these Sporting Regulations or the Code (an “Incident”) to the stewards. After review it shall be at the discretion of the stewards to decide whether or not to proceed with an investigation.
The most important part of the text is “any on-track incident”.
This is a technicality within the rulebook that allows stewards to still consider the laps competed after the count back as part of the actual Grand Prix, which means they are able to be investigated and drivers can be penalized if found guilty for causing various incidents. This is also the reason why Pierre Gasly was investigated following the Australian Grand Prix for his race-ending collision with his Alpine teammate.
Carlos Sainz believes the five-second penalty was too harsh especially considering the context in which it was given, without any chance for the Ferrari man to recover or defend his position. The Spaniard therefore finished outside the top ten in Melbourne, ending another disappointing race weekend for the Maranello team.
However, the Australian Grand Prix clearly shows that the various different circumstances which drivers can get penalties, as this can also be the case for formation laps or the reconnaissance laps to the grid.