Barcelona: Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso yesterday made a blistering criticism of Formula One’s current stewarding standards and accused those running the sport of incompetence. The 40-year-old Spaniard claimed that officials, notably in Miami, lacked knowledge of motor racing and had made “unfair” decisions and suggested that Niels Wittich, one of two Race Directors appointed this year to succeed Michael Masi, lacked the experience required.
Speaking ahead of his home event, this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya, Alonso made clear that safety concerns raised by drivers in Miami had been ignored. “We saw a couple of things already that proves that we still need to improve a lot,” said Alonso.
“(In) racing, you need to have some knowledge about racing before being a race director -- or trying to monitor a race. “And I don’t think that knowledge is in place at the moment. I know there is a new race director here...”
The sport’s ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA), appointed Wittich and Eduardo Freitas after Masi was removed following his controversial handling of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year. Wittich took charge of the first five races, but Freitas will take over this weekend. “I think Freitas has a lot more experience with the World Endurance Championship, and other categories at the top level, and I think that will improve things.”
Alonso has endured a difficult start to the 2022 season which continued in Miami where he was awarded two penalties during the race, incensing his Alpine team. He was given a five-seconds penalty for a collision with Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly and another similar one for cutting the chicane in the closing laps. The Alpine team disputed the decisions with data.
“We believe that it was very unfair and just incompetence from the stewards,” said Alonso. “They were not very professional in Miami. I missed one corner and then I gave back the time on the lap, but... they took the decision without asking [for] any proof.”
He added that the stewards were caught off guard by the ‘new’ evidence presented. “We came there, we showed them all the data. So, they said ‘give us five minutes’ and then they found themselves with their hands tied, probably because they issue the penalty already and they didn’t know how to get back from that document.
“So, it was very bad. It’s already in the past but it is something that should not happen in F1 with professionals and the standards that Formula One has right now.”
Alonso also highlighted Wittich’s decision not to respond to drivers’ requests for an impact-absorbing barrier at a corner where Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz crashed heavily in Friday practice in Miami. Sainz said the impact was worse than it should have been, given the low speed involved, but was told it was a freak accident and a barrier was not necessary.
Twenty-four hours later, Alonso’s Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon had an almost identical accident which damaged his car’s chassis. Ocon said he had spoken to Freitas in Spain this week and was told that after analysis of both accidents there would be changes at the Miami track next year.
Wittich has also sparked controversy this year for taking a strict approach to the rules on jewellery and drivers’ fireproof underwear. Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton claimed in Miami that this focus on a ‘bling ban’ was “almost a step backwards” when the sport had “bigger fish to fry”.
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