Alfa Romeo was denied its first championship points of the 2021 Formula 1 season on Sunday at Imola after Kimi Raikkonen was handed a 30-second post-race penalty.
The time penalty was excessive but was adopted in lieu of Raikkonen being unable to serve a stop/go sanction that would have been issued in the race itself.
In its post-race press release Alfa Romeo said it was “dumbfounded” by the decision but will “take it on the chin, grow, and come back stronger.”
It robbed Alfa Romeo of its first points since the preceding Imola race last November, when Raikkonen also finished ninth on-track.
What happened on the track?
Alfa Romeo’s encouraging start to the weekend drifted away on Saturday as neither Raikkonen nor team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi were able to escape Q1.
Raikkonen lined up 16th but made gains through the rain-hit opening stages to hold 11th, behind Valtteri Bottas and George Russell, after the field took on slicks.
Bottas and Russell came together in a violent accident on the run to Tamburello, with Raikkonen handed a front row view of the incident, as he was peppered with debris while navigating his way through the immediate aftermath.
The red flag was called to clear up the mess at the Tamburello chicane, leaving Raikkonen solidly in eighth place, having gained an additional spot through Lewis Hamilton’s off.
Drivers returned to the circuit behind the safety car after the red-flag period but race control had not yet declared whether it would be a standing start or a rolling start – before signalling the latter.
Shortly after emerging from the pits Raikkonen spun at Turn 3, losing positions to Hamilton and Yuki Tsunoda. Alfa Romeo instructed Raikkonen to regain the places he had lost as a result of the spin, but quickly told him to ignore the command and hold position, citing safety concerns in the damp conditions behind the safety car.
Shortly after the restart, Raikkonen found himself in eighth as he gained two positions following mistakes for Tsunoda and Sergio Perez. Soon after, he was back down to ninth when Pierre Gasly made an overtake stick, and he remained there until the chequered flag.
Why was Raikkonen penalised?
Article 42.6 of the F1 Sporting Regulations states that overtaking behind the safety car is permitted in a restart procedure if a driver wishes “to re-establish his original starting position provided he does so before he crosses the first safety car line on the lap the safety car returns to the pits”.
It adds that “should he fail to do so he must re-enter the pit lane and may only re-join the race once the whole field has passed the end of the pit lane after the race has been resumed.”
However, the Stewards pointed out that this appears to contradict Article 42.12, which says that under a rolling restart procedure, after the safety car has turned its lights off, “no driver may overtake another car on the track until he passes the [safety car] line for the first time after the safety car has returned to the pits”.
Raikkonen caught up to the cars ahead at Turns 13 and 14, however the safety car had turned its lights out at Turn 10. When Alfa Romeo instructed Raikkonen to not overtake the cars ahead to regain eighth, they did so “by virtue of not endangering the other competitors by overtaking behind the safety car”.
It was questioned by the Stewards in the penalty decision document as to why cars are allowed to regain their position behind the safety car for a rolling restart, but not during a normal safety car procedure.
However, it was ultimately decided that “the rule requiring a car to enter the pit lane if it fails to regain its position is consistent amongst several championships, has been in the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations for several years and has been consistently applied”.
Therefore, the 30-second penalty was handed as a result of Raikkonen not returning to the pit lane after he failed to regain the positions he lost prior to the rolling restart.
Alfa Romeo was clear that they felt the penalty was unjust due to the disadvantage it had already incurred and the clear contractions the Stewards found in the regulations.
“It was a penalty which the stewards themselves struggled to reconcile themselves with, one within which they themselves saw contradictions,” the team said. “One that makes little sense from a sporting point of view.”