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Was Carlos Sainz’s Penalty Too Harsh? The Case For and Against

Carlos Sainz's penalty has been deemed to harsh by the paddock, but the FIA remains firm on the issue....

After hearing Carlos Sainz before the restart at the Australian GP plead for his case to be heard by the FIA afterwards in a heartbreaking tone, many fans and members of the paddock have claimed his 5s penalty after the restart was too harsh. However, are these simply the cries of fanboys or girls and people close to Sainz in the paddock? Let’s look at what’s been said and see if we can get a little closer to the truth.

The Case For Carlos Sainz

It should be no surprise that Carlos Sainz’s boss, Frederic Vasseur, has come to the Spaniard’s defence. Vasseur praised Sainz’s recovery drive and lamented missing out on potential points and a podium.

As Vasseur told English television station Channel 4, “My job is to take the positive and the negative, but just like this, it’s more the negative because I think we did overall a good job. Carlos had a very good recovery after the unlucky pit stop just before the red flag, and to get penalised like this at the end is very harsh. For sure you are emotional in this kind of situation because you are not far away from the podium, you are P4, coming from nowhere when all the others got a pit stop for free. He did a mega good job.”

He believes that discussing the fairness of the penalty could take hours and each team will consider it quite differently in their own analysis but considers this a shame because “it was not impacting the podium.” He additionally pleaded for the stewards to listen and look at the data.

Hypocrisy was the problem as he believed that Fernando Alonso’s pit stop in Saudi Arabia wasn’t looked at for 30 laps and “today took five seconds.”

“I think this is a bit of a shame,” said Vasseur. “Last week we changed the regulations two times in 10 minutes about the pit stop for Alonso and they could have done the same today, [or] at least discussed it.”

Fernando Alonso, the man whom Sainz had collided with, thought the penalty was “too harsh.”

“On lap one it is very difficult always to judge what the grip level [is] and I think we don’t go intentionally into another car,” said Alonso. “Because we know that we risk also our car and our final position, so sometimes you end up in places that you wish you were not there in that moment.”

Fans have considered that because the lap in which the incident occurred was deleted, then the penalty shouldn’t have been handed – “if the lap didn’t exist, how can the penalty?” Some others have considered that it was harsh for a Turn 1 restart incident, especially considering that Alonso’s grid position was returned.

Sky Sports pundit, Karun Chandhok, believed that Sainz was “more at fault” for the incident, he said that it is unfair “that a 5 second penalty during a safety car finish seems to be disproportionate to the crime.”

Martin Brundle believed that the stewards handed “an inconsistent penalty for Sainz from a standing start in the early corners.” This rings true considering that Logan Sargeant wasn’t penalised for colliding with Nyck de Vries during the same restart.

The Case Against Carlos Sainz

The stewards made it very clear that they believed Sainz was “wholly to blame” as Alonso was “significantly ahead” into the first corner when Sainz took too much speed and “drove into” Alonso on the exit.

Fans had said that normally an incident like this would have been viewed leniently given the circumstances, and the stewards did acknowledge this.

“However,” read their statement, “in this particular case, notwithstanding the fact that it was the equivalent of a first lap incident, we considered that there was sufficient gap for Car 55 [Sainz] to take steps to avoid the collision and failed to do so.”

As of writing, none in the paddock have come out to defend the FIA’s decision, but a few fans have.

One reddit user stated that “it’s the action, not the result that matters. Alonso could’ve easily DNFd as a result of damage from the collision. He [Sainz] got the literal minimum penalty possible for a move that was never gonna work unless Alonso disappeared into thin air.”

The Verdict

Considering the man who was hit himself thought the penalty was too harsh, considering the circumstances, and considering that a similar incident occurred to the rear of the grid with no penalty, it’s hard to see that this isn’t harsh and completely fair. However, this isn’t a decision that can be made easily, and it wasn’t the only decision that the FIA made in Australia that was questionable though they are handled by different departments, with the stewards handing out penalties, while the race restart was race control’s decision.

Did Sainz make a mistake? Yes. Did he deserve a penalty? Yes. Was a 5s penalty warranted while the race was set to end under a safety car? No.

Could the stewards have done something differently? Possibly, but considering that a 5s penalty is the minimum for an incident like this it’s hard to see what the stewards could have done without pardoning Sainz. They were by the book, but this situation is quite unique and complex and 5s proved more devastating than usual under a safety car.

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