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Formula 1

The baffling F1 inaction made worse by Sainz penalty

by Josh Suttill
4 min read

Amid all of the chaos of the second standing restart at the Australian Grand Prix it would have been easy to miss Logan Sargeant spearing into fellow Formula 1 rookie Nyck de Vries at first.

But as replays of the various angles of the crash were shown under the third red-flag period of the race, you’d have seen Sargeant locking up his brakes and ploughing into the back of De Vries’ AlphaTauri.

You’d have also seen Alpine team-mates Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly colliding and Carlos Sainz tipping his countryman Fernando Alonso into a spin. Sainz was handed a costly five-second penalty, while Ocon and Gasly’s incident was investigated and no further action was deemed necessary.

The Ocon/Gasly verdict was perhaps surprising but what was undoubtedly more confusing was the lack of any investigation into the Sargeant/De Vries clash.

The duo were the last two of the 16 cars who took the restart after De Vries had earlier suffered contact with Ocon on the exit of the Turn 3 right-hander that dropped him out of points contention while Sargeant struggled on the mediums and failed to make much progress.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Race Day Melbourne, Australia

The restart was a chance for both to make ground but that went awry into Turn 1.

“[It] just felt like…well, when I hit the brake nothing was up to temp; the tyres and brakes,” said Sargeant when The Race asked what happened.

“I just touched the brakes and locked both fronts immediately, apologies to Nyck, hate to end a day like that.

“I have to look and see what happened, it definitely felt strange because it felt like I had definitely braked in a similar spot on the previous two starts.

“It almost just felt like a cold brake situation where you touch the brake and the fronts immediately lock and from there, there’s nothing you can really do.”

De Vries was understanding of Sargeant’s mistake when The Race asked him for his view.

“Those things happen, it’s a racing incident,” De Vries said.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Race Day Melbourne, Australia

“Logan misjudged his braking point and as a result, he drove into the back of me, no hard feelings, it can happen.

“Everyone can make a misjudgement, sadly that was the end of our race.”

De Vries was kind to call it a racing incident but it was somewhat baffling to see a clear-cut error that resulted in another car being wiped out go completely without investigation, let alone punishment.

If a car problem explained the “strange” feeling Sargeant described then that would be revealed within the investigation, such as when Kamui Kobayashi’s Caterham took out Felipe Massa’s Williams in dramatic style at the same corner at the start of the 2014 race, and no further action was ruled when a braking issue aboard Kobayashi’s car was proved.

The lack of an investigation into the De Vries/Sargeant clash added to the questions already raised by the neutral verdict of Ocon/Gasly’s intra-team shunt and probably didn’t help Sainz’s fury over the penalty he picked up.

After all, Sainz was handed a penalty because the stewards deemed that “there was sufficient gap for Sainz to take steps to avoid the collision and failed to do so”.

What steps Sainz could have taken are unclear and aren’t listed but presumably those things are braking earlier and not running into Alonso. Is that so different from what Sargeant should have done to avoid running into De Vries?

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Race Day Melbourne, Australia

Without even so much as an investigation – and therefore at least some explanation of why no action was taken, however brief – it creates a cloudy, inconsistent picture of how ‘first lap’ incidents should be judged.

Did the lock-up and braking at the same point as the previous restarts absolve Sargeant? Does it mean drivers won’t be investigated if they lock up and plough into their rivals in future?

It’s difficult to remember quite such a clear-cut penalty going completely without acknowledgement before. It will hopefully be a bizarre anomaly rather than the start of a trend.

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