Fernando Alonso’s disagreement with Formula 1’s officiating has shifted from highlighting rivals’ transgressions to adapting to the fact “the referee is doing nothing” in some situations.
Two-time world champion Alonso ended a short absence from F1 with his return with the Alpine team this year and as his comeback season has progressed he has become more vocal about his rivals and about the FIA.
Alonso was very upset at the conduct of others, and the attention of the race officials, at the Red Bull Ring in particular.
In the Styrian Grand Prix he dived to the inside to pass Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc into Turn 1 at the start, and in the Austrian Grand Prix did the same to Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo – only to lose out on the exit of the corner each time because other drivers took too much speed into the corner and used the run-off.
Between those two races Alonso said the FIA should pay more attention to policing track limits rules properly and later in the Austrian GP weekend, after being impeded by Sebastian Vettel in qualifying, he slammed the officials by saying that sort of behaviour “has to be managed a little bit better in the top category and be harsh with penalties – this is a consequence of being too soft”.
The next day, after being irked by Ricciardo’s driving at the first corner, Alonso was angry over the team radio, and the most interesting thing within his sarcasm and fury was that he indicated he would learn from this and take advantage of what he perceives to be weak refereeing.
Alonso said he felt like an “idiot” after those incidents, and while his radio rants and post-race comments were entertaining and justified, he believes it continued a trend of being ignored.
So, when he was criticised at the next event for weaving down the Hangar Straight at Silverstone to make it harder for the cars following to get a clean slipstream, he talked about embracing the “dark side”.
By that Alonso did not mean he would start playing dirty. He simply meant he is happy to be perceived as the wrongdoer, given he feels he has followed the rules in the previous nine events while others who have not have got away with it.
Alonso likened it to a football match in which the opposition are allowed to handle the ball in the penalty area.
“I’ve always been a clean driver and I will remain a clean driver for all my career,” said Alonso at the British GP.
“I felt a little bit like an idiot, I said in Austria, by respecting the rules. We try to speak with the race director and we try to say all the things that people were doing, with not many answers. And that was strange.
“I don’t want to be blaming, I don’t want to be crying every race, for something that the others do. The strategy in the first races [following the rules and complaining when others failed to] didn’t bring us any solution.
“So, we understood that the solution is to do what the others are doing.
“That’s the only thing we can do, because we tried to be fair and we tried to say to the referee, ‘Look, they are playing with their hands in the penalty area’.
“But if the referee is doing nothing, we understand that we can also play with our hands in the penalty area. So, we do that.
“We wish we don’t need to do that, but because apparently some things are allowed in the Formula 1 of today we copy. And we don’t feel anymore like we are out of the sport.
“It’s not the dark side, it’s just playing with the same rules as everyone else.”
When he passed Lando Norris around the outside into Copse during his sprint race charge at Silverstone, Alonso said he’d have been happy to run wide and complete the move off-track if necessary given that was the precedent set in Austria.
He didn’t need to as he completed the move on-track. But it exemplified a mindset shift as Alonso, gaining ever more momentum and confidence since his return to F1, hunts for marginal gains.
Alonso essentially has an issue with the way F1 is regulated, as he believes there is more of a grey area than he’d like.
Now, instead of complaining, he is simply willing to stray into the grey himself.