Ferrari cannot run Carlos Sainz Jr in Formula 1’s post-season Abu Dhabi test after the FIA decided not to make exceptions beyond the controversial one letting Fernando Alonso participate.
Renault framed the decision to let Alonso take part in the ‘young driver’ test for drivers with no more than two grands prix starts as one made in recognition of the team’s history with young drivers and the double world champion’s own efforts in that regard.
However, that does not explain why Red Bull is expected to run Sebastian Buemi in the test, nor Alfa Romeo one-time race winner Robert Kubica.
The basis of the exception has instead been characterised as allowing drivers who have not raced in F1 in 2020 either.
It is murky that Renault says it is for one reason while a different reason is the only justification for allowing three experienced drivers to participate. Which is why Ferrari felt compelled to request that its 2021 driver Sainz would be allowed to take part as well.
“If for a combination of factors it’s been decided to grant exceptions to a few drivers, including Fernando, it would probably make sense to open up a bit more the regulation,” said Ferrari’s sporting director Laurent Mekies last weekend.
“So that people that will want to run their next year drivers can as well do it.
“I think it would be a common sense approach. I think it should be a young driver test only, but if for whatever reasons we are now in a position where it’s not going to be that because of two, three, four exceptions, then I think we should probably have a practical and common sense approach.”
Many defending the decision, or attacking those who criticised it, have questioned why Alonso’s participation is a problem when Kubica’s and Buemi’s are not. Well, they are a problem. F1 is now locked into a situation that allows three experienced drivers to take up seats in a test that was agreed months ago to be solely for opportunities for young drivers.
But the unfairness lies in the fact Buemi and Kubica are not racing next year. Alonso is. And he has been given a day’s advantage against his competitors, especially those switching teams. It’s easy to say ‘one day doesn’t matter’ but if it didn’t then Alonso wouldn’t be keen to do the test.
F1 2021 rookies Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin will all take part as well and that’s a vital headstart on their pre-season preparations. But that’s also quite different, a trio of debutants driving compared to a two-time world champion who has been out of F1 by choice.
It shouldn’t be for the F1 or the FIA to choose selected handouts on which drivers they help.
Ferrari’s request was a chance to rebalance the situation, even if it may have meant little to the other drivers changing places in 2021. It’s odd that the rulemakers have chosen not to do that.
If it isn’t clear, Alonso and Renault are not to blame. While some may be frustrated that Renault sought to get out of a unanimous agreement to only run young drivers, in a competitive world like F1 Renault should not feel guilty about this request given its situation has changed since April.
Alonso’s comeback was far from guaranteed then, and the shortened 2021 pre-season test means every bit of mileage counts. This is in its best interests, so it might as well ask.
And having run an entire championship for decades, made financial commitments to its Academy drivers’ programmes, and put on private tests in older cars for its best proteges, Renault can make a solid case for being allowed to put Alonso in one car for one day.
Especially as Alonso’s comeback is a big deal for F1 and anything to help him be at the top of his game is a benefit.
That’s seeing it from Renault’s side. From Ferrari’s side, for example, it has multiple young driver it is assisting (and has assisted before), and only a few weeks ago put three of them in a 2018 F1 car at Fiorano. So, it may feel the exception granted for Alonso and not for Sainz is illogical and hypocritical.
And from the perspective of McLaren and Racing Point, they made decisions not to participate in the test on the understanding it would be…well, run to the rules that were agreed.
This has not covered F1 in glory for a few reasons and is a situation that still needs to be fully understood.