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F1 INBOX: Your questions on Red Bull's pace, Ferrari's struggles and Alonso's penalty after the Saudi Arabian GP
Saudi Arabia hosted another dramatic contest on Sunday, with Sergio Perez leading a Red Bull one-two and Fernando Alonso completing the podium after his post race 10-second penalty was eventually reversed. It was a race packed with incident, so it's no surprise that we were inundated with questions on social media after the chequered flag…
Q: How could Max Verstappen finish second from 15th at Jeddah. How good is the Red Bull RB19 and why? (Via @HabibSRihana on Twitter)
A: (Mark Hughes, Special Contributor) The car is incredibly fast and has at least 1 second per lap on the best non-Red Bull. Furthermore, it is exceptionally fast with the DRS deployed, so making it easier for Max to overtake on one of the better tracks for passing.
The slower cars between him and Perez were quite easy meat for him. Regarding his gap to Perez, the Safety Car cancelled about 18s of the 21s he'd been behind Perez – so there was effectively a re-set. That was hugely significant.
As to why the car is so fast – it's all the reasons of last year's plus an even wider window between braking stability and direction change and a more effective DRS. That all comes from the fact that the team has a more sophisticated understanding of underfloor aerodynamics than anyone else. I'll explain more in the next Tech Tuesday, but this week's piece also shines a light on a crucial area of the car.
Q: What's going on with Ferrari? I expected them to be title contenders this year but they are looking worse than in 2022. Via @F1FanAndGamer on Twitter
A: (Mark Hughes, Special Contributor) The goalposts have been moved by Red Bull. In Bahrain the Ferrari was a faster car than last year's despite regulation changes which should have slowed it. But the Red Bull was faster than the year before by a bigger margin.
In Jeddah the Ferrari was slower than last year, but the Red Bull was about the same. Red Bull has just made massively bigger gains than anyone else. It's the old F1 story – advances are only advances if they are bigger than those of your rivals. You only get to find out when you all get out on track together.
Q: Why was Fernando Alonso given a five-second penalty, why was he demoted from P3, and why was his podium ultimately reinstated? Via numerous people on social media
A: (Samarth Kanal, F1.com Staff Writer) This one has been asked by so many people on various social networks, so we thought it best to tackle the topic with a general answer.
Firstly, Alonso was given a five-second penalty as, when the starting signal was given for the race, the FIA looked at video evidence and it showed that: "The contact patch of the car's left front tyre was outside of the starting box".
When Alonso came into the pits to serve his five-second penalty, the FIA staff back at the Remote Operations Centre back in Geneva (think a big room full of screens showing everything going on in the race) watched him serve his penalty and considered it "properly served."
However, on the final lap of the race, those watching from Geneva told the Stewards in the race control tower at Jeddah to review the footage again. The Stewards were shown a video of the rear jackman touching the car before Alonso had served his five-second penalty. Only after the five seconds is a team member allowed to work on the car.
"In this case, it was clear, that the car was touched by the rear jack," said the FIA Stewards, who had decided that this amounted to "working" on the car.
They decided that Alonso hadn't served his penalty correctly and gave him a 10-second penalty, promoting George Russell up to P3 and Alonso down to P4.
Aston Martin took issue with this and sent the Stewards a letter to review the penalty. They found seven different instances where cars were touched by the jack while serving a penalty of a similar sort, and the driver wasn't penalised. The FIA Stewards concluded that there was "no clear agreement" that touching the car with the jack constituted working on the car, and reversed the penalty.
Q: Does the rulebook say anything about when a penalty can be given during a race? Is there a set lap or time limit after the infraction or could someone theoretically get a post-race penalty for a first-lap infraction? Vias @SovietTaters on Twitter
A: (Sam Collins, F1 TV presenter and tech expert) This is something of a hot topic after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. A lot of people in the sport think that it is really important that time penalties are quickly communicated to all teams (and the media), because this can have an impact on how the race plays out.
Had Fernando Alonso been advised that he had a ten second penalty after apparently not serving his earlier five second penalty correctly, he would at least have had a chance of opening up the gap to George Russell behind him. With the penalty issued after the chequered flag, Alonso and Aston Martin had no real time to react.
The rules do set a time limit on communicating a decision during a race but not on actually taking the decision. Article 16.3 of the sporting regulations gives race control 25 minutes to tell a team or driver about a penalty, but crucially there is no limit on when the penalty can be issued.
In Saudi Arabia the stewards did not look into how Alonso served his five second penalty until the last lap of the race, so neither Alonso or the team had time to react. Ultimately the penalty was overturned and Alonso kept his third place. I would not be surprised to see the regulations on this tightened up somewhat in future.
Q: Are teams’ fuels customised for every race? And is this formulation done on an individual team basis or do all teams get the same fuel mix? (Via @walosomaloso on Twitter)
A: (Sam Collins, F1 TV presenter and tech expert) No. F1 teams have to run the same fuel all season long. Each power unit manufacturer has to homologate its fuels and lubricants, and at present the specifications of these are frozen from now until the start of the 2026 season. While the fuels are customised to each manufacturer, (Petronas makes a specific fuel for the Mercedes power unit, Shell makes a specific fuel for Ferrari power units and so on) each team using a particular power unit will use identical fuel to another team using the same unit.
It used to be the case that fuels were continually developed, and they did become very important in the overall performance of the cars. There are lots of stories about teams finding three or four tenths of a second in lap time as a direct result of the introduction of a new fuel. That all came to an end with the homologation of the fuels and lubricants.
One of the reasons for this was cost, the fuel development war was becoming quite extreme as the fuel suppliers were getting to the point of developing fuels for each specific circuit, and even different weather conditions. Engine manufacturers would work in extremely close partnership with the fuel suppliers on combustion chamber design so that the engine and the fuel were almost symbiotic.
But fuel development has not gone from F1 – the 2026 regulations are forcing the six power unit manufacturers who have signed up so far to develop new fully sustainable fuels. As the sport has banned fossil fuels these new fuels will have to be derived from waste products or carbon capture, for example. This will really put a great emphasis back on fuel development. I don’t think we will go back to the days of specific fuels for each track though.