Opinion F1 Unlocked
PALMER: Did Perez really deserve a five-second penalty for his clash with Norris?
This year Sergio Perez has picked up a five-second penalty in Zandvoort for pit lane speeding, another in Singapore for swiping Alex Albon’s Williams, two penalties in Japan for overtaking under the Safety Car and then nerfing into Kevin Magnussen, and three more in Qatar for repeated track limits infringements. I’m sure Checo would have been hoping to get to the end of the season without further trouble in Abu Dhabi, but it wasn’t to be.
Incredibly he picked up his eighth five-second penalty from the last 10 races after contact with Lando Norris late on, taking his penalty points tally up to seven, with 12 permitted before a ban is enforced.
As a result, Checo has a fair amount of next season to do with a hefty chunk of points on his record. In fact he won’t have any coming off until September the 17th next year, meaning he’ll have to be considerably cleaner in his first 17 races in 2024 to avoid getting in or close to major trouble.
Whilst Checo has undoubtedly had a rough run, I have sympathy for him for the Abu Dhabi punishment. In my opinion this was a classic racing incident which absolutely did not require a penalty.
Perez was attacking McLaren’s Lando Norris heading into the closing stages. Racing in Abu Dhabi is slightly particular: on the one hand overtaking isn’t that difficult because of a really long straight exiting Turn 5, catapulting drivers into a tight, big braking zone for the chicane at 6, before another straight offers further opportunities into the re-profiled Turn 9.
It should be an overtaking frenzy, and it often is since the circuit’s redesign, but because of the complexities of the DRS, moves have to be considered more than normal.
There are two different detection points for the long straights, meaning that if you make a move into the chicane at Turn 6, you are liable to be re-passed back into Turn 9 if you aren’t careful. We saw Fernando Alonso play around with DRS detection in his fight with Lewis Hamilton, eventually coming out on top for exactly that reason – he managed a re-pass into 9.
As Perez was closing in on Norris, Lando gave up the space on the inside to Turn 6, allowing Checo to make the move unimpeded, with a view to fighting back on the run out of the corner. It meant that both braked with a degree of caution, trying to figure out what the other driver’s next move was.
As Norris opened the door wide for Perez to come through, Checo then released the brakes and was duly accepting the gift.
A small oversteer moment before the apex necessitated a slight correction and caused Perez to miss the apex slightly, but there was still plenty of room for both drivers to navigate the corner comfortably, such was their passive entry phase – they were both below the limit, particularly Norris who was waiting on the racing line.
Lando was clearly not expecting Checo to correct his Red Bull though and started turning in, expecting his rival to be able to maintain the inside line – there was no reaction from the Brit as Checo ran slightly deeper than intended. Norris kept turning in and thus the contact occurred.
Norris still had space on his outside to open the steering and avoid the contact had he seen it coming, while Perez missed his apex slightly and ran wider than he’d have liked through the corner as well, thus cramping Norris’ space on the exit.
Lando could have still kept on track and continued, but he bolted through the run off area, keeping the position for another lap, while Perez took Turn 7 and had to wait for another attempt at taking fourth position.
All in all it was a fairly minor moment; a slight bit of wheel-to-wheel contact, causing an inconsequential amount of damage, leaving both drivers in exactly the position they were in before the corner.
It was also not an egregious move by any stretch of the imagination by either party. In my opinion the stewards didn’t need to intervene. Maybe this was a case of Perez’s recent reputation counting against him.
Earlier on in the race Lewis Hamilton drove into the back of Pierre Gasly at the same corner, a mistake entirely of the Mercedes driver’s fault, as he had a lapse in concentration and misjudged the retardation of the Alpine ahead, yet there was quite rightly no penalty awarded, even though the incident had a similar potential to damage both cars.
Perez was feeling understandably aggrieved after the race, not only picking up more penalty points, but losing the chance to end the season on the podium after a decent recovery drive. It was a tough break for him, but a lucky one for Mercedes, who needed it to cling on to second in the constructors’ championship, in a battle that went right down to the wire…