Norris’ pit entry incident was a major point of discussion after the race on Sunday, and many observers were surprised when the McLaren driver received a reprimand rather than the five-second penalty and one licence point that are usually associated with the offence.
The significance was that those five seconds would have made his day even worse, dropping him from seventh place to ninth, behind the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bull of Sergio Perez.
It certainly looked like the offence was a slam dunk.
When he headed to the pitlane to take intermediates with two laps to go Norris lost control in the pit entry, and his whole car slide across the line and back onto the track. He managed to gather it up and jink back into the pitlane, but in post-race interviews he conceded that a penalty and a further demotion was likely.
When Raikkonen took the chequered flag, the Alfa team was so sure that Norris would be penalised that the Finn was told that his eighth place on the road was expected to become seventh.
To make matters worse for Alfa Romeo, Raikkonen was one of the most recent recipients of a five-second penalty for a pit entry offence, at Mugello last year, one that dropped him from eighth to ninth place and cost him a couple of points.
It’s no surprise therefore that the news that Norris had received only a reprimand on this occasion was received with incredulity in the Alfa Romeo camp, and not least by team principal Vasseur.
The Norris verdict came in the slipstream of a series of recent FIA decisions that have impacted the Swiss team and left it rueing what Vasseur sees as an apparent lack of consistency.
That list is topped by the awarding of points after two laps behind the safety car in Spa – an outcome that created a 10-point swing to Williams in the battle for eighth place in the constructors’ championship, potentially costing Alfa millions of dollars.
“I’m very sad for Lando, because he did a fantastic weekend in Sochi,” Vasseur told Motorsport.com.
“But then it’s not because you like the guy and he deserved to win that we have to change the rule. The rule is crystal clear, that if you cross the line, you have to be penalised.
“It was the case on tons of occasions, for 10 times less than this, with [Yuki] Tsunoda in Spielberg, with Raikkonen last year in Mugello. And exactly the same condition with Lewis in Hockenheim in 2019.”
Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, makes a pit stop
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
In fact, technically Hamilton’s 2019 German GP penalty was for going to the wrong side of the pit entry bollard, not the crossing line, but it earned the same five-second penalty.
Going further back in history there were more severe penalties for pit entry offences.
Intriguingly, there is also a precedent for giving a reprimand and not a time penalty for a pit entry offence in a race – and again it involved Hamilton at Hockenheim, this time in 2018. On that occasion, he was heading into the pits, and went to the correct side of the bollard, but then opted to cross the line and return to the track.
The stewards subsequently justified the decision to give a reprimand by saying that that “the driver and the team candidly admitted the mistake and the fact that there was confusion within the team as to whether to stay out or to enter the pits and that led to the infringement”.
Last weekend’s verdict explained why the stewards had awarded a reprimand and given Norris the benefit of the doubt, noting that he was travelling slowly and that “we do not consider that the crossing of the painted area was intentional or predictable in the circumstances”.
However, Vasseur insists that Norris’s slide back onto the racing line in Sochi was deserving of the usual time penalty.
“I will say that it’s even worse in these conditions,” he said. “Because when Tsunoda put a wheel on the white line in Spielberg, it was not a safety issue, it was not a gain of time, because like when you are at the pit exit you go straight if you touch the white line, you are not faster. But he got penalised.
“And nobody complained about this that day, because the rule was clear, you put the wheel on the line, you are penalised.
“Last week, the advantage for Lando was mega. Because in this situation either you take five seconds or you do another lap in the wet on slicks, and you’re losing perhaps 25 seconds.
“And probably the five-second penalty is not enough. Because I perfectly remember that when Lewis took the penalty in Hockenheim, 99% of the paddock complained that it was too small.
“Now we are starting to find let’s say, not reasons, but the explanation around the incident, and we are looking stupid. The rule is crystal clear. In that rule you never had a consideration about what is the advantage, is it the right circumstance?”
Vasseur sees the Norris decision as an example of too much interpretation on the part of the stewards.
“The question for me is that if we open the door to this kind of discussion each time that someone will put a wheel on the white line we will try to find a good reason,” he explains. “And we will go to the stewards and explain and show the data, and it’s an endless discussion.
Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal, Alfa Romeo Racing, in the team principals Press Conference
Photo by: FIA Pool
“I’m scared that the last couple of weekends we had far too many issues. I remember that in the quali in Monza a driver [Nikita Mazepin] blocked [Antonio] Giovinazzi, and he didn’t get penalised because the team didn’t inform him. It’s a joke.
“Nobody considered this point before. We did exactly the same in Monaco three years ago, Giovinazzi got penalised, and I didn’t complain because we f**ked up the lap of someone.
“It is tough to consider and to try to understand the reasons behind the mistake. It’s a new discussion.”
Alfa and Vasseur were also left fuming when at the Emilia Romagna GP earlier this year Raikkonen received a 30-second penalty for not entering the pitlane after spinning before the rolling restart.
Even the stewards acknowledged at the time that there were apparently contradictory regulations, but the penalty was still applied. It dropped him from ninth to 13th.
“I think that when they took the very tough decision against Kimi in Imola they didn’t consider that the start of the story came from the race director also,” says Vasseur.
“The rule is clear that the race director is supposed to signal the rolling start after several laps, not when you are in the pitlane.
“We had far too many polemics over the last six or seven events. I think that we have to stick to the rules, and this is it. If you have a look, Spa was a disaster.
“In Sochi we had a driver [Fernando Alonso] over the kerb at Turn 2, and he didn’t come back by the normal escape way. And when we asked the race director he said it’s okay, they didn’t get an advantage. But it’s not the rule – if you are over the kerb, you have to go there.”
Vasseur admits that the Norris saga was a final straw after the various situations that have impacted his team this season and says, “at one stage it’s starting to be a lot”.
“If you have a look at the last five or six events, we had controversy.
“And it’s not good for the sport, it’s not good for my team, it’s not good for my shareholders. But first, we look stupid.”