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Fernando Alonso Cleared of Cheating After DRS Malfunction

Craig ChristopherAnalyst IApril 18, 2011

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 17:  Michael Schumacher of Germany and Mercedes GP leads from Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari during the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 17, 2011 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

If we said that Fernando Alonso hasn’t had a great start to the season, it would probably be an understatement.

While the Ferraris have been relatively consistent, they are well off the qualifying pace of Red Bull and McLaren, and while they’re doing better in race mode, they’re still not threatening the top two. More worryingly for Alonso, his so-called No. 2 teammate, Felipe Massa, has comfortably beaten him home in the last two races

The Maranello boys have also been upstaged by Vitaly Petrov (in Australia) and Nick Heidfeld (in Malaysia) in their Renaults, and then by Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes in China. Despite that, Ferrari are still third in the constructor’s championship and running fifth and sixth in the driver’s championships.

While things could be much worse, you would suspect that Alonso, given that he narrowly missed out on last year’s title, would have been hoping to be much closer.

The team’s woes seem to be related to translating their scaled wind tunnel information into speed on the track, no doubt causing a lot of concern amongst the white coat and pocket protector brigade.

So with all of the mediocrity surrounding the team, it must have been nice for them to get a real, clearly defined problem to deal with. The Chinese Grand Prix gave them just that.

On Lap 23, when battling to pass Michael Schumacher, Alonso’s Drag Reduction System (DRS) activated where it shouldn’t have—between the hairpin and the final corner. The designated zone for this race was on the back straight.

Television footage showed Alonso’s rear wing flap twitch a few times before opening fully on the run to the last corner. It was only for a few seconds, but it shouldn’t have happened.

The FIA were satisfied with Ferrari’s explanation that the issues were a one-off software “glitch” and that Alonso was actually hindered by the fact that the system didn’t actuate on the back straight when it might have helped. Alonso was not penalised.

Common sense reigned supreme at the FIA—make a note of this date, it may never happen again.

But surely this raises some questions.

The Ferrari DRS system, like everyone else’s, is driver operated with electronics preventing it being used in the wrong place on the track. It is supposed to only remain open under positive input from the driver—that is, the driver is supposed to be pressing a button, stepping on a pedal or holding a paddle on the steering wheel to keep it engaged.

When the driver lets go or touches the brakes the system is supposed to deactivate until next time it is “in the zone.”

How then, did Alonso’s wing operate? Even if the system error allowed the system to be activated, it should still have required Alonso to step on the pedal (reportedly Ferrari’s method to make it work). So why did he step on it then?

We only know that it activated on that occasion because an eagle-eyed BBC producer caught it on video. Did it happen at any other time?

In all probability it was a one off and just another symptom of a very ordinary start to the year.

Then again…

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