It may have been an intense qualifying session for the top three spots of the grid, however there was an equal amount of time spent commenting on the Alonso-Magnussen feud. Kevin had some strong words to say about Alonso’s arrogance, after Alonso had essentially called him stupid. Was Fernando right to be furious and did Magnussen have the right to defend his position at the end of the straight?
First of all, Alonso’s claim that “Magnussen wanted to race at Turn 1” is irrelevant and you can’t focus on their wheel to wheel moment without understanding how we ended up there.
What happened before Turn 1
Alonso is warming up his tyres and maintains a good 2 second gap to the car in front as he exits Ascari and runs down the straight to Parabolica. The engineer on the radio informs him on the exact situation:
«You ’ve got 2 seconds to Stroll, in front of him 2 seconds to Gasly, in front of him 2 seconds Sirotkin.
You are basically all now at similar gaps.
You’ve got 1 minute to the chequered flag, so… loads of time. Recharge early.»
The radio in the respective available onboard video is played all throughout the final straight, but judging from the fact that “1 minute to the flag” is considered “loads of time” at that moment, the actual time of the message can’t be much earlier.
Magnussen rushes past Alonso well before the braking zone of Parabolica. He breaks the gap to Stroll. Although Alonso would welcome every driver behind him playing along, no driver actually has the obligation to stay behind while Alonso is backing off. Magnussen definitely does not block Alonso, nor does he push him off track.
Alonso has got a few options:
A. Back off again and build a new gap to Magnussen: Based on the 1 minute left, he could easily do that. After all, there have been many times when drivers enter the Parabolica even slower than that, before starting a new flying lap.
B. Pass Magnussen on the straight: He could also do that, but he should have planned the move and commit to it from the beginning of Parabolica.
C. Pass Magnussen right on the spot, entering Parabolica: He could only have done that if he had earlier realized Magnussen approaching and accelerated. When Alonso actually starts reacting, it’s too late for this option.
Fernando’s reaction is unfortunately a bit rushed and sloppy. He tries to pull a move on Magnussen right into Parabolica, even from the outside and then switches to try and pass on the straight. It’s a move of frustration and surprise. Within fractions of a second he then thinks “why not using the slipstream now” but Magnussen won’t disappear just after that.
What is acceptable in racing?
From a racing perspective, Alonso’s frustration is understandable, but its magnitude is rather unfounded. Magnussen felt he was ready to start a lap and he was entitled to do it, without endangering other drivers. In hindsight, it would have been better for him and Alonso to stay back and keep his distance from the McLaren. But after he passed Fernando, he had no reason to back off again and it was Alonso’s decision to attack. There is, though, a common understanding among drivers that you normally won’t do what Kevin did, unless you are under pressure to make it to the start line before the flag (or, well… if you are fighting for the championship with the exact guy in front of you and you want to spoil his gap pattern). Magnussen was not in such rush.
Wrapping it up…
To sum it up: Kevin was definitely kind of annoying, but practically did nothing illegal. Alonso is right to be angry, but he could have handled it much better, given his experience. So, what we saw happening is pretty much what happens when you have 22 racing drivers and only one track for them all…