Did Indian customs cost Alonso the title?

DONE IN BY EXTERNAL FORCES? Indian GP runner-up Fernando Alonso of Ferrari would well be feeling that despite his gallant efforts, off-the-racetrack events may have contributed to his rival Sebastian Vettel's victory. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt  

Last weekend’s Indian Grand Prix was another international success for the country. However one invisible challenge was the difficulty for teams in getting development parts through the infamous Indian customs controls.

Despite the best efforts of the race organisers, who have an entire department devoted to handling customs issues, it seems that Indian bureaucracy may perhaps have given Red Bull an unintended advantage over Ferrari.

A bizarre decision two years ago by the Indian Sports Ministry that the Grand Prix was “of no national importance” means that there are no customs concessions and the race promoter has therefore to pay temporary import duty on all the cars, parts and equipment flown in for the race.

This is then returned when everything leaves the country again, no doubt after a healthy administration fee has been paid.

This is daunting enough for all the equipment carried routinely around the world. However the Formula One teams frequently develop parts between races, often air freighting them in on the eve of the race or even bringing them in as part of a mechanic’s luggage.

In India the sheer volume of paperwork, along with the risk of having important components held in limbo, meant that some teams elected not to fly development parts to the race. Ferrari it seems made such a decision, meaning that it was unable to match developments revealed on the Red Bulls in the Korean Grand Prix.

Certainly Fernando Alonso was deeply unhappy about the situation. On Saturday after qualifying fifth behind both the Red Bulls and McLarens, the Spaniard’s disquiet apparently turned to fury when he read a quote from Ferrari technical director Pat Fry stating “In order to be where we wanted and where we were capable of being, we needed to be perfect today and we weren’t”.

Fernando apparently interpreted this as a comment on his driving and the Ferrari management had to prevent the apoplectic Alonso from ‘doing a Hamilton’ on Twitter.

According to both the La Stampa newspaper in Italy and the Daily Mail in UK, he was intending to write something along the lines of “I want my 1.2 million followers to know that the key aerodynamic components at the rear of the Ferrari are still the same as they were in May.”

Pointed jibe

Instead Alonso consoled himself with the pointed jibe “I am fighting both Vettel and Newey for the world championship”.

It hints Alonso’s belief that Ferrari designers have failed to match Red Bull designer Adrian Newey’s development programme.

Come the race in India, as Vettel disappeared into the distance in a flawless run to the chequered flag, Alonso kept his championship hopes alive with a storming drive to second.

His bid to pass both McLarens on the opening lap was spectacular and moved him to fourth past Hamilton.

After a well-judged move on Jenson Button for third, Alonso then set out for a bull fight. Mark Webber, running without the KERS power boost was easy meat, but perhaps appropriately in the land of sacred cows, Vettel’s Red Bull was out of reach.

Vettel’s fourth successive win, his fifth of the season, was by just a nine-second margin over Alonso.

The Spaniard’s second place means that he remains a mere 13 points behind Vettel in the title chase.

The Red Bull driver well knows even the slightest glitch in Abu Dhabi could still leave the championship wide open.

After winning in 2009 and in 2010 to claim his first title, the German started from pole position last year. However a blown tyre saw Vettel slide off the track and into retirement on the opening lap.

Given the more open customs controls in the Emirates, new components are sure to arrive without delay for Ferrari this weekend.

But they need to work, if they don’t Vettel could be heading for his third world championship title.

Steve Slater is an F1 commentator on STAR Sports

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 7:52:10 AM |

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