Alfa Romeo team manager Beat Zehnder says that the blunder over Kimi Raikkonen’s race tyres in Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix was the worst mistake he’s made during all his time in F1.
And Zehnder certainly knows what he’s talking about, having been with the Sauber team ever since 1994 – a total of 455 Grand Prix events in charge.
“That was my biggest mistake so far in 25 years,” he said of the incident at Monza, which resulted in Raikkonen receiving a ten second stop-and-go penalty during the race.
The problem arose from a misunderstanding of the rules relating to a pit lane start. Raikkonen had provisionally qualified in tenth place, but damaged his car in a subsequent accident.
As a result of the car having to be modified under parc ferme conditions, the Finn was required to start from the pit lane. However he did so on a set of medium tyres rather than the soft compound that he had set his best Q2 time on as he was required to.
“I don’t explain the penalty, I don’t know the rules,” Raikkonen fumed after the race. “Somebody f****d up somewhere but it just happened. Plus that f*****g set was completely useless.”
Since the team hadn’t changed the safety cell on the car after the accident, they weren’t actually allowed to change the tyres in the start. Zehnder admitted that it had been his responsibility to ensure that the proper rules had been followed.
“I should have known that we would have had to start with the soft qualifying tyre for the final,” he told the Swiss German-language daily newspaper Blick.
Despite starting from the pit lane, Raikkonen had improved to 15th place by lap 10, only to slide all the way back again following the penalty.
After that, he was able to claw his way back to 15th place by the finish, but never had a chance of contending for points.
“If there hadn’t been that mistake over the tyres today, for sure we would have finished much higher,” Raikkonen said on Sunday.
Zehnder suggested that without the penalty, Raikkonen was almost certainly on course for 13th place or better.
“I hope that in the next 25 years, such a flop never happens again,” he said.
At least there was some consolation on the other side of the Alfa Romeo garage, with Antonio Giovinazzi battling his way to two points for ninth place.
It’s the Italian’s best result so far, coming just a week after he crashed out of the points on the penultimate lap of the Belgian GP.
“With this achievement, he has made up for his mistake in Spa,” noted Peter Sauber, the former team principal who was Alfa’s guest of honour at Monza.
“I’m just glad that Antonio finally showed his talent,” said current team principal Frédéric Vasseur. “It repays the faith everyone in the team has put in him.
“Sadly Kimi didn’t have as memorable a race,” Vasseur added. “Coming back from a pitlane start was always going to be a tough task, but as we put the wrong tyres onto his car his hopes of points were put to an end.”
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