Formula 1 | This is what’s behind Fernando Alonso’s pit radio: “The seat is on fire”

The Qatar Grand Prix was just on the 25th lap when Fernando Alonso made people sit up and take notice with an unusual pit radio: “The seat is on fire, buddy. Is there anything we can do during the pit stop? Maybe pour water in it or something?” But his race engineer Chris Cronin already suspected: “We’re thinking about whether there’s anything. But it’ll be difficult.”

It wouldn’t have been a good idea if a mechanic had actually let a bottle of water run down Alonso’s back during the pit stop. Firstly, because it is forbidden by FIA regulations. One could interpret this as an attempt to load weight into the car in order to cover up any underweight at the start in time for the scales at the end of the race. And secondly, because the on-board electronics might react sensitively to this.

At the time, it was not clear to TV viewers what the drivers were going through in the cockpits. It’s not new that Aston Martin’s seats sometimes get a little warmer than the drivers would like. “But today was extreme,” says Alonso in retrospect.

Team boss Mike Krack confirms: “It’s true, Fernando has reported this to us a few times. And it’s not that we didn’t do anything. We had the problem in Singapore too, but since then we thought it was much, much better “Today there were extreme conditions.”

Alonso reports that he was “half burnt” on the right side of his body: “The conditions were pretty extreme today and the seat didn’t help.” Krack jokes: “If we have something like this more often, we’ll probably need air conditioning soon!”

Why the seats in Formula 1 get so hot

First of all, it would probably help to better dissipate the heat from the seat shell. A complex undertaking: “There are hydraulic lines and all the electronics around them,” explains Krack. “Of course they all produce heat, and you try to insulate the seat as best you can.”

In theory, teams could also install active cooling in the seats to increase driver comfort. “You don’t want that because it means extra weight,” Krack clarifies. And extra weight means worse performance. A luxury that you can’t afford in Formula 1.

It wasn’t Alonso’s only delicate situation caught on TV. On lap 7, he slid off the track in a fast right-hand bend, shortly after adjusting the steering wheel. However, he was able to maintain his seventh place despite the small mishap, which, according to the lap table, cost about a second.

Difficult situation with Leclerc on lap 33

The mistake on lap 33 was even more dramatic. Alonso slipped in turn 2 in a similar way to Liam Lawson in the F1 sprint on Saturday, looked for a road next to the track and drove back onto the track at full speed, where things briefly became tighter for Charles Leclerc than the Ferrari driver would have liked was.

“That was at the limit,” says Leclerc. “On the other hand, he was so far away that I don’t think he could have seen me at any point. Then going back like that is probably not the best way to get back on track. But I think he just didn’t realize was that I was there.”

The race stewards issued a warning against Alonso for the action, his first of the 2023 season. Leclerc did not have to take any evasive measures, according to the verdict, but Alonso drove back onto the track in a way that was not safe.

Ferrari: Alonso should have been punished

“I don’t know,” Alonso himself waves off – and a more thorough study of the TV repeat shows: Leclerc, irritated by the Aston Martin coming back onto the track at high speed, initially instinctively moved away from the ideal line to the right. If he had simply stayed on his ideal line, there would have been enough space there.

The fact that Alonso ultimately escaped without a time penalty is a decision that not everyone agrees with. “I think that was over the top,” criticizes Ferrari team boss Frederic Vasseur. “It came out of nowhere and crossed the track at almost 90 degrees. But it’s not my decision.”

Alonso himself doesn’t even look for excuses for his ride: “I lost the car in turn 2 and ended up in the gravel. It was my mistake. I had varying grip every now and then – sometimes more, sometimes less. But still : my mistake. One that unfortunately cost me one or two places against George and Charles.”

However, there is no criticism from the team in Alonso’s direction: “He just pushed quite a bit. A lot of drivers were off the line at that point. He just slipped out into the gravel,” says Krack. It is possible that the wind also played a role. “But we have to take a closer look at the data.”

Driving back onto the track was “spectacular,” says Krack with a wink: “It reminded me a bit of Sebastian a few years ago in Montreal. We then tried to gain enough of a lead at the back if a penalty came. But it did Then he just gave a warning.”

Alonso’s conclusion: The direction is right

“Could have been a little better as far as the final position is concerned. But okay,” says Alonso. “The positive thing is: I had the feeling this weekend that I was more competitive than at the last events. We were ninth in Monza, no points in Singapore, ninth in Japan. We were at the front here. Hopefully we can be more competitive in the next races be.”

Eighth in the F1 sprint, fourth on the grid on Sunday, sixth in the Grand Prix: purely in terms of championship points, Qatar was Alonso’s best race weekend since Zandvoort in August. “At least it’s a few points. That’s good for the team,” he says. Because in the constructors’ championship, the lead over McLaren continues to shrink. After Qatar it’s only 230:219.

What Alonso doesn’t tell you is that he wasn’t always happy with the car’s handling on the pit radio during the race. The race wasn’t even 20 minutes old when he radioed: “The car oversteered a lot at first, but now, with the graining, it’s understeering.” But sixth place was a pretty decent final result.