Just hours after the finish of the Hungarian Grand Prix, it has been announced that Renault has been suspended from the European Grand Prix in Valencia – next on the 2009 F1 calendar following the traditional summer break – for the mistake that saw Fernando Alonso's wheel detach itself from the Spaniard's car at the Hungaroring.
Having led for the opening eleven laps of the race in Budapest, Alonso pitted early complaining of graining on his tyres, but a failure to correctly secure the Oviedo native's right-front wheel before he was released again from his 'box led to first the wheel cover falling off and then the errant wheel itself parting company with the car on his 'out' lap and bouncing across the track as he negotiated turn nine of the tight and twisty circuit.
With three wheels on his wagon and aerodynamic damage to his R29, the double F1 World Champion had no choice but to return to the pits and into retirement. Although nobody was injured in the incident, it nonetheless brought back worrying memories of the accident that had tragically claimed the life of Henry Surtees – son of 1964 F1 World Champion and motorcycling legend John Surtees – in a Formula Two outing at Brands Hatch just seven days earlier.
Then, the 18-year-old was hit on the helmet by a wheel that had flown off the car in front of him and bounced back onto the track after its driver had crashed, in what has been described as a 'freak' occurrence. Surtees sadly died later in hospital.
Having examined the cause of what happened at the Hungaroring, race stewards have now deemed that Alonso was unsafely released from his pit-stop when his mechanics knew the wheel was not properly attached – yet he himself had no knowledge of the danger. The 21-time grand prix-winner was not made aware of the error.
The upshot is that the entire team has been banned from competing in Valencia – on Alonso's home turf, a situation that is sure to greatly upset the Asturian and may only precipitate his much-anticipated switch to Ferrari. When asked prior to the start of the grand prix about the future of the Enstone-based outfit's talisman driver, Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore perhaps tellingly remarked: “Let's see race-by-race'.
That comment only added mileage to the rumour mill within the paddock, with suggestions that Alonso may be parachuted into Felipe Massa's car with immediate effect, should the Brazilian not recover sufficiently to be able to compete again this season.
Renault is expected to appeal the decision.