Tsunoda reprimanded following unusual retirement

ZANDVOORT, Netherlands — AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda has been reprimanded for driving his car without having his seatbelts fully fastened ahead of his unusual retirement from the Dutch Grand Prix.

Tsunoda stopped on track on lap 45 of the race after believing a rear wheel was loose following his second pit stop. He started to undo his seatbelt to get out of the car but was then instructed to return to the pits by AlphaTauri.

On his return to the pit lane, his mechanics fitted new tyres and tightened his belts before sending him back on track. At that point, an issue with the car’s differential was spotted and Tsunoda was told to stop again.

The stewards issued Tsunoda with a non-racing reprimand for driving his car in an unsafe condition.

“After a pit stop of car 22 [Tsunoda], the driver stopped the car due to the fact that he felt a wheel being not properly fitted, the investigation by the Stewards led to the conclusion, that in fact there was a problem with the differential,” an FIA stewards statement said. “Therefore the car was not in an unsafe condition when released from its pit stop position.

“However, during the hearing the driver admitted, that after stopping on track he was ready to abandon the car and started to loosen the safety belt, without unlocking it.

“After that he travelled back to the pits where the mechanics re-fastened the belts. It is not possible, to determine exactly to which degree the seatbelt had been loosened by the driver.”

The situation had a big impact on the race at the time, allowing Max Verstappen to make a pit stop under the Virtual Safety Car that allowed him to return to the track ahead of Lewis Hamilton when a pit stop under normal racing conditions would have dropped him behind both Mercedes cars.

After the race, Tsunoda added: “I got told by my engineer to stop but we didn’t see any clear issue in the data, that’s why we drove back again to the pits to fit a new tyre. After that we saw a clear problem in the data, that’s why we stopped.”

The timing of Tsunoda’s stoppage and the unusual sight of a car stopping on track just moments after being sent back onto the circuit after a pit stop led to speculation that AlphaTauri may have done so on purpose to aid Verstappen and its sister team Red Bull to victory.

Before the stewards had issued their statement, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said he would have had investigated the situation further if a title was on the line, but did not want to speculate on anything untoward.

“If we were to fight for a championship that would be something I would closely look at,” he said. “Now I think what needs to be investigated for the safety of drivers and everybody out there is that the driver stopped, unbuckled, did a full lap, came in, the problem wasn’t solved, they put the seatbelts back on and he drove out and stopped the car again.

“So I mean that probably could have changed the race that maybe we could have won, but in this sport ‘maybe’ is anyway irrelevant. For me, I’m not thinking about that anymore, it’s gone.”

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