SUZUKA, Japan — Fernando Alonso’s controversial Australian Grand Prix penalty for potentially dangerous driving has split opinion among his Formula One rivals.

While defending fifth position from George Russell on the final lap of the Melbourne race, Alonso decelerated early on approach to Turn Six — the move caught the Mercedes driver off guard and his car lost grip in the dirty air in the wake behind Alonso’s Aston Martin, causing him to crash out of the race.

The stewards found Alonso had not braked that early at Turn Six at any of the preceding laps of the race, which it deemed to have been “extraordinary” enough to have caused a collision behind.

Alonso, who dropped from sixth to eighth as a result of the 20-second penalty he was given, said the decision will not change how he defends position in future.

“It was a bit surprising, but nothing we can do,” Alonso told reporters in Suzuka ahead of Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix. “I think it will not change much on how we drive, how we approach racing.

“There is no obligation to drive 57 laps in the same way. Sometimes we get slower pace to save fuel, to save tyres, to save battery. Sometimes we get slow into corners or into some sectors of the track to give the DRS to the car behind because that will be a useful tool if the second car behind is at a faster pace.

“All those things are completely normal. It was, it is and it will be forever in motorsport,” he added.

On the other side of the argument, Russell said the FIA risked setting a dangerous precedented if Alonso’s move was deemed OK.

“Obviously a bit of a strange situation that happened last week,” Russell said.

“Totally caught by surprise. I was actually looking at the steering wheel, making a switch change in the straight, which, you know, we all do across the lap. And when I looked up, I was in Fernando’s gearbox and it was sort of too late. And then next thing I know I’m in the wall.

“So I think, if it were not to have been penalised, it would have really opened the kind of worms for the rest of the season — and in junior categories — of saying, you know, are you allowed to break in a straight? Are you allowed to slow down, change gear, accelerate, do something semi-erratic? I don’t take anything personally with what happened with Fernando. And it probably had bigger consequences than it should have.

“If it went unpenalised, can you just break in the middle of a straight? I don’t know.”

One common theme was that Alonso’s move had been extreme, although drivers disagreed which side of the line it had been.

Russell’s teammate Lewis Hamilton said: “If I try to put myself in Fernando’s position I can’t understand the manoeuvre, but I’m just glad that George is safe.”

RB’s Daniel Ricciardo joked that the incident was an example of Alonso being “a wily old fox” and many others agreed with the sentiment — but not all felt the two-time world champion’s aggressive defence constituted a penalty.

McLaren’s Lando Norris, who felt Alonso’s move had been very aggressive, said the onus was still on Russell to avoid the collision.

“It shouldn’t be a penalty,” Norris said firmly when asked about the incident in his own media session.

“What Fernando did was odd. Like, so extreme. But I don’t think it’s even close to be regarded as a brake test. Did he brake and downshift? I don’t know the exact things of it. But should it be a penalty in any way? No. George, in my opinion, should have seen it coming. George had time to see what was going on, you know?”

Norris continued: “I’m sure it’s always tougher being in the situation, that’s why I don’t like commenting on it. This was not a brake test. This was just trying to play very smart, Fernando being Fernando. Yeah. And kind of being caught out about it.

“It was not aggressive, it was not like one meter in front of a car stopping. It was like 100 meters ahead, slowed down and just the approaching speed caught George off. Nowhere near should that have been a penalty, I would say,” he added.

Alonso’s Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll said he was baffled to see a driver get penalised for an incident which did not involve contact between two cars.

“I thought it was ridiculous, to be honest,” Stroll said about the penalty. “I don’t think he did anything stupid, he was just preparing the exit of the corner.

“To get a drive-through penalty for an incident that doesn’t even involve any contact between the cars or anything like that, I didn’t really understand it. I just think a penalty in general was kind of a joke. Where do you draw that line between driving unnecessarily slowly and just being like, tactical?”

Stroll joked that the incident meant the customary Friday evening drivers’ briefing, where Alonso and his rivals can put questions directly to the FIA race director, would be even longer than usual as a result.

The briefing is also likely to include concerns over how long it took the race director to red flag the race while Russell’s car sat stationary in the middle of a live race track.

Not everyone shared the view of Norris and Stroll — Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc said Alonso had clearly crossed a line in how he had driven.

“My view is that it’s something that we do as drivers, however not to that extent, and it was too much,” Leclerc said. “What Fernando did in Australia was too much, and had to be penalised.”

Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg had some of the strongest criticism for Alonso’s move, pointing to the nature of the high-speed right hand corner where the incident took place.

“I wasn’t very impressed with Fernando’s tactics there to be honest,” Hulkenberg said. “Melbourne is a street circuit, it’s quite narrow there, we approach that corner with 260 270 clicks, it’s a blind exit, and you know if for whatever reason the flag system or someone is late and one of us would have t-boned George… the outcome and the way he feels might have also been quite different.

“Whilst that tactic is quite a common one in Formula One, at that particular corner, with that speed, and the blind exit, is the wrong corner to do it, and it produced quite a dangerous situation.”