Ferrari got a huge boost in their fight for second in the Constructors’ Championship during the second practice session at the Las Vegas Grand Prix, when drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. topped the timing sheets.
However, they — and Sainz specifically — now face an uphill fight in the Grand Prix itself, through no fault of their own.
Early in the first practice session Sainz drove over a manhole cover which was not properly secured, which caused significant damage to his SF-23. That incident prompted race officials to red flag the session, and eventually cancel it, as workers feverishly examined the track and made sure all the covers along the road course were secured.
The damage to Sainz’s SF-23 required Ferrari to work overtime to get his car repaired, and it ultimately required additional parts, which were outside the parts the team allotted for this race.
That, unfortunately, requires a penalty. In this case a ten-spot penalty in the Grand Prix later this weekend. Ferrari requested a “derogation of the Sporting Regulations,” which would allow race officials to waive a penalty. However, that request was also denied:
Having heard from the Team Representative, the Director FIA Single Seater Department, having viewed video evidence and examined the Team’s declaration sheet, the Stewards, determine that notwithstanding the fact that the damage was caused by highly unusual external circumstances, Article 2.1 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations obliges all officials, including the Stewards, to apply the regulations as they are written.
Accordingly, the mandatory penalty specified under Article 28.3 of the Sporting Regulations must be applied.
In the document noting the denial of Ferrari’s request, race stewards did indicate they were sympathetic to the team’s position, but that they were bound by the Sporting Regulations as written: “The stewards note that if they had the authority to grant a derogation in what they consider in this case to be mitigating, unusual and unfortunate circumstances, they would have done so, however the regulations do not allow such action.”
Now the driver is speaking out.
“I had a pretty big hit on my back and on my neck after the incident that you guys all saw,” said Sainz. “Unfortunately, obviously the chassis, the power unit, the battery, even my seat was damaged after the incident.
“It was, in my opinion, a heroic effort by the team and the mechanics and I could take [part] in the session,” he added. “We managed to do it, recover the time and focus on tomorrow.”
While the driver is optimistic about the car’s potential, given how the team performed in FP2, he also admitted that the decision from the FIA has forced him into a different mindset.
“It felt good,” he said. “You can clearly see this weekend we are relatively competitive.
“I think the track layout is suiting a bit more compared to the last few. We seem to be switching on well the tyres over one lap and being competitive. So I was quite excited and optimistic.
“Unfortunately, as the session finished, the team communicated to me that I was taking a 10-place grid penalty for something that I have no fault and the team has no fault. Obviously this has changed completely my mindset and obviously my opinion on the weekend and how the weekend is going to go from now on.
“You can obviously imagine how disappointed I am, in disbelief with the situation and you will not see me very happy this weekend.”
The driver then addressed the bigger picture.
“What happened today for me is a very clear example of how the sport can be improved in so many ways. The FIA, teams, rules that – this could clearly be applied as force majeure for me not to take a penalty, but some way there’s always people always ways to make this situation worse for an individual. And I think in this case it’s my turn to pay the price.”
As alluded to in the final decision, there could be an opportunity for the FIA to alter the Sporting Regulations, to allow for such a derogation in circumstances such as this one.
There may also be financial implications for race promoters, given the damage to Sainz’s SF-23.
During the second practice session at the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix, a drain cover was dislodged, and eventually struck by a then-Haas driver Romain Grosjean, which caused a big crash.
A year later, the team received a compensation payment from race officials for the damage to his car. “We settled, the insurance were very good to deal with and we are happy,” said Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner when the matter concluded the following year. “The insurance was very professional, they stood up for their responsibility.”
So while Ferrari may receive some compensation down the road, that will be little solace for the team right now, as they look to catch Mercedes in the battle for second.