Why F1's Sainz was penalized at Las Vegas Grand Prix though he's not at fault

Why F1's Sainz was penalized at Las Vegas Grand Prix though he's not at fault

LAS VEGAS — Sometimes life just isn’t fair. And neither is racing, it would seem. Following an eventful if short first free practice session in which Ferrari F1 driver Carlos Sainz hit a chunk of metal (and/or concrete that was surrounding the metal) that had become dislodged over a drain on the track surface in Las Vegas, the FIA ruled that Sainz would be required to drop 10 grid spaces at the start of the actual Las Vegas Grand Prix Saturday evening.

While nobody believes the incident was the fault of Ferrari or Sainz, the team and driver will indeed be penalized. Here’s why.

The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, or FIA for short, publishes pretty much all of its rules, regulations and rulings online to the public. For instance, this page on the official FIA site includes links to download all of the communications paperwork that goes back and forth between the teams that are racing and the racing stewards that are applying the rules and regulations. One of those links, published at 43 minutes after midnight, indicates that the stewards sent this note to the Ferrari team:

“During the first practice session, Car 55 was damaged due to a contact with a faulty drain. It appears that components which are restricted by the Formula One Sporting Regulations have to be replaced. This could potentially lead to a breach of Article 28.2 the Formula One Sporting Regulations.”

Notice that the notification includes an admission that the damage was “due to contact with a faulty drain” but still goes on to say replacement of restricted components “could potentially lead to a breach” of the regulations. Ferrari responded “requesting a derogation of the Sporting Regulations” — in plain terms, Ferrari asked for an exemption from the rule — but was denied.

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A document published almost exactly an hour after the FIA initially contacted Ferrari requesting confirmation that it had found it necessary to replace restricted components said the following:

“Having received a report from the FIA Technical Delegate concerning Car 55 (Document 16) stating that the Survival Cell, Internal Combustion Engine, Energy Store and Control Electronics were damaged beyond repair following an impact with a foreign object; and

Having received a request from the Competitor requesting a derogation of the Sporting Regulations in order to allow a replacement of the Energy Store from outside the pool, without penalty; and

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.

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.”

Article 2.1 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations reads as follows:

All drivers, Competitors and officials participating in the Championship undertake, on behalf of themselves, their employees, agents and suppliers, to observe all the provisions as supplemented or amended of the International Sporting Code (the Code), the Formula One Technical Regulations (Technical Regulations), the Formula One Financial Regulations (Financial Regulations) and the present Formula One Sporting Regulations together referred to as “the Regulations.”

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At 2:45 in the morning, another report was issued by the FIA and delivered to Ferrari notifying them that “Article 28.2 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations” had been breached and, as a result, Carlos Sainz would be hit with a “Drop of 10 grid positions for the next Race in which the driver participates.” Naturally, that next race will be the Las Vegas Grand Prix on Saturday evening.

Breaking it down in plain language, the stewards for the grand prix claim that the decision is out of their hands, that the rule is clear, and that the 10-position penalty is mandatory, despite the fact that it was the track surface itself that caused damage to Sainz’s Ferrari. Pics of debris from the damaged car can be see above left; crews fixing the track surface above right.

Another interesting point worth noting is that the FIA Sporting Regulations also say that only one chassis can be used per day of testing or racing, but since the incident that broke the Ferrari’s chassis happened in FP1 before midnight and the FP2 took place after midnight and therefore (barely) the following day, that rule was not applied and no further penalty was administered. The Alpine F1 team also benefited by the changing of the day having replaced driver Esteban Ocon’s chassis after he too collided with the water drain on the track. Since the Alpine team only replaced the chassis while Ferrari also had to replace other parts of the car that included the energy store (the lithium-ion battery) and other engine components, only Ferrari was assessed additional penalties.

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As you might imagine, the Ferrari team and Sainz himself are none too pleased with the FIA’s ruling.

In a posting on his website, Sainz thanked the team for their efforts to rebuild his car so quickly. Indeed, it was mighty impressive to see Sainz back out in a red racing car just a few short hours later during the second free practice session, and even more so to see how quick the car was on track after all the work that went into putting it back together again. He added his frustration, saying, “On the negative side, we have been given a 10-place penalty for Sunday after the manhole damaged, amongst other things, my battery and we had to replace it. I honestly cannot understand it and I think an exemption to the rule should have been considered given what happened, but we’ll have to deal with it.”

A third practice session is scheduled for tonight, November 17, at 11:30 p.m. Eastern. Qualifying begins shortly thereafter on November 18 at 3:00 a.m. Eastern (midnight in Vegas). The race is scheduled to start at 1 a.m. on November 19 (10 p.m. on the 18th in Vegas). Stay tuned.