Carlos Sainz‘s 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix ambitions could be over before they’ve even begun, as he’s been handed a 10-place grid penalty despite a Ferrari appeal to the Formula 1 stewards.
Sainz ran over a loose manhole cover just nine minutes into FP1 on the Las Vegas Strip Circuit that fired into his SF-23, causing damage to the car, a permanent red flag and a two-and-a-half hour delay before FP2 was allowed to proceed.
Sainz‘s engine was damaged meaning he needed a new energy system having already reached his limit for the 2023 season, and Ferrari’s appeal for an exception given the unusual circumstances fell on deaf ears.
An F1 document said: “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 [Nikolas Tombazis], 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.”
Though the track does appear to promote overtaking, it would take an incredible effort for Sainz to overhaul his teammate, the Red Bulls and whoever emerges as a contender between Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin to fight for victory.
Stewards: Our hands were tied
However, the stewards noted their hands were tied over the penalty, and stressed the F1 regulations gave no room for manoeuvre on the issue.
Mercedes hinted they would’ve challenged the decision if the stewards had broken regulations and decided to waive the penalty, but a number of other teams said they felt Ferrari were harshly treated.
It’s unclear whether Ferrari will be able to claim damages from F1 given the cover should’ve been properly sealed, but team principal Fred Vasseur said it wouldn’t affect the team’s cost cap.
F1‘s track inspection was reportedly curtailed by the grand prix opening ceremony, and FP2 didn’t start until 2:30AM local time to ensure all other manholes were properly secure.
“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,” F1‘s decision document said.