The FIA has had a relatively quiet season this year in terms of controversial decisions. In terms of uproar, nothing quite compares with the Michael Massi adjudication in 2021 at the final event of the year when he forced a final lap shootout between Hamilton and Verstappen.
Yet last time out in Austin, both Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc were disqualified from their finishing positions in the Grand Prix because their cars did not have sufficient ground clearance when inspected by FIA delegates in Parc Ferme.
Hamilton lambasts FIA demanding “a better structure”
The decision came late into the evening by which time a number of the drivers and team bosses had left the Circuit of the America’s to fly out of Texas. However, Lewis made his views patently clear at the drivers’ press conference in Mexico.
“I heard from several sources that there were a lot of other cars that were illegal and they were not tested so they got away with it,” complained Hamilton.
“I have been racing here [in F1] for 16 years and there have been many other scenarios like this where some people have got away with it, and some have been unlucky and have been tested.”
The last time a driver was excluded for the same transgression by F1 race stewards was at the 1994 Belgium Grand Prix, when Michael Schumacher driving for Benetton was disqualified because the plank under his car had worn beyond the FIA limits allowed.
Schumacher 1994 last “plank” DSQ
Bennetton made multiple appeals to the FIA, but all to no avail.
The checks today made by the FIA technical delegates on the cars are far more stringent than in Schumacher’s time and the team of technical delegates is also much larger.
Yet it is impossible for them to check every car for every potential infringement, so they have adopted a ‘sample testing’ methodology used by auditors to ensure a company’s accounts are true and fair. There not every invoice and receipt is checked, but a random sample is selected and should there be irregularities in the auditors’ findings, further investigations will be carried out.
Yet Hamilton in an outburst claims: “There needs to be a better structure to make sure it is fair and even across the board. We have never had that problem in Austin before, and [it] is because we had a sprint race. An easy fix is that we should be able to change the floors.
Other teams coped with just 1 practice
“The car should not be set from Friday morning, especially at the bumpiest track on the calendar. That is the only reason there were failures. And that reason wasn’t why we were as fast as we were. We hope we have another strong weekend here.” Lewis bemoaned.
Of course the obvious counter is all but two of the cars checked by the FIA were legal and those teams had only the same testing time. The reality is Mercedes were pushing the envelope for more performance and stepped over the line as did Ferrari.
Speaking at an FIA press conference in Mexico on Friday representatives of three teams said they were content with the FIA’s process of scrutineering and to a man countered Lewis’ outburst stating there was no need to change the current procedures.
“From my side I’ll leave it to them to decide which cars need to be tested,” said Alfa Romeo’s head of track engineering Xevi Pujolar. “I’m happy if they do, either way.”
Williams say ‘penalty’ is sufficient deterrent
Williams’ head of vehicle performance Dave Robson said pragmatically the FIA’s current methodology was fine.
“The way the regulation is policed at the moment, testing all cars at the end of every race is just not practical,” he said. “I think it would take so long that I think everyone will get frustrated by that.
“I think the spot checks and the severity of the penalty is enough that I think most of the time most or all of the cars will be legal. So I think it’s fine as it is.”
Ayao Komatsu, Haas F1 chief engineer believes the FIA’s regulations are working as well as can be expected.
Leclerc disagrees with Hamilton’s view
“We know what the regulations are,” he said. “Each team decides on the margins, how much to push for it. Sprint event, normal race weekend, again that affects your margin. So it’s fine, no problem.”
So it seems Lewis is in the minority of one in criticising the FIA for failing to disqualify more cars and comes across as just a sore loser.
In a direct contrast to Hamilton’s complaints, Charles Leclerc who was also disqualified, believes “rules are rules” and should “be respected.”
“Honestly, it was a complete surprise,” Leclerc said. “Because on Friday when we could change the car, there was zero wear, so it’s not like we were touching anywhere.
Wolff backs his F1 star driver
“Then you get to the race and obviously, things haven’t changed, but we were illegal.
“Rules are rules, and they need to be respected, so it’s not an excuse to say that on Friday we were fine. We need to look into it to try and better anticipate what is going to be the wear.”
Toto Wolff backed his star driver’s claim stating: “That’s the feedback we got from the other teams. They chat with each other, the drivers. Also, on a management level, I think many, many teams were probably under the nine millimetres (limit).”
Yet the Mercedes boss took it on the chin suggesting his team knew they were pushing the limit yet decided to run Lewis’ car as low as they did in the hope they could win the race in Austin.
Bizarre claim from Toto
“The problem with the Sprint races is your car goes into parc ferme and you can’t adjust it anymore,” Wolff told Sky Sports F1. “Going into Saturday, we thought, ‘hmm, that could be on the limit, but probably with a little bit of a margin’.
Yet Toto in a bizarre claim said he would rather be disqualified than finish P3 and some 25 seconds behind Verstappen.
“I would take the disqualification running for a race win and seeing the performance, rather than ending P3 and 25 seconds adrift…. Every day of the week I would take the disqualification!”
Of course this is not really true given that Ferrari could yet mount a challenge against Mercedes for P2 in the championship. And neither is it true that Mercedes would run such a Monte Carlo or bust strategy from race to race.