The last time this happened in Formula 1 was at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2021. Sebastian Vettel lost his second place due to having too little fuel in the tank upon inspection after crossing the finish line. The next decision at the green table was not made until two years later. At 7:16pm and 7:18pm local time, Mercedes and Ferrari were informed that cars with starting numbers 44 and 16 had been removed from the world classification. All drivers behind them moved the corresponding positions.
Lewis Hamilton lost second place and Charles Leclerc lost sixth place. Both were disqualified for the same rule violation. The railing under the car was very rickety. The plastic plate is a measuring device intended to force teams to maintain a minimum ground clearance when setting up their cars.
Paragraph 3.5.9e is relevant
The relevant section is hidden in the technical regulations under paragraph 3.5.9 e. The FIA’s official English reads: “The thickness of the guardrail, measured perpendicular to the underside, must be ten millimeters ± 0.2 millimeters and must be uniform when new. Due to corrosion, a minimum thickness of nine millimeters is accepted.” Its matching with this rule is passed to the edges of the available holes.”
So-called skid blocks are glued into the holes and the plank is fixed to the subfloor. It is made of titanium and gives the reference plane a certain level of protection when it comes into contact with the ground. Because teams frequently cheated by using submersible skis and insulating material between the plank and the floor, the regulations were regularly modified. Most recently at the Singapore GP.
Nemesis and promotions: a dangerous combination
After that Grand Prix, the FIA commissioners inspected four cars to see whether the skid plates had worn within permissible limits. Sometimes there can be more or less cars that are within sight of technical inspectors. The cars of Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and Max Verstappen were selected in Austin. Not much is possible because the tests take a long time. In fact, the selection must be made by a random operator, but the FIA inspectors know their Pappenheimer cars and also use cars that are suspected to be below the permissible limit.
This may be because some drivers or teams’ cars were close to the limit in previous races or because post-qualifying or post-race checks indicate that things could get tight after another 56 laps. The FIA also uses sensors to see which cars land hard and repeatedly.
The fast-paced weekend presents all teams with special challenges. After just 60 minutes of training, a decision must be made on the levels of downforce, ground clearance and suspension travel. Anyone with big promotions like Mercedes, Aston Martin, Haas or AlphaTauri has a particularly tough time.
Torture to the plank
“We were particularly conservative with the settings,” admitted Aston Martin team boss Mike Crack. He is clearly very cautious, as the disappointing results in qualifying and the race showed. Therefore, Aston Martin decided to change the setup and voluntarily start from the pit lane. Of course with a new wood panel. Haas did the same.
For others, the big tremors started. The planks had already completed two qualifying and a 19-lap race. This is where full throttle comes into play. Cars hit bumps more than usual and drivers pulled the barriers aggressively. Due to Parc Fermet rules, panels may not be swapped.
In addition, the Circuit of the Americas has the highest number of bumps of all the race tracks. “It was really rough, especially in turns nine and 10. I thought I was going to get a concussion, and it was hitting my head back and forth so hard,” said Nico Hulkenberg, describing the awkward driving experience. The curbs also played a role in the erosion of the floor slab. If you wanted to be fast, you had to go there. The race record counted 35 violations. It was spread out on almost all the curves.
Russell and Sainz with a different setup
Red Bull, led by Verstappen, and McLaren, led by Norris, successfully passed the test. Hamilton’s Mercedes and Leclerc’s Ferrari failed. In the two mounting holes at the back, the plank was less than nine millimeters thick. Since it was a black and white decision, the teams accepted the ruling.
George Russell and Carlos Sainz escaped with black eyes. Maybe just because they haven’t been checked. Perhaps it was also the luck of other drivers from other teams. However, Russell and Sainz also had a slightly different setup to their stable rivals. They had a little more ground clearance on the rear axle.
The choice is made based on personal preferences and not for fear of breaking the rules. Both Mercedes and Ferrari took more risks with one of their cars. If too many unfortunate circumstances come together, you could fall flat on your face.
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