Why FIA couldn’t help Ferrari with force majeure penalty waiver in Vegas F1 race

Sainz had to take his third energy store of the season after it was damaged when he ran over a water valve cover in FP1.

The change automatically triggered a 10-place penalty, and there was widespread sympathy for Ferrari in the paddock given that the incident was outside the control of the team and driver, and was caused by a fault with the circuit.

“Something that we could change is the penalty for Carlos,” said Fernando Alonso, who narrowly avoided hitting the same valve cover. “It is a little bit harsh.”

The issue of voiding penalties for PU or gearbox changes in the case of special circumstances has been discussed in the past, but the teams blocked any move to have such an option incorporated into the regulations.

Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur lobbied the stewards for a waiver, pointing out that unlike a complete fresh power unit, a new energy store would not give Sainz an advantage.

«It’s not an easy one, to give a set of tyres or to give an engine, because it’s a gain of performance,” he said. “But the battery? There is no performance into the battery.

“Considering that we missed FP1, that we are a couple of millions of damage, that the mechanics worked like hell to come back and so on, I think it was not too stupid to consider the case of force majeure.»

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

However, while the stewards were sympathetic, their hands were tied because there is nothing in the rules that gave them leeway to void the penalty.

The International Sporting Code and the F1 sporting regulations contain a total 11 references to force majeure, which is defined in the former as an “unpredictable, unpreventable and external event.”

However, the mentions cover areas such as cancellation and postponement of events, withdrawal of entries, changes of driver and the ATR and PU dyno testing regulations.

AlphaTauri CEO Peter Bayer, who previously worked for the FIA and was involved in formulating rules, confirmed that the teams had blocked change on grid penalties.

“Having been on the other side we had plenty of discussion on should we have that sort of force majeure clause,” Bayer told Autosport.

“And, in fact, it was the F1 teams in their drive to perfection and but also their absolute maximised paranoia that they thought that if somebody would be able to trigger force majeure, that person will have a lot of power, because a lot of people would probably claim force majeure on many occasions.

“Which is why they said, ‘let’s not open Pandora’s box’. But having said that, honestly, in this case, if we would have been asked as a team, we would have supported Ferrari. It’s really not their fault.»

Next week’s F1 Commission meeting in Abu Dhabi could be a potential opportunity for the matter to be raised once again.

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