Tomorrow the stewards of the United States Grand Prix will decide whether to review the results of a race which took place over two weeks ago.Formula 1 grid will be represented in a hearing which was instigated by one of them: Haas. What do they hope to achieve, and how realistic are their chances of success?
The Austrian Grand Prix precedent
Documents issued by the FIA yesterday confirmed only a few details of Haas’s “petition for a Right of Review’. They relate to two documents: The final result of the race and a decision not to further penalise Alexander Albon for track limits infringements.
This is not the first time this year a team has raised concerns about the enforcement of track limits during a race. Aston Martin successfully protested the result of the Austrian Grand Prix by claiming multiple track limits infringements by rival drivers had been overlooked.
In Austria, several drivers were penalised during the race and four further penalties were applied as it ended. Aston Martin then entered their protest, and after the stewards accepted it and analysed the potential infringements more closely they unearthed many more transgressions.
“It was determined that some of these infringements warranted a penalty that was not previously applied when the provisional classification was published,” the stewards admitted. “These penalties will be reflected in the final classification.” As a result of Aston Martin’s intervention the stewards issued an additional 12 penalties to eight different drivers.
Clearly, Haas believe that if the same rigour had been applied at the Circuit of the Americas, they would have benefited.
What Haas are doing
Once the dust had settled at the Red Bull Ring, 84 lap times were deleted for track limits infringements. That compares to 35 in the grand prix at COTA, involving breaches at eight different corners.
Albon was the most frequent transgressor. The stewards ruled he went off-track five times (six of his laps were deleted as one of his infringements occured at the last corner, which meant both the current and subsequent laps were annulled).
However in one of the documents Haas have challenged the stewards admitted they had been unable to identify every potential infringement. “Based on the video footage available (which did not include CCTV), the stewards determine, whilst there might be some indication for possible track limit infringements in turn six, the evidence at hand is not sufficient to accurately and consistently conclude that any breaches occurred and therefore take no further action,” they said.
The “right of review” process has been successfully wielded by several teams to change the results of races or qualifying sessions in their favour in recent seasons, including this one. However the review will only go ahead if “a significant and relevant new element is discovered which was unavailable to the parties seeking the review at the time of the decision concerned”.
The United States Grand Prix stewards’ concession that there may have been further track limits breaches they did not penalise due to a lack of evidence presents a clear opportunity for any team to request a review if they unearth new footage showing drivers committing infractions.
Which drivers are at risk?
The FIA has summoned three of Haas’s rival teams to its hearing, which gives an indication of who are the likeliest targets. Red Bull, Aston Martin and Williams have been summoned. Here’s how they were classified in Austin and, crucially, how many ‘strikes’ for exceeding track limits they had:
|Carlos Sainz Jnr
At the Austrian Grand Prix the stewards applied the following penalties for track limits infringements:
- Four strikes: Five-second time penalty
- Five strikes: 10-second time penalty
- Nine strikes: Five-second time penalty
- 10 strikes: 10-second time penalty
The stewards generally only count a ‘strike’ against a driver if they left the track unnecessarily, and do not include occasions where they were forced wide by a rival. This likely accounts for why Magnussen had four strikes but no penalty, and why Albon was issued a five-second time penalty for four strikes at 3:32pm during the race, at which point he had already incurred his fifth strike, which under the precedent established in Austria would mean an additional 10-second penalty.
Williams the top target
The Williams drivers are the most obvious target for Haas. A further strike for Albon should trigger a 10-second time penalty which would promote Hulkenberg into the points.
Logan Sargeant’s only F1 point to date may also be at risk. Assuming none of his three strikes were caused by a rival forcing him wide, one more would lead to a five-second penalty and also drop him behind Hulkenberg. However if Sargeant’s team mate gets a further penalty he could keep hold of his 10th place.
This could prove significant in the fight for the bottom four places in the constructors’ championship. Williams is on 28 points, just seven ahead of AlphaTauri, and scored three in Austin. Haas have fallen to the bottom of the table and have a four-point deficit to Alfa Romeo.
Stroll and Perez?
The inclusion of Aston Martin and Red Bull in the hearing is striking, as their drivers finished far ahead of the Haas pair.
Lance Stroll, the sole Aston Martin driver to finish, came in 41.2 seconds ahead of Hulkenberg. Based on the precedent set in Austria, where a “reset” was applied after every five track limits infringements, Haas would need to identify a further 14 track limits infringements on top of the one already acknowledged to drop Stroll behind Hulkenberg.
Sergio Perez took the chequered flag well over a minute before Hulkenberg and, like Stroll, had one ‘strike’ for a track limits breach. Haas need him to receive over 71.4 seconds of penalties to get Hulkenberg ahead, which means identifying 24 more track limits breaches.
Is that realistic? The example of Austria shows Stroll and Perez can’t rest easy. Esteban Ocon was congratulated by his race engineer at the end of the Austrian Grand Prix for avoiding any track limits strikes. But once the stewards completed their review he was found to have committed 10 breaches and was handed four separate penalties totalling half a minute.
The fact Red Bull have been summoned leaves open the possibility race winner Max Verstappen could be a target. This seems most unlikely, as he would need a total of 30 breaches to drop him behind a Haas.
Of course five track limits strikes for Verstappen would translate to a 10-second time penalty which would cost him victory to Lando Norris. But if this was a realistic possibility McLaren would surely have already taken the same action as Haas, instead of criticising their request for a review. Besides which, Norris himself has already admitted he exceeded track limits during the United States Grand Prix, so McLaren probably don’t want to tug on that thread.
It’s important to stress that this conjecture will be academic if Haas do not have new evidence the stewards find sufficiently persuasive. However as the stewards have already pointed out what material was not available to them, Haas knew where to begin looking.
The deadline for submitting a request for review fell 14 days after the race. Haas waited until day 13 period before submitting their request, indicating they’ve maximised the time available to identify new material.
Significantly, it seems the stewards do not consider forward-facing onboard cameras from drivers’ cars sufficient evidence on their own that a track limits breach has been committed. Norris made this point after the Austin race.
“The ruling is it has to be clear enough for the FIA and it needs to be basically clear from an actual view that both tyres are off, and an onboard camera doesn’t prove anything,” he said. “If the rear wheel might potentially be in, then you can’t classify it as being out. Which is their point.”
However Haas may have been able to obtain other camera angles revealing new information. This has happened before: Red Bull successfully triggered a penalty for Lewis Hamilton at the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix this way, and Mercedes tried to return the favour when new footage from Verstappen’s car emerged following the 2021 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Alternatively, Haas may have been able to source the CCTV footage which the stewards noted was unavailable to them at the time.
Footage from rivals’ cars may yield further relevant details. For example, Albon’s first track limits infringement was timed at 2:38pm according to the FIA’s documents. But the onboard camera from Valtteri Bottas’ car reveals he had all four wheels off the track at turn six at around 2:06pm, on lap two.
Could this backfire on Haas?
Many ‘right of review’ requests have ended with the stewards concluding the complainant failed to provide evidence which was new and relevant. Haas will need to have done their homework to clear that difficult first hurdle.
Beyond that, there is the possibility their own drivers may have committed track limits breaches and collect further penalties. In which case their efforts to trigger penalties for rival teams may be in vain.
Indeed, if the outcome is Haas and other teams receive penalties, this could play into the hands of their closest rival in the championship: Alfa Romeo. In the stewards’ assessment the Alfa Romeo drivers kept clean sheets when it came to track limits in the US GP.
Whatever comes of Haas’ request for a review, it highlights again that the FIA’s attempts to rigidly enforce track limits this year present more challenges at some venues than others. Following Aston Martin’s Austrian Grand Prix protest the stewards urged they “very strongly recommend that a solution be found to the track limits situation at this circuit”. That surely also applies to the Circuit of the Americas.
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