Carlos Sainz avoids penalty after lengthy Aston Martin qualifying protest

Sam Cooper
Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso

Carlos Sainz walking with Fernando Alonso

Ferrari and Carlos Sainz have been spared a penalty after the stewards did not deem Aston Martin’s protest to have merit.

The Silverstone-based team lodged an appeal shortly after qualifying was over in regards to Sainz restarting his car on the side of the track having spun at Turn 16.

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The in-form Ferrari man made his first mistake of the season in Q2 when he approached the corner with too much speed, lost the rear end and spun into the wall opposite the pit lane.

What looked like an early end to his day was rescued by Sainz who managed to restart his SF-24 and hobble back to the pits where his front wing, which had taken the bulk of the damage, was swapped and out he went for the rest of the session.

Sainz would go on to qualify seventh but that position was put into doubt when Aston Martin lodged an appeal, suggesting Ferrari had broken Article 39.6 of the sporting regulations.

That particular rule states “any driver whose car stops on the track during the qualifying session or the sprint qualifying will not be permitted to take any further part in that session”

Both Ferrari and Aston Martin were summoned to the stewards at 6pm local time but it took several hours for the stewards to come to a conclusion.

In that conclusion, the stewards ultimately deemed Aston Martin’s protest to not be valid and Sainz therefore kept his spot.

Aston Martin, who paid €2,000 to protest, said Sainz had “clearly stopped on track causing a red flag which in turn caused the qualifying session to be stopped” which they deemed meant he had to sit out of the rest of the session.

In their reasoning, the stewards laid out some “undisputed facts”

“Sainz lost control at Turn 16 and came to a halt after hitting the wall at the main straight at 15:33.05.

“Sainz was able to restart without any assistance and make its way back to the pits at 15:34.22.

“Meanwhile, Race Control issued a Red Flag for the race at 15:33.16.

“Page 3 of the Race Control messaging system stated that: “Sainz stopped on start/finish straight”

“Race Control permitted Sainz to participate in the remainder of the qualifying session.”

The stewards stated that they invited representatives from both Aston Martin and Ferrari as well as the FIA officials in Race Control and single seater director of the FIA Nikolas Tombazis to be part of the discussion.

The stewards ultimately agreed that “the plain language of Art. 39.6 suggests that so long as a car ‘stops’ on the track during a qualifying session, that car should not be permitted to take further part in the session.

“However, it was clear from the examples cited by a number of the team managers present and the FIA, that this was not how this rule was applied by the teams and the FIA in the past.

“The FIA team explained that so long as the car was able to restart and continue from a stopped position within a reasonable time, that would ordinarily be permitted. The typical time would be around 30 seconds, though that varied depending on the circumstances. The teams
themselves said that they had previously attempted to agree what they considered to be a reasonable length of time before a car would be considered ‘stopped.’ Unfortunately, they were not able to come to a final agreement on the maximum time allowed.

“In the FIA’s view, what was crucial was that the car would not receive any outside assistance
in order to restart (e.g. from marshals).

“Aston also accepted that there were prior examples of cars stopping on track and being allowed to continue, despite the plain wording of Article.39.6. However, they felt that stopping, in this case, for 1minute and 17 seconds was too long and therefore should not have been permitted. The issue then became one of duration: Was one minute 17 seconds too long?

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“Absent clear guidance in the regulations or an agreed, established practice of when too long was too long, we considered that this was a discretion best left to Race Control.

“We considered examples in Canada, in Monaco and in Baku where cars had ‘stopped’ (and therefore would have been in breach of Article 39.6) but were permitted to continue and take further part in the session, without complaint from the teams.

“Aston also argued that the fact that the messaging system suggested that the car had ‘stopped’ conclusive of that fact for Article 39.6. Race Control clarified that the language was standard language used in the system and therefore did not convey what Aston was suggesting. Indeed, we saw an example of Alexander Albon in Montreal in 2022 where he stopped for 40-odd seconds and restarted without complaint from any teams and the messaging system similarly showed that the car had ‘stopped.’ So, we did not think that the messaging system was indicative of a decision on the part of Race Control for the purposes of Article 39.6.

“There was therefore a clear pattern of past practice in the sport whereby this rule was read to allow a car to restart and continue, so long as it did not receive outside assistance to do so. We were also shown minutes of the Formula One Commission Meeting held in Spa-Belgium on 28th July 2023, where Article 39.6 was specifically discussed. The conclusion reached at that meeting appeared to be, among other things, that: “It was agreed to add ‘outside assistance’ to Article 39.6”

“We were informed that the above change to Article 39.6 was not in fact made, so we did not rely on these minutes, beyond noting that there appeared to be an agreement at least among those attending that meeting on that day, that was consistent with the approach that Race Control was adopting.

“In the above circumstances, taking into account the numerous examples where cars had stopped for different lengths of time and were permitted to restart and continue to participate in the session concerned, we considered that the decision taken by Race Control was not inconsistent with past practice nor in breach of Article 39.6. We considered that even if the plain wording of Article 39.6 warranted a more stark conclusion, the consistent practice in the sport to date did not warrant a setting aside of the discretion exercised by Race Control by us as stewards.”

The stewards then dismissed the protest and did not return the fee.

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