Explained: Why Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc were disqualified from US Grand Prix

Thomas Maher
Lewis Hamilton qualifies for the US Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton qualified third for the US Grand Prix on Sunday.

Hours after the United States Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton were both disqualified from the race.

Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc both scored points at the Circuit of The Americas, with Hamilton proving Max Verstappen’s nearest rival as he closed to within 2.2 seconds of his former championship rival in the final laps of the United States Grand Prix.

Hamilton finished in second, with Leclerc down in sixth as the pole-sitter’s race was undone by a dodgy strategy from Ferrari.

Stewards open investigation into Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc

Following the race, the FIA stewards picked out four cars from the 17 finishers in order to carry out post-race plank checks – a standard part of post-race scrutineering alongside all the usual checks.

Two of these four cars were found to not have the minimum thickness of 9 millimetres towards the rear of their planks, with FIA Technical Delegate Jo Bauer explained that the skids located in the area “-825 ≥ XR ≥ – 1025” (an area towards the rear of the floor) were not in compliance with the thickness.

It’s important to note that the minimum thickness of 9mm is acceptable due to wear, with the thickness of the plank assembly measured normal to the lower surface must be 10mm, plus or minus 0.2 millimetres.

For newer fans of F1 who may not know what a floor plank is, every F1 car has a wooden plank along the centre line of its floor. These are used to prevent a car from being run too low to the ground, with the wear rates on the highly prescribed dimensions of the plank revealing every detail of a car’s ride height.

Cars that can run lower to the ground generate more downforce in the ground-effect era, meaning Hamilton and Leclerc would have had a slight performance advantage over the (presumably) legal versions being run by their teammates, although these cars were not singled out for the specific plank tests.

Mercedes and Ferrari sent their representatives along to the stewards, but neither put up much of a fight – a clearcut breach of the technical regulations is difficult to fight.

What did Ferrari and Mercedes tell the stewards?

Representatives for Ferrari and Mercedes met with Technical Delegate Jo Bauer, FIA Single Seater Director Nikolas Tombazis, and FIA Single Seater Technical Director Tim Goss, with both teams admitting the measurements taken by the FIA stewards were exactly correct.

In mitigation, they pleaded that the high wear rate on the skid pads was “probably a result of the unique combination of the bumpy track and the Sprint race schedule that minimised the time to set up and check the car before the race.”

With the cars clearly not in compliance with the Technical Regulations, the circumstances for the breach being unintentional are irrelevant to the verdict and, as a consequence, both cars were disqualified having fallen outside of the thresholds that already included a tolerance for wear.

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What does the disqualification of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc mean?

First of all, the results of the United States Grand Prix have changed from what was shown on television. Max Verstappen remains the winner, with his Red Bull floor having passed a front floor deflection test as well as the plank checks.

Lando Norris, whose McLaren was also checked for plank wear, takes second place, with Carlos Sainz moving up to third. However, critically for the World Championship, Sergio Perez was promoted to fourth place. This moves him onto 240 points, solidifying his runner-up position in the Drivers’ Championship, with what had been a 19-point lead over Hamilton swelling into a much more comfortable 39-point lead with four race weekends to go.

George Russell is classified fifth, Pierre Gasly sixth, Lance Stroll seventh, Yuki Tsunoda eighth, Alex Albon ninth, and Logan Sargeant scoring his first-ever F1 point as the American driver claimed 10th place in his home race.

Of course, the disqualifications do raise some interesting points that need consideration. The two teams both pointed to the Sprint race format meaning a lack of setup understanding, brought on by the fact they only have a single hour of track time to prepare before being locked into parc ferme.

Rather than the teams seeking to unlock the ultimate performance of their incredible machines, the Sprint format is seeing teams hurriedly trying to get a basic setup cobbled together and, like in this case, aren’t as prepared or knowledgeable about where their car’s behaviour really is – is seeing an F1 team operating a car at 90 per cent of its potential, or perhaps even illegally, really what’s desired by the quick-fire nature of a Sprint weekend that’s seemingly designed to suit the attention span of the TikTok generation? Without proper setup time, two leading F1 cars set off to start their race doomed to be illegal by the chequered flag – without any intent to do so.

Separately, there’s also the fact that scrutineering singled out these cars for checks. While completely normal for the stewards to carry out ‘spot checks’ for certain issues, the fact that 50 percent of the tested cars had breached the rules means they either got incredibly lucky and just happened to select the cars in breach, or there could be a few more cars that were also in breach – but just weren’t hauled aside for the same in-depth checks. Logically, the other Mercedes and Ferrari might also have been questionable – but are ruled legal as neither Sainz nor Russell underwent the same plank checks.

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