Lewis Hamilton has been disqualified from the qualifying results in Sao Paulo after the DRS flap on his W12 failed to satisfy the FIA.
Hamilton was quickest in Friday’s qualifying for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, the reigning World Champion putting his W12 up into P1 for Saturday’s sprint qualifying.
However, not long after the chequered flag had waved in Q3, FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer sent a note to the race stewards saying he believed Hamilton’s rear wing did not comply with the regulations.
Bauer’s note read: “The requirement for the minimum distance was fulfilled. But the requirement for the maximum of 85mm, when the DRS system is deployed and tested in accordance with TD/011-19, were not fulfilled.”
According to Article 3.6.3 of F1’s Technical Regulations, when the wing is in its closed position the gap between the two flaps ‘must lie between 10mm and 15mm’.
However, when the DRS flap is open, the distance between the elements must be ‘between 10mm and 85mm’. Anything bigger is illegal.
The FIA, using a special DRS probe, examined Hamilton’s wing on Friday night before calling a hearing with Mercedes that was later adjourned until Saturday morning as they awaited more evidence.
The FIA inspecting Lewis Hamilton's rear wing on Friday in Brazil…pic.twitter.com/4pTgMrGopT
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Throwing a spanner into the works was another hearing, this one into Max Verstappen for touching Hamilton’s rear wing in parc ferme conditions.
By doing so he contravened Article 2.5.1 of the International Sporting Code, which states: “Inside the Parc Ferme, only the officials assigned may enter. No operation, checking, tuning or repair is allowed unless authorised by the same officials or by the applicable regulations.”
He also opened the door for a possible line of defence for Mercedes. Verstappen was subsequently fined 50,000 Euros by the stewards, who were satisfied that the Dutchman’s actions had not impacted the structure of the rear wing.
Resuming on Saturday at 10:30am local time, an hour after Verstappen’s hearing, the race stewards declared that Hamilton’s rear wing was in breach of the regulations, even though it was not intentional, and so he was removed from the qualifying standings and will start the sprint from the back.
The report from the stewards read: “The Technical Delegate reported that Car 44 failed the test designed to check the requirements of the last paragraph of Art. 3.6.3 of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 Technical Regulations. The check is described in Technical Directive 011-19.
“In lay terms, there is a gap between the upper and lower parts of the rear wing. When the DRS is not activated this gap must be between 10mm and 15mm. The car passed this part of the test.
“When DRS is activated, which raises the upper element of the wing to a flatter position, the gap must be between 10mm and 85mm. The maximum gap is measured, in accordance with TD/011-19, by pushing an 85mm gauge against the gap with a maximum load of 10N (ten newtons.)
“If the gauge goes through then the car has failed the test. In this case, the gauge would not pass through at the inner section of the wing, but did at the outer section of the wing. This test was repeated four times with two different gauges, once being done in the presence of the Stewards and representatives of the competitor.
“The competitor [Mercedes] asserted that the design is intended to meet the regulations. It was clear to the Stewards that the additional deflection was due to additional play either in the DRS actuator or the pivots at the end, or some combination or other fault with the mechanism, or incorrect assembly of the parts.
“The stewards heard, from both the team and the FIA that the same design has been tested many times during the season and uniformly passed. Further, the FIA has examined the design of the area
of the car in question and are satisfied that the design meets the intent of the regulation.
“There is therefore no question in the minds of the stewards that the test failure indicates any intent to exceed the maximum dimension either by action or design.
“The competitor also noted, that Art 3.6.3 of the regulation states a maximum dimension, which is possible to measure without applying a force or load. It is not until a force is applied, that the gauge is able to go through.
“There was no disagreement that the test itself was undertaken as described in TD/011-19. The gauges were measured and the stewards were satisfied that they were the correct dimension. The
competitor therefore argues that their car complied with the regulation in the static position and thus meets the regulation.
“The FIA argues that while not regulatory, the TD, like many others, describes the procedure for the test so that competitors may design cars to meet the regulations. Further, the TD states that the test is designed to make sure that the rear wing element does not deflect to a larger opening than the permitted value.
“The stewards take the position that while a TD is not in itself a regulation, TDs are accepted as the method upon which the teams may rely and in this case, the test that was carried out was in conformity with the TD and its legitimate aims.
“The competitor alleged that the fact that the car passed the test in the center section of the wing is both a mitigating factor and shows that there was no intent to breach the regulation. While the stewards accept that the latter point may be true, the stewards believe that which sections failed is not relevant to the fact that the wing did fail the test.
“The competitor noted that this is not a systemic breach, and is indeed unique. It was, rather, something gone wrong. The competitor further noted that they would have liked to have had the opportunity to inspect the parts with a view to having some explanation for the stewards as to how the problem arose.
“However, the stewards fundamentally accept the competitor’s explanation that the cause of the failed test was something “gone wrong” rather than a deliberate action.
“The stewards therefore chose to keep the assembly under seal and preserve the evidence of the failure, rather than altering the parts in an inspection which would have involved some handling of the parts and thus some alteration of the evidence.
“The final point of the competitor regarding the assembly itself is that it is regular practice for the FIA Technical Department to allow teams to fix minor problems that they find with their cars, even during the Parc Fermé conditions of qualifying.
“Had the competitor recognised this problem during qualifying they surely would have sought, and the FIA Technical Department confirmed, they would have received permission to fix the parts or tighten bolts if needed.
“The stewards were sympathetic to this argument and analyzed whether they felt this was a mitigating circumstance. It is often a mitigating circumstance to make allowances for crash damage.
“However, the stewards could not extend this argument to cover parts that were found out of conformity in post session checks with no obvious reason in evidence other than considering normal running at this Event.
“In the end, the regulations are clear and at the moment of the conformity check, the car did not comply.
“The stewards decide that car 44 failed the test indicated in TD/011-19 and is therefore in breach of Art 3.6.3 of the FIA Formula 1 Technical Regulations.
“The stewards agree with the Competitor that this is something gone wrong, rather than an intentional act or design but did not find there to be mitigating circumstances.
“Further, Art 1.3.3 of the International Sporting Code states that “it shall be no defence to claim that no performance advantage was obtained”. Therefore, the stewards order the usual penalty for technical non-compliance of Disqualification from the qualifying session.”
Hamilton was already facing an uphill battle in Brazil, the Briton handed a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race after taking on a fifth ICE for the season.
Trailing Max Verstappen by 19 points in the race for the World title, Hamilton now has it all to do to work his way back up through the pecking order during sprint qualifying.
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