Speculation arises over four other drivers who could have failed FIA plank test

Thomas Maher
Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll battle for position during the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas.

Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll battle for position during the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas.

If the FIA stewards had pulled aside more cars for plank tests after the US Grand Prix, could there have been more disqualifications?

Following the race at the Circuit of the Americas, the stewards carried out their usual underfloor plank checks by pulling out one car from each of the top four teams to finish the race.

Two of the four cars were found to have excessive wear on the planks, meaning Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from second place, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc disqualified from sixth.

Peter Windsor points to stint length as a potential contributing factor

Appearing on his usual post-race YouTube stream, former F1 team manager and journalist Peter Windsor examined the scenario and said he believes the long first stints – when the cars are at their heaviest – may have been a contributing factor in the excessive wear rates as both Leclerc and Hamilton went long.

“Everybody makes mistakes, for a start,” Windsor said.

“It’s the same for everybody – the complexity of the sprint weekend, the bumps, the wind, everything else, the same for everybody. So no excuse in that area.

“But I would like to point out one thing that I think is significant in all of this, and that is the length of the stints – particularly the first – when the cars are full of fuel and at their heaviest, and at their most prone to do damage to the skid pads.

“So stint one is a really important phase of the race if you’re going to be right on the edge of legality with the skid pads.

“Charles Leclerc did 23 laps on his first set of tyres with that off the line, with a heavy load of fuel. Daniel Ricardo, also on a one-stop strategy (originally), 22 laps.

“Lewis Hamilton, they kept him out for a long time, 20 laps, even though he was on a two-stop strategy and that was to try to get his offset when he’d be in good shape at the end of the race on the medium. So that’s why they had him do 20 laps.

“Lance Stroll, 20 laps. Nico Hulkenberg, 19 laps. Fernando Alonso, interesting, 19 laps, and he retired with a collapsed floor! Pierre Gasly, 18. Lando Norris, 17, so now you’re getting into acceptable. Carlos Sainz, 17.”

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Peter Windsor points out Red Bull’s short first stints

With Max Verstappen pitting to ditch his mediums at the end of Lap 16, and Sergio Perez pitting a lap later, Windsor said he suspects their early and aggressive undercut stops may have been down to knowledge of the situation with regards to skid plank wear.

“Is that homework by Red Bull that they were very aware of the problems you can have with the wear rate on the skid pads, on full tanks?” he questioned.

“So you run that stint as short as you can possibly run it, without obviously compromising your overall race. I think that’s what they were doing. They knew there was a potential issue and to run that stint as long as possible because, towards the end of that stint, the tyres inevitably going to be going off.

“When the tyres are going off and you’ve still got a relatively heavy load of fuel, that is when you’re going to do the most damage to the skid pads on the back of the car because the car is going to be moving a bit more. You’re still going to have very high-speed changes in direction, the car is going to be moving more, and it’s going to be doing more damage, potentially.

“So that is the time you want to eliminate. So, is it any surprise that of the cars measured – Charles Leclerc, 23, Lewis Hamilton, 20 – only Daniel Ricardo did more laps on his first stint than Hamilton?

“So, to me, you know that’s not a coincidence. That is reality and look at Verstappen with 16 laps – I think that just comes under the heading of a great preparation by Red Bul. To me, those numbers are pretty stark in terms of how short Max’s first stint was.”

With 50 per cent of the cars tested failing the plank tests, should the stewards have applied common sense and tested more cars to see if more failed? While it’s too late now, Windsor believes that testing the cars of others who ran long first stints could have been illuminating.

“How many other cars were probably illegal as well?” he said.

“It’d be really interesting to see what the results would be if they’d measured Daniel Ricciardo’s. I would suspect he would have been out as well. We know Fernando Alonso’s floor completely collapsed. Lance Stroll, was not measured, but he was quite quick at the end of the race so maybe he was running pretty low!

“Pierre Gasly, who knows? Maybe or maybe not that that car would have passed, I don’t know.

“This rule testing one car from the top four has been in F1 for many, many years. It’s because they want to save time and it’d take forever to do every car. I suppose they could do a slightly larger sample [size], I guess. But that’s the rule. And that’s what they did. In my opinion, if you want to look at who else would have been in trouble, look at the length of the first stints. I suspect Daniel Ricciardo would also have had trouble, as would Nico Hulkenberg, and we know Fernando Alonso did have trouble with his floor collapse.”

One final point Windsor brought up was the fact that Mercedes had looked very quick, particularly with Hamilton chasing down the ailing Max Verstappen in the closing stages. But, with Hamilton’s car found to be illegal and his ride height being too low, was their pace genuine or brought on by the much improved ground-effect downforce from running lower?

“Mercedes had a quick car all weekend and was quick in both the sprint and the race,” he said.

“[Was it] because they were running lower than they should have been? And that’s why they had the grip? If you’re McLaren, you’re probably thinking poetic justice. The big question is, how much difference did all of this make?”

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