Toto Wolff has urged a rethink of how incidents caused by force majeure are handled after an “unfair” penalty was given to Carlos Sainz in Las Vegas.
Just seven minutes into the first practice session at the new Las Vegas circuit in November, Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari was destroyed when he drove over a drain cover that was sucked upward by the ground effect.
Having had his car demolished by the incident, from which he escaped unhurt, Sainz’s weekend went from bad to worse as he was given a grid penalty for needing a new energy store due to the damage incurred on his power unit.
Toto Wolff: As a racer, Carlos Sainz didn’t deserve the outcome
Sainz was left in disbelief at the penalty, with the Spaniard not mincing his words at his disappointment at the penalty which took him out of contention for a podium, or even a possible win based on the pace of Charles Leclerc in the other car.
The stewards themselves had said they tried their best to avoid giving Sainz a penalty due to him and Ferrari being completely blameless for the incident that resulted in the component change requirement, but the sporting regulations simply didn’t allow for a blind eye to be cast.
With options unavailable to the stewards in the case of force majeure, Toto Wolff believes what happened to the Spaniard was completely unfair.
What happened to Carlos was absolutely unfair,” he said in an interview with select media – including PlanetF1.com – in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m talking about the penalty. Unfair.
“For me, as a racer, I am the first one to say that he didn’t deserve the outcome. I think we should look at the rules. Force majeure is a difficult one. What happens with kerb strikes? You know, you destroy your car by riding up a kerb? There’s nothing you can do.
“[What if] you’re riding over bumps with cold tyres like it happened to Lando [in Las Vegas], and you smash it into the wall? Is that force majeure, are people going to say this is a force majeure event?
“What if another car T-bones you and you haven’t done nothing? Is that force majeure? Nobody liked the situation, as a sportsman. It was unjust what happened to him and ruined the race weekend for him that he maybe could have won.
“So we’ve got to look and give it a hard think how we can change it.”
Toto Wolff: As a team boss, I need to look at full scope of actions
In the aftermath of the penalty, Sainz had criticised the actions of an unnamed rival team for pushing back against the stewards in their ultimately futile quest to find leniency for Ferrari, with Mercedes denying they were the team in question.
Wolff said that reflecting on Sainz’s incident from his position in the sport rather than as a sportsman, changed his perspective – as it would for any team boss on the grid.
“As a team principal for a rival team that is fighting for P2, I need to look at the scope – I need to look at the regulations and the full scope of possible actions of ourselves in order to finish P2 in the championship,” he said.
“If the regulation says so, I need to act for the benefit of the team and the 2500 people – that will have a very big difference in bonus between P2 and P3 – to act to the limit of the regulations.
“Because, if we lose the championship by five points because I have acted in sporting fairness and the rules would have allowed me to actually penalise the car – whatever driver – I need to do this.
“Every other team principal will do it, as much as it’s unfair. I need to decide, ‘Is it unfair for a rival driver?’
“It is. But I have 2500 people that I’m literally responsible for, that pay mortgages and school fees, so it’s a no-brainer. I think it’s important that we, sometimes, put ourselves in the other’s position.
“I have done that for Carlos and it’s awful. The other way around, I’m not sure whether the exercise was done.”
Wolff outlined how he expects the conversation around force majeure situations to be a long, protracted one but a key focus of the F1 Commission going forward, pointing out examples of the extra complications that are worth considering for any potential rule tweaks.
“Our plank disqualification [in Austin], we [could] say the bumps were much more than we expected and we couldn’t change it,” he said.
“It was a sprint weekend and it’s force majeure, and we come up with all kinds of measurements that the bumps were actually higher than expected.
“But, for me, it’s more like things you can’t [control]. For me, riding the kerb and destroying your skids and falling foul of the regulations, striking a bird, [they’re] unfair, but we haven’t found regulations that would cover these things.
“I think hitting a drain cover and ruining your car is unfair for the driver, definitely.”