After a long wait, the Carlos Sainz case is definitively closed and we have the confirmation that nothing will change. In a press release issued on Tuesday, the International Federation officially rejected the request for review presented by the Maranello team for the penalty inflicted on the Spaniard during the 2023 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit.
The Ferrari man was given a five-second penalty for hitting the Aston Martin car of Fernando Alonso in the restart following the second red flag in Melbourne. A penalty which, when it was applied, caused the Spaniard to slip from fourth to twelfth final position, with zero points at the end of the race, a result that the Italian side was hoping to overturn in appeal.
In order for the review request to be approved, the Maranello team would have had to present to the race stewards new and relevant elements that were not available at the time the penalty was originally assigned, in a similar way to what happened with the Aston Martin after this year’s Saudi Arabian GP. Only if the FIA agreed to the review, the next phase would have taken place, the one in which the case would have been officially reopened by discussing whether or not to remove the penalty.
A green light which, however, has not arrived. In fact, according to the stewards who met this morning from 8.00, Scuderia Ferrari would not have brought significant and relevant evidence useful for changing the penalty for which Carlos Sainz had been found guilty of the contact with Fernando Alonso.
The elements presented by Ferrari
The defense of the Maranello team, which was represented by Team Principal Fred Vasseur and Racing Director Laurent Mekies, basically focused on three different elements: the telemetry data, the testimony of Carlos Sainz and the statements of other drivers collected in the post-race.
As for the telemetry data, in which Ferrari highlighted the braking points of the two Spanish contenders, the stewards decided not to consider them relevant because they were already available when the original decision was made in Australia, making them not useful for case review.
“Trying to brake late while racing GAS [Gasly], [Sainz] ran the risk of losing control of the car. In this case, this risk materialised, with the consequence of a collision, for which a penalty was imposed,” reads the press release in which the FIA rejected the request.
In an attempt to provide his own version of events, Carlos Sainz explained that, also thanks to the particularly slow formation lap, he arrived in turn one with cold tires on an asphalt that offered little grip and with the setting sun not allowing a clear view. All elements which, in fact, were also confirmed by other drivers, who after the race had complained of both the poor grip of the track and the difficulties in properly warming up the tires before the restart.
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The third point of the Ferrari defense was based precisely on the testimonies of the rivals who, in the vision of Ferrari, should have contributed to strengthening the position of their driver. However, even in this case the race stewards agreed that the elements brought by Ferrari were not new and significant.
“Firstly, if we thought a statement from SAI [Sainz] was needed to analyze the matter, we would have called him after the race. We did not consider it necessary to listen to him to decide”, the press release explains, underlining that the dynamics of the crash were clear.
“His [Sainz’s] testimony basically states how poor the grip was and that he was bothered by the sun. But logic would say that the position of the sun would have had the same impact on other drivers as well. It is not a justifiable reason to avoid a penalty for a collision.”
Ferrari tried to use precedent which was not the case
But above all, in order to convince the FIA that the telemetric traces and the statements of the drivers could be accepted as new and relevant evidence, Ferrari looked to the past. In fact, the Maranello team has chosen to highlight a rare example of a penalty that has been challenged by a review process, namely the case involving Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa in the 2014 Canadian GP.
During the last lap, the two had come into contact while fighting for fourth position, both ending up in hospital for tests after the strong impact against the barriers in turn one. Therefore, on that occasion neither of the two drivers could have offered their explanation for the stewards after the checkered flag.
After analyzing the data, the FIA still decided to assign Force India’s Mexican a penalty for the next Grand Prix in Austria, finding him guilty for having changed his trajectory under braking. Inevitably, the teams involved in the accident had opposing views on who was at fault, so much so that a few days later Force India decided to appeal.
“It was very disappointing to lose such an important result through no fault of mine. I was following the same line and braking points as in the previous laps and was hit from behind by Massa. There was plenty of room to the left of my car to attempt a clean overtaking, and I don’t understand why he had to pass. I watched several replays of the accident and I can’t help but notice how Felipe turns right just before hitting me,” Sergio Perez explained after the investigation, following the decision of the race stewards.
Believing that the Mexican’s statement could be useful for overturning the penalty, Force India decided to present a request for revision to the Federation which, unlike the Carlos Sainz case, was accepted by the stewards believing that there was new and revealing evidence such as to be able to reopen the case. However, it should be emphasized that in that case the request was exceptionally accepted because Sergio Perez, taken to the hospital for tests at the time the sanction was imposed, had not been able to tell his version of the facts.
Nine years later, that same request for review was cited by Ferrari in an attempt to build its defence, arguing that if driver statements and telemetry had been deemed new and relevant evidence in 2014, then they could have been viewed in the same way also this year, in fact reopening the case.
“The Competitor [Ferrari] states that there are precedents in which these aspects [telemetry and driver statements] are considered significant and relevant new elements. [Ferrari] Indicates the Stewards’ decision regarding the petition presented by the Sahara Force India F1 Team which asked for the right of review as a precedent to say that a driver’s verbal testimony and related telemetry can constitute a significant and relevant new element.” , reads today’s press release with which the stewards rejected the request of the Italian side.
However, the stewards reiterated that the two cases cannot be compared and that, consequently, the contact between Perez and Massa could not be used as a precedent. In fact, if in 2014 the penalty had been decided after the checkered flag, given that the accident had occurred during the last lap, in the Carlos Sainz affair the penalty arrived during the race, as the stewards believed they had enough evidence to establish who was at fault for the contact.
“The factual circumstances of the Stewards’ decision at issue in that case [Perez/Massa] are very different from those in this case. The Sahara Force India F1 team’s case involved a post-race hearing into an accident (in other words, it was unclear to the stewards who was to blame for the collision in question). The competitor’s driver [Perez] was not available to attend the hearing because he had been taken to the hospital following the crash. The hearing went off without the contestant [Force India] being able to speak to his driver to get a comment. This happened after the hearing [in which a penalty was awarded] and the driver’s version put the facts that had been presented to the Stewards in a different light.”
Substantially, the distinctive element between the two cases is that in 2014 the version of Sergio Perez, who could not attend the post-race hearing for the assignment of the penalty as he was engaged in some medical checks in the hospital, actually provided the stewards of the new elements. On the contrary, in the episode involving the Ferrari driver, the stewards did not deem it necessary to listen to the Spaniard to establish that he was fully responsible for the contact given the clear dynamics of the episode, so his testimony did not change the opinion of the board.
“The distinctive element is that our decision [on the Sainz case] was made in the race. We did not find it necessary to hear from SAI [Sainz] or any other driver to decide that the responsibility for the collision lay entirely with him. A decision that we, and the other stewards’ panels, routinely make and are encouraged to make, when the cause of the collision is clear and there is a need to issue sanctions as quickly as possible],” the statement reads.
The interesting aspect of the story is that, in reality, the Federation had already underlined in 2014 that the Sergio Perez- Felipe Massa case would not have constituted a precedent for the future, as the decision to accept the revision was due to exceptional circumstances, i.e. the fact that the drivers involved were not available because they were in hospital.
“We note, for the record, that these are exceptional circumstances, namely that the driver was taken to hospital and was unable to communicate with his team or attend the hearing, and this decision should not be considered [as] a precedent”, the race stewards had remarked in the statement in which they had accepted the requested revision by Force India. Thus, in fact, Ferrari based part of its defense on a case which, as the Federation has already explained above, would not have constituted a precedent given the exceptional circumstances.
Beyond the failure to overturn the sentence, the warning launched by the Italian team remains important: Ferrari has requested greater fairness and consistency in the judgements, alluding to the fact that, as underlined by the Team Principal Frederic Vasseur in a meeting with the media, some episodes during that restart were treated differently, avoiding a penalty for other drivers.