Racing can be harsh—it usually is harsh. Because its very nature is technology-driven—which already means competitors aren’t on an even playing field—there are many rules that apply to the cars that don’t really involve the sport but are there to keep some semblance of fairness. Teams are keen to protest penalties regardless, but usually, on a technical disqualification, you’re straight-up boned. This is what happened to Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel Sunday, after finishing second place during the chaotic Hungarian Grand Prix.
There are certain things you have do as part of running a race car, or else it’s deemed outside the regulations. Some of them might seem really silly, like when Formula E’s Pascal Wehrlein was disqualified from a win because Porsche forgot to disclose which tires it was using. At the end of the day, if you don’t meet the technical requirements for the scrutineers to be able to monitor your car for skillful cheating, you’re out.
One of the rules set by the FIA in series that use fuel, is that you have to—at any appropriate point during the race—be able to provide a liter of fuel sample from the car so that it can be analyzed and checked that it complies with the rules. In Formula One, that means it gets checked against the samples given at the start of the year to make sure it’s the same make up, as well as that that it complies with the rules about the gasoline-ethanol mix, specific compounds, etc.
Everyone knows you gotta do it in any F1 race and Sebastian Vettel isn’t a rookie at this. So you might be a bit surprised to know that the FIA could only get 300 milliliters (essentially 30 percent of the required liter) of fuel out of his car, leading to his disqualification from the race.
The FIA’s decision reads: “After the race, it was not possible to take a 1.0-liter sample of fuel from car 5. The team was given several opportunities to attempt to remove the required amount of fuel from the tank, however, it was only possible to pump 0.3 liters out. During the hearing in presence of the FIA Technical Delegate and the FIA Technical Director the team principal of Aston Martin stated that there must be 1.44 liters left in the tank, but they are not able to get it out.”
Cars were struggling for fuel at the end of the race, as calculations maybe were made assuming a slower-paced Grand Prix, given it started in the wet. As a consequence, two cars stopped on track before reaching parc fermé, which is permitted so long as they’ve crossed the line and have enough left in the tank for the fuel sample.
One was Vettel, the other was George Russell, scoring his first points for Williams in a ninth-place that felt much more triumphant than his previous one for Mercedes last year. Three cars got subjected to the check after the chequered flag: Vettel’s, Russell’s, and Nicholas Latifi’s. The two Williams cars managed to keep their eighth and ninth places but the stewards had to call it and say they couldn’t get the right sample out of Vettel’s.
Now, this sucks. Vettel’s been absolutely stonking all weekend in support of Hungary’s LGBTQ+ community and seeing the rainbow-helmeted guy on the podium was perfect. He’d been subject to an earlier summons about wearing a pride rainbow t-shirt during the Hungarian national anthem that could have got him in hot water, but to which he said: “They can disqualify me, they can do what they want. I’d do it again.”
He got a reprimand for that, along with another three drivers who forgot to take their We Race As One t-shirts off for the national anthem. Scoring a moral victory and getting canned for a technical error, however, feel very different.
Aston Martin put in an appeal notification to the FIA, which is pretty standard for teams but doesn’t usually go anywhere. They throw a few thousand Euro at it on the night after the race, tell the driver and pit crew they’ll definitely get it sorted even while their stomachs are sinking, knowing that it won’t actually happen.
Well, maybe, this time, it might. Because Aston Martin is extremely adamant that there are 1.44 liters of fuel in the tank and also because it’s the three-week, abbreviated F1 summer shut down now, they’ve actually let the FIA impound Vettel’s car. It’ll get transported to the FIA’s own technical facility where they’ll sort of shake it about a bit and see if any more comes out.
Normally, it’d be way more important to take the car back to base but the combination of the shutdown and the certainty means Aston has managed to push the FIA to re-do the check. If, as it’s convinced, there’s enough fuel somewhere in that chassis to make the sample then Aston’s in the clear.
Which is all the reason for another strange anomaly from last night. When the 61st document of the weekend was published with the final race classification, Vettel was still second. Until the appeal’s finalized, he can keep the porcelain race trophy and maybe feel a little bit smug about his old team tweeting about him like an ex you can’t even say the name of any more.
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