Carlos Sainz is set to face a grid penalty in the upcoming Las Vegas Grand Prix due to a manhole cover incident that violated FIA regulations. The Ferrari Formula 1 car struck a manhole cover during the first race weekend on the iconic Las Vegas Strip. Unfortunately, FIA regulations do not permit exceptions for "mitigating, unusual, and unfortunate circumstances."
The unexpected turn of events occurred when Esteban Ocon, driving for Alpine, ran over a water valve cover, causing it to protrude from the resurfaced asphalt. Despite the yellow flag raised after Ocon's incident, Sainz continued and collided with the loose cover, leading to significant damage to the Ferrari.
Ferrari was compelled to replace several components, including the survival cell, internal combustion engine, energy store, and control electronics, all of which were deemed "damaged beyond repair" due to the impact with a foreign object. The incident resulted in the red-flagging of FP1 after eight minutes, and eventually, the session was abandoned. FP2 was also postponed by two and a half hours as authorities inspected and secured the 30 water valve covers around the circuit.
While the FIA stewards acknowledged the extreme circumstances surrounding the incident and recognized the need for Sainz to use new parts from outside his allocated spares, the rules did not allow for such leniency. Despite spending over two hours searching for a solution to spare Sainz from a penalty, the stewards concluded that Article 2.1 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations obligated them to enforce the mandatory penalty specified under Article 28.3.
In their statement, the stewards expressed their understanding of the unusual circumstances but emphasized their duty to apply the regulations as written. Consequently, Sainz will incur a significant penalty for exceeding the power unit component allocation for the season, requiring a fifth internal combustion engine and a third set of control electronics. This penalty translates to a loss of 10 grid positions in Sunday's race.
Despite the penalty, both Sainz and Ocon are expected to participate in FP2 due to a regulatory quirk. Article 31.4 of the Sporting Regulations allows cars that undergo a survival cell change after initial scrutineering to complete a new declaration approved by the technical delegate. However, the cars may not be used until the following day. The night-time schedule for the Las Vegas GP permits FP2 to take place after midnight, allowing both drivers to run again.