Mercedes and Ferrari explain mistakes that led to disqualifications

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AUSTIN, Texas — Mercedes and Ferrari engineers say limited practice time in F1’s sprint format is a contributing factor to the costly setup mistakes they made at the U.S. Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton’s second-place finish at the Circuit of the Americas and sixth-placed Leclerc were disqualified for excessive wear on the fixed resin planks on the underside of his car.

The plank is made of a material that wears as it skids along the track surface, partially protecting the underside of the car but allowing the FIA ​​to ensure a minimum ride height is maintained.

Running the car lower to the ground can gain more performance from underfloor aerodynamics, but also runs the risk of potentially dangerous damage to downforce as the car bottoms out.

To ensure safe driving, the FIA ​​monitors the plank by measuring four holes in the plank which must be 10 mm deep (+/- 0.2 mm) at the start of the race and not less than 9 mm deep. At the end of the race

After the US Grand Prix, the depth of the pits was tested for Hamilton’s Mercedes, Leclerc’s Ferrari, Max Verstappen’s race-winning Red Bull and Lando Norris’ McLaren. Only Mercedes and Ferrari were found to be infringing due to excessive wear of plank material, leading to their disqualification.

The sprint format, which was used for the fifth time this year at the Austin weekend and features qualifying for Sunday’s grand prix on Friday afternoon, means setup decisions such as ride height have to be made after a one-hour practice session instead of the usual. Three practice sessions on a typical race weekend.

Once qualifying begins, the cars enter what is called a park farm, which severely limits setup changes and exists to stop teams building one specification of car for single-lap performance in qualifying and another specification for full race distance demands.

Speaking after the disqualification, Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said a combination of limited practice time and the rough surface at the Circuit of the Americas led to his team’s mistakes.

“We are obviously very disappointed to lose our podium finish,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is a problem with the sprint format where we have an hour of running before Park Farm.

“Other than running on a race fuel load in FP1, combined with a bumpy circuit like that and the parts of the track where the drivers have to keep their cars during the Grand Prix, have contributed to higher than expected levels of wear. We will. Go away and learn from it but overall from our experience. Take the positives too.”

Ferrari sporting director Diego Ioverno listed similar reasons for his team’s lapses, but also cited wind intensity and direction changes in Sunday’s race.

“The weekend is very strange and you have very little time to prepare the car — basically just one session and then you go to Park Farm,” Ioverno said. “It means you can’t touch the car after that moment. On top of that, Austin is a great track but it’s very stylish.

“Bumpiness is a difficult thing for the driver and the car, almost everyone has had suspension failures and chassis failures in the past. We knew it would be difficult and that’s why we lifted the car throughout FP1, and from our perspective it should have been fixed.

“In fact, it turned out that we were very marginal anyway and the wind that changed direction and had a stronger intensity than what was predicted, it did not allow our car to be legal in the end.

“At this point there’s not much to say and there’s not much we can do. In hindsight, rewinding the weekend we might have picked up more cars but we’d have lost performance, and we’re always here to try to optimize our own performance.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff added: “Setup choice in a sprint weekend is always a challenge with only one hour of free practice — and even more so on a bumpy circuit like COTA and running a new package.

“In the end, it doesn’t matter; the others got it right where we got it wrong and there’s no wiggle room in the rules. We have to take it on the chin, learn and come back stronger next weekend.”

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