George Russell believes there’s a possibility that Mercedes could once again fall foul of the regulations this weekend in Sao Paulo given the F1 event’s sprint format.
In Austin two weeks ago, Lewis Hamilton was excluded from the results of the US Grand Prix when a post-race check of his W14 revealed that the car’s floor plank was worn beyond the 1mm margin authorized by the rules.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was also caught out by the same issue which the teams explained by The Circuit of the Americas’ many bumps coupled with imperfect ride-height settings due to competitors only having a single practice session on Friday to optimise their car’s settings.
This weekend in Interlagos, F1 teams will be facing the same compressed format as the venue hosts the final sprint round of the year.
Mercedes is likely to take a more cautious approach to its set-up work, but Russell – who claimed his maiden F1 win at Interlagos a year ago – says that striking the right compromise between its car’s ride height and its performance will be challenging.
“It’s going to be really challenging and this is going to be a big issue with the Sprint race weekend, because, as we said in Austin, we ended practice, we did our checks, there was no wear, so we thought we’re in the clear and then, a small change of wind direction, putting 100 kilos of fuel in the car for the first time, some laps in traffic, some laps not in traffic in a really bumpy circuit, we suddenly found ourselves with an issue we weren’t expecting,” Russell said.
“I’ve got to be honest, on a track like this, some teams may find themselves in the same place, so that’s just part of a game in a Sprint race.”
McLaren’s Oscar Piastri reckons that teams will factor in a bit more margin this time around, while he also suspected that Interlagos is a far less bumpy track compared to COTA.
“I think maybe some people will be a bit more conservative. I don’t know because I’ve not driven here, but I don’t think here will be as bumpy as Austin,’ commented the Aussie. “I think that’s what caught out a lot of people.
“Of course you still have the same risks being that once you send the car out for qualifying you can’t touch it again, unless you want to start from the pitlane twice. So maybe the risk is a bit lower, but it’s still definitely there.”
Chiming in on the issue, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon admitted that all teams are exposed to the pitfalls of having just 60 minutes of track time to freeze a car’s settings for the remainder of the weekend.
The Frenchman was reminded that his own team opted to start last spring’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the pitlane precisely because it wanted to adjust the clearance of its cars to give the latter more margin regarding floor plank wear.
“Well, I think every team knows how they are after the races, because they can check the planks every time,” Ocon added. “You know, there’s a performance factor in that, for sure.
“You have to be legal, that is the rule, it’s not an easy task. Because obviously you have only one session, you don’t really do long runs in P1.
“I mean, it can happen to everyone, I would say, what has happened in Austin, but hopefully it won’t happen to us.
“And yeah, hopefully there will be no mistakes like that because we’ve paid the price in Baku already, in one of the years, this year actually. So yeah, it’s one of the goals this weekend.”