Sainz 'did maximum we could today' to overcome penalty

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Beset by a controversial ten-place grid penalty for the start of Las Vegas Grand Prix, Carlos Sainz did the best he could today in qualifying to overcome the frustrating setback.

Sainz finished second just 0.044s behind his Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc in today's session, but will drop to P12 on the grid to start immediately behind Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez while Max Verstappen inherits P2.

“Obviously I would love to be on pole because it would mean I would start 11th instead of 12th, but I think we did the maximum that we could today," he told the media in parc ferme after the end of the session.

"[It was] an outstanding job by the whole team,” he added. “We’ve dominated qualifying together after a tough Friday to put together the whole car again."

Sainz' car had been damaged just minutes into first practice on Thursday evening when a water valve access cover was prised up and hit the underfloor of the SF-23 causing extensive damage to the survival cell.

As well as building up a new one in time for FP2, the team had to change engine components including a new battery which pushed Sainz over the allowed number of units for the season, incurring the ten place drop.

“I would love to be fighting for the win tomorrow with Charles and Max, but unfortunately I’m going to be on a comeback mode, a comeback race," he admitted.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-23. 16.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Las Vegas Grand Prix, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Bearne / XPB Images

"Hopefully I can get to the front at some point and battle with them, but I think it’s going to be tricky," he said.

“Let’s see. It depends how the start goes, how the graining on the tyres is and then how easy it is to overtake. I think the pace clearly looks like we have it this weekend."

However it was clear that Sainz was far from over his anger about receiving a penalty for a malfunction with the track that had been entirely out of his control and the responsibility of the local organisers.

"I'm not going to lie, I'm still in a very bad mood," he acknowledged. "I am trying not to show it too much, but it is what it is."

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari celebrates his pole position in qualifying parc ferme with second placed team mate Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-23 (Left). 17.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Las Vegas Grand Prix, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Reports said that race stewards worked for three hours after practice to find something in the regulations to allow them to give a dispensation to Sainz over the penalty, but without success.

“There was clearly a safety issue at the track,” Sainz said yesterday. "I’m just simply disappointed [but] I’m not surprised because there’s been many cases this year that I think the sport has proven that it can do things a lot better.

A statement from the stewards explained why they had been left with no option other than to give him a penalty.

"If [the stewards] had the authority to grant a derogation in what they consider in this case to be mitigating, unusual and unfortunate circumstances, they would have done so," read the official FIA statement.

“I’m surprised that the governing body doesn’t have the power to, in cases of force majeure, to overrule a bit in this kind of situation," Sainz responded.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-23. 17.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Las Vegas Grand Prix, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

While rival teams were broadly supportive of Sainz' plight, team bosses including Mercedes' team principal Toto Wolff resisted giving Ferrari a free pass on this occasion as it would open a can of worms with regard to other situations where a team is compromised through no fault of its own.

“For sure there will be rival teams pushing for me to get a penalty, which surprises me in a way," Sainz said on Friday. "In another, I’ve been in the sport for too long.

"There’s too much money involved in the finishing position in the constructors’ or whatever for a team not to threaten to apply for a penalty for me," he said. “Besides that, I think the teams should not be allowed to have a say in these kinds of things."

Ferrari is currently 20 points behind Mercedes in the constructors standings in the battle for runners-up spot, with just two races remaining in the year including tomorrow's in Vegas.

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