Carlos Sainz believes the costly chaos that unfolded at the start of Saturday’s Las Vegas GP was likely caused by a pre-race oil spill from a parade lap car, an event that he said was “unacceptable”.
As the field of drivers were introduced to the crowd in Las Vegas at the start of their parade lap, the car carrying Oscar Piastri emptied its sump on the track, on the left side, where Sainz was starting.
Although marshals took the appropriate action by throwing cement on the streak of oil, traces of the latter were still visible when everyone lined up on the grid 90 minutes later.
Sainz, who had qualified second but was demoted to 12th for changing the control electronics of his SF-23, lost control and slid into the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton as the field approached Turn 1, while Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso spun upon his entry into the corner.
"I saw a lot of oil from the cars that we used to do the drivers' parade, which is another thing for the FIA to look at,” said Sainz.
"It is not fair that all the oil was on the inside line. Apart from the dirty track already being there, we put cars on that are leaking oil on the track an hour before the race. Again, this is unacceptable.
"That probably cost us with the crashes into Turn 1."
Sainz said that he immediately felt his brakes weaken as a result of running over the patch of oil and collecting dust.
“Yes. I hit the brakes, I had a lot of dust from the oil, and I just had no grip,” he recounted.
“I think Fernando also spun, drivers with a lot of experience finding just zero grip, so unfortunate for everyone but, at the same time, you could never have expected that.”
“You’d never expected it to be so bad. I just touched the brakes, not even hit it and the tyres were just locked.
I didn’t even brake that late, I was at the 100m board, but arriving at 100kph slower than on [a] qualifying lap.
"The cold tyres probably played a role, but it was absolutely shocking on lap one and I think we all struggled from it.”
Fortunately, Sainz was able to collect himself and get going again while the Safety Car provided him with an opportunity to pit for a fresh set of tyres.
“Probably something on the suspension or the steering wheel [was damaged], but nothing that really limited me to continue.”
After putting his head down, a spirited drive allowed Sainz to progress up the order, the Spaniard running as high as P4 amid the field’s pit stop rotations.
The Ferrari driver’s own stop and switch to a second set of hards saw him emerge in tenth position. Again, pressing on, his efforts carried him up to P7 where he concluded his race, although he ultimately inherited sixth thanks to a time penalty handed to George Russell following the Mercedes driver’s run-in with Max Verstappen earlier in the race.
However, it was a difficult second half for Sainz, conducted in damage limitation mode as he was forced to manage both his engine and tyre temperatures.
“That was why it was such a tricky race and damage limitation, because, again, in traffic, a lot of lift and coast, we couldn’t overtake people because we were protecting the engine,” he explained.
“We also had to protect the tyres from the graining, so it was never going to be an easy race, an easy comeback.
“I did everything I could, it wasn’t easy, also, with the graining, in traffic it was almost impossible not to open the graining following other cars. We managed to recover, as I said, damage limitation.”
Given his strong race and in light of Charles Leclerc’s run to second place, Sainz was still reeling over the unfair 10-place grid penalty handed to him in the wake of his unfortunate encounter in FP1 with a loose water valve cover which required a chassis and power unit change.
“You saw today what happened at the front, the pace Charles had and with two Ferraris up there, I think we would have had a very fun race for the podium, or for the win,” he said.
“So we missed out a bit on that, although it was a good day for the team in terms of the Constructors [championship], it should have been even better.
“I think it was a decent show, I just wish I could have been up there with the two Red Bulls and Charles. I think we could have put an even better fight for the win.”