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F1 Drivers Weigh in on the Plank Investigation Controversy

All the drivers say the sprint format contributed to the controversy and that the sister cars were likely illegal as well....

The disqualification of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc at the United States Grand Prix has people both on and off the grid questioning whether other drivers would have gotten disqualified for the same technical infringement. One of those people is Lewis Hamilton who said he “would put all my money” on the probability of this. At the very least, it seems likely that Hamilton and Leclerc’s teammates would have been in violation as well.

Hamilton explained that the sprint weekend doesn’t allow the teams enough time to get the set-up right. This is a common complaint on sprint weekends and according to Leclerc, the data from Friday’s session didn’t suggest anything was wrong.

Charles Leclerc stated that he was “surprised” he was disqualified “because on Friday when we could change the car, there was zero wear, so it’s not like we were touching the ground.”

Despite that, he acknowledged that “it’s not an excuse to say that on Friday we were fine.”

Pierre Gasly agrees that the “sprint format made it even more tricky” to get the set-up right and stated that “we were pretty much blind after FP1 with very little information on where to base yourself.”

Lewis Hamilton: “One Millimetre Was Not a Performance Factor”

So why did the Mercedes and Ferraris have excessive plank wear? Hamilton believes it’s due to each car’s ability to handle the notoriously bumpy Austin track.

“… mostly, some cars handle the bumps better than others,” Hamilton explained. “And we’ve had a very stiff and bumpy car for the last two years.”

He went on to add that his car didn’t gain performance from a low ride height, while others do and that the one-millimetre Hamilton was found in breach of didn’t add any pace to the W14.

“So some cars have downforce very low, some gain more at high ride heights,” he explained. “Last year, we were very low and stiff but we were bouncing.

“But, if you look at our onboard footage of Charles and I, we have the worst ride probably of everyone. So the Ferraris and us, our heads are bumping around quite a lot. That’s the rear just jumping up and down and also riding over these kerbs. Others are also doing those things but, if you look at Max’s head, for example, it’s much smoother, they have a much better ride than us.

“One millimetre was not a performance factor, whether we did what we did. It wasn’t like the floor bowing giving us extra downforce or anything like that. It just was terrible over the kerbs and if we had raised the car a millimetre or half a millimetre whatever it failed by, it wouldn’t have made a difference except for we would have passed the test, but it is what it is.”

Nico Hulkenberg: “I Might’ve Been Illegal Myself”

When asked by the media before the Mexican Grand Prix whether the FIA should have investigated more cars at the U.S. Grand Prix, Nico Hulkenberg said that maybe they should look at things differently given the context.

“I might have been illegal myself,” Nico Hulkenberg said.

“You never know. Obviously, these cars are incredibly sensitive to ride height – the lower you get, the more downforce you get, that’s the constant fight we have and we need to find the right balance.

“Austin is a bit specific with the bumpiness and also with a lot of apex and exit kerbs where you can run them quite aggressively but you do use the plank and wear down those shims a lot. So maybe there’s something to be looked at in a different way.”

Max Verstappen: “We Did Run the Car a Little Bit Too High”

Max Verstappen, whose car was investigated and found legal, but that was because he and the team ran the car higher than they normally would “just to be safe.”

“Because of the sprint weekend, you only had one session to make sure that you try and be as close to the limit as possible,” he said.

“Sometimes it can catch you out. From our side, we did run the car a little bit too high, just to be safe. Definitely, that cost a bit of performance. We know that, when we drop the car, you go faster. If you go below the limits, you go even faster.”

Alex Albon: “High Chance That the Teammate… is Going to be Illegal as Well”

It seems obvious even to an outsider that it’s likely if Hamilton and Leclerc’s cars were found to be illegal, their teammates almost certainly were too.

Alex Albon agreed that the sprint format doesn’t allow for enough time to set-up the car effectively but added that if one car has been found in breach of the regulations, then the sister car should be checked as well.

“What the teams have in terms of data and information to set the ride heights for the weekend is very marginal,” he said.

“There’s not even really enough time to fill the cars up in FP1 just to get a feel for where they need to be.

“But on the same side, maybe you don’t need to check every car, every race, all the time but if there’s one driver in one team illegal, there’s a very, very high chance that the teammate of that driver is going to be illegal as well.

“I don’t know how much it would take to check a couple more cars, but I don’t think that would be such an issue. But I don’t know, I’m not a scrutineer.”

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