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F1 drivers give their say over potential for further skid block disqualifications in Brazil

George Russell, Esteban Ocon and Oscar Piastri have shared their views on the skid block issue that has compromised much of the paddock as a result of the new-for-2023 F1 sprint format

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Skid blocks – the plank which runs beneath an F1 car – have become a major talking point of the current sprint weekend format.

F1 skid block plank disqualification Russell Ocon Piastri
George Russell has warned that there may be further skid block disqualifications to come as F1 holds the final sprint weekend of the season at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. (Image Credit: @MercedesAMGF1 on X)

The debate developed after the first disqualification since 1994 for an excessively worn plank occurred at the United States Grand Prix, which was the first of the current triple-header.

Both Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc were found afoul of the regulation that mandates the skid block be no less than 9mm thick come the end of the grand prix.

Given that on sprint weekends the cars enter parc fermé on Friday after just one hour of practice – and before two qualifying sessions and two races over the rest of the event – teams are increasingly struggling to ensure their cars remain legal throughout the entirety of the weekend.

Mercedes explained after Austin that due to the reduced practice time, they had not run Hamilton’s car with a full fuel load during race simulations, which ultimately caught them out.

Different place, same problem?

The seven-time world champion’s teammate, George Russell, was quick to predict similar issues for the teams at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

Speaking during his Thursday media duties, and first reported by Motorsportweek.com, the winner of both races when F1 visited Brazil last season underlined the potential problems ahead.

“It’s going to be really challenging and this is going to be a big issue with the sprint race weekend,” he began.

“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.”

“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.”

Esteban Ocon feels that the FIA protocol of only inspecting four cars for infractions isn’t stringent enough, posing that all points finishers should undergo that level of scrutineering.

“I think all the top 10… everyone that gets a reward should be checked at the end of the race. I mean, I remember that’s how it was in go-karts,” the Alpine driver suggested.

“Everyone that was scoring points, or at least all the podium-scorers, they were getting checked after the race. I’m sure if more cars would’ve been checked, there would’ve been more issues.”

This point was at the heart of the debate following the weekend at COTA. Many pundits and fans believe that given two of the four cars chosen failed their checks, more should have been looked at.

Back to Baku

Whilst the problem came to the fore in Austin, teams have suffered with similar issues since the first running of the current sprint format, at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in April.

Alpine had to start Ocon from the pit lane at that race over fears their ride height was too low, but the wider repercussions of the new sprint weekends weren’t perhaps truly appreciated, which led to the disqualifications in Texas.

Ocon was able to empathise with both Mercedes and Ferrari, admitting that it could happen to any team.

He did, however, point out that every team checks the planks after each race, so they know what condition they’re in, whilst also acknowledging the performance factor in having to raise the ride height of the car.

This is something Red Bull decided to do at COTA, given the bumpy nature of the circuit.

“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,” Ocon highlighted.

“And yeah, 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.”

A more conservative approach

Despite predicting the track surface not to be as bumpy as it was at COTA, McLaren’s Oscar Piastri feels that some teams may err on the side of caution:

“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 – 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.”

Interlagos has hosted two previous sprint weekends, and plank issues were not a widely known, or discussed, consideration up and down the paddock.

However, the change in format seen this season might force teams to reconsider their approach, particularly given how events unfolded in Austin.

Featured Image Credit: Alpine Media Pool

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