Carlos Sainz’s Las Vegas GP weekend has gone from bad to worse following the stewards’ decision to hit the Spaniard with a grid penalty following his unlucky encounter with a manhole cover in FP1.

Just nine minutes into the opening practice, the session was halted and later cancelled altogether after Sainz’s Ferrari and Esteban Ocon’s Alpine suffered terminal damage when they ran over a manhole cover – or rather a loose water valve structure during their early laps in FP1.

The contact destroyed the underbody and chassis of both cars, forcing Ferrari and Alpine to build up new chassis and compelling the FIA to conduct a cautious inspection of the track to secure the remaining 30 drain covers spread around the circuit.

Unfortunately, the Scuderia’s crews were also forced to replace the internal combustion engine, energy store and control electronics on the SF-23 as the elements were “damaged beyond repair following an impact with a foreign object.”

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The incident should have warranted exceptional circumstances and a free pass for Sainz, but the stewards could not find any mitigating article in F1’s rulebook rule that would have allowed Ferrari to add the new PU elements to Sainz’s pool of hardware without the latter incurring a penalty.

“Having received a request from [Ferrari] requesting a derogation of the Sporting Regulations in order to allow a replacement of the Energy Store from outside the pool, without penalty; and having heard from the team representative, the Director FIA Single Seater Department [Nikolas Tombazis], having viewed video evidence and examined the Team’s declaration sheet, the stewards, determine that notwithstanding the fact that the damage was caused by highly unusual external circumstances, Article 2.1 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations obliges all officials, including the Stewards, to apply the regulations as they are written.

“Accordingly, the mandatory penalty specified under Article 28.3 of the Sporting Regulations must be applied.

“The stewards note that if they 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, however the regulations do not allow such action.”

Wherever Sainz qualifies in Las Vegas, the Spaniard will be sent back 10 places on Saturday’s grid.

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