For an hour and 18 minutes, Romain Grosjean raced hard to finish sixth at Monza, fending off Carlos Sainz in the early laps and coping with worn tyres to deal with the persistent presence of Esteban Ocon in the second half of the Italian Grand Prix. It brought the Haas driver his joint second-best finish this year; an excellent result in a season that has been disappointing and, at times, controversial.
Then it was all taken away, the eight points wiped out at the stroke of an official pen after the Haas was found to have an illegal floor.
This should have been no surprise. Haas had altered their reference plane and associated aero parts for the Canadian Grand Prix in June. In order to eliminate this grey area, the FIA had issued a technical clarification (for the benefit of several teams) on 25 July, with it due to come into force in at Monza.
Haas team principal, Guenther Steiner, claimed the summer break meant the necessary work could not be completed in time and asked for a stay of execution. No extension was actually granted and Haas was warned that, should another team protest, there was the threat of exclusion. Renault, closest rival to Haas in the incredibly tight ‘Division 2’ battle, duly and successfully lodged a protest.
Grosjean’s sense of devastation can only be imagined on a day when the loss of valuable points had nothing to do with him – and could possibly have been avoided.
Were he still around, the late Colin McRae would sympathise. The Scotsman had given the Ford Focus WRC car a remarkable debut by setting a number of fastest special stage times and finishing third on the 1999 Monte Carlo Rally. McRae had pressed on in his usual spectacular style even though he and Ford Motorsport knew the Martini-backed car was suspect from the outset.
The Focus was fitted with a water pump that had not been homologated, ‘Autosport’ quoting Ford’s chief engineer as saying that the standard pump could not possibly deal with the demands of the 300bhp Zetec turbocharged engine in the heat of competition. In any case, the engineer argued, it would take months to make modifications that would allow the homologated pump to work, such were the huge demands being placed upon it.
With the car having been ruled illegal at scrutineering, some rivals had agreed to allow Ford to take part under appeal by the manufacturer. But no sooner had McRae begun to celebrate than officials called for the inevitable disqualification of his car and the sister Focus that had finished 11th. The Scotsman, as ever, had driven on the limit and was not best pleased. Like the story of Grosjean and Haas, it seemed to have been unnecessary risk all round.
Ford appeared to be in a quandary with such an apparently long lead-time to sort out the inadequate homologated pump. And yet, just two weeks later, the Blue Oval team arrived at the Swedish Rally and sailed through scrutineering thanks to both cars using the standard water pump. Given the serious misgivings previously expressed by the Ford engineer, neither Focus seemed likely to reach the finish.
As it turned out, McRae would retire with an engine problem (unrelated to the water pump) but the other Focus of Thomas Radstrom came home a strong third. Much better than that, 10 days later McRae scored a stunning victory at the end of the intensely gruelling Safari Rally. The engine, still fitted with the standard pump, never missed a beat.
Coincidentally, Ford’s chief engineer at the time was Guenther Steiner.