Formula 1 drivers have criticised the Sprint format and the FIA’s post-race legality check procedures following breaches of the sport’s technical regulations over the course of the United States Grand Prix.

The cars of both Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc were found to have exceeded plank wear allowances during the race in Austin, leading to the disqualification of both drivers.

Of the 17 finishers in Austin, the governing body only inspected the planks of four cars. With half of those checked found to have breached the regulations, fans and drivers alike have since questioned the legality of other competitors.

On Thursday, Hamilton led questioning of the FIA’s post-race legality checks saying that he had heard from “several different sources that there were a lot of other cars that were also illegal and weren’t tested, so they get away with it.”

Due to the Sprint format, drivers were only afforded one hour of practice running before cars entered parc fermé conditions, limiting major set-up adjustments.

“What the teams have in terms of data and information to set the ride heights for the weekend is very marginal, 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,” Alex Albon told the media during Thursday’s press conference. The Williams driver was promoted to ninth in Austin as a result of the disqualifications.

“I do think, maybe you don’t need to check every car, every race all the time. But, you know, if there’s one, one driver in one team illegal, there’s a very, very high chance that the other car, the teammate of that driver, is going to be illegal as well,” Albon continued, sharing the same beliefs as Max Verstappen.

“So 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.”

Alexander Albon (THA) Williams Racing in the FIA Press Conference.
26.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 20, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Preparation Day.
–, EMail: © Copyright: XPB Images

Drivers were in agreement that the limited practice allowance on a Sprint weekend is likely conducive to the plank issues, with Pierre Gasly adding: “I think there’s a couple of things which we could do to improve what’s happened in Austin, starting with the Sprint weekend when we’ve got only the FP1 session on such a track.

“You’re doing 15 laps with quite a low amount of fuel in the car. So, to get a gauge of what you’re going to get for the next 70 laps, with two Qualifyings, a Sprint race, a complete Grand Prix of 59 laps, with a lot of fuel.

“You’re going pretty much blind after FP1 with very little information on where to base yourself. It’s a tricky situation.  Probably we can improve that process giving us more time to readjust if needed.

“I just remember my karting days, where you know, all top three cars were always checked. Whenever you finish on the podium, you should be checked every single time, and then on top of that, there could be random checks as well, running down the order. But yeah, I think it’s been always from the past, only in F1, where it’s not a standard to check all top three cars.”

Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon was also in agreement despite his retirement from last weekend’s grand prix. The Frenchman believes that plank issues are nothing new to F1, and have largely gone under the radar.

“I think it is an extremely difficult exercise. Just to be guessing, you know, what your ride height has to be,” he began.

“There is a risk and reward, obviously, in that, sort of, exercise – that if you get the car lower you get more performance, but you know, it’s at the risk of are you going to be illegal with your plank.

“Yeah, I mean, we’ve seen cars changing set-up throughout the weekends because of those things. And yeah, it is just too short in FP1 really to set your car up. So yeah, I’m sure it’s not the first time that there were cars illegal like that on such weekends or such a Sprint weekend. I think on normal format, it’s a lot less likely to happen. But yeah, I’m sure on the other races there was as well.”

Classified 11th in Austin, Nico Hulkenberg came close to a return to the points for Haas. If excessive wear was as common as some drivers believe, further disqualifications ahead would certainly have presented a healthy boost for the Kannapolis based squad.

“Or I might have been illegal myself! You never know,” the German jokingly reminded journalists when posited the hypothetical scenario.

“Obviously these cars are incredibly sensitive to the 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.

“I think 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 is something to be to be looked at in a different way.”

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