The reason for the disqualification of Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin from second place at Sunday’s 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix is one that has clearly been misunderstood by many and needs clarifying so that they are better understood and hopefully more readily accepted.
Article 6 of the FIA 2021 Formula One Technical Regulations specifies the F1 car fuel system, acceptable fuel cell construction and location, acceptable fittings and piping to plumb the system, mandates a crushable structure surrounding the cell, acceptable locations of fuel fillers and atmospheric breathers, and outlaws the refuelling of the system with fuel that is more than 10°C below that of ambient and concludes with 6.6 that details the specifications, processes and methods of fuel draining and sampling.
The rationale behind article 6.6 has historical links to the banning of jungle juice special fuels decades ago and the samples taken are divided into thirds for distribution to the FIA on-event lab which is onsite at every race, to the FIA off-site testing lab and to the team for their own independent analysis.
It is not necessary to describe the chronological series of events after the race that lead to Vettel’s penalty in detail, but the outcome was that after the scrutineers were unable to extract an adequate sample from the Aston Martin AMR21, the FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer reported the matter to the race stewards who then summoned the Aston Martin sporting director and consequently disqualified car 5 driven by Sebastian for Article 6.6.2 of the F1 Tech Regulations in accordance with Article 12.4.1 m of the International Sporting Code and the car impounded and transported to an FIA facility.
6.6 Fuel draining and sampling
6.6.1 Competitors must provide a means of removing all fuel from the car.
6.6.2 Competitors must ensure that a 1.0-litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the Event.
After a practice session, if a car has not been driven back to the pits under its own power, it will be required to supply the above-mentioned sample plus the amount of fuel that would have been consumed to drive back to the pits. The additional amount of fuel will be determined by the FIA.
6.6.3 All cars must be fitted with a –2 ‘Symetrics’ male fitting in order to facilitate fuel sampling. If an electric pump on board the car cannot be used to remove the fuel an externally connected one may be used provided it is evident that a representative fuel sample is being taken. If an external pump is used it must be possible to connect the FIA sampling hose to it and any hose between the car and pump must be -3 in diameter and not exceed 2m in length. Details of the fuel sampling hose may be found in the Appendix to the Technical and Sporting Regulations.
6.6.4 The sampling procedure must not necessitate starting the engine or the removal of bodywork (other than the nose box assembly and the cover over any refuelling connector).
In understanding the FIA’s finding against Aston Martin it is important to identify that they were penalised for breaching 6.6.2, that is specifically for failing to provide the required 1.0 litre sample in accordance with clauses 6.6.3 and 6.6.4 at any time, and that they were not penalised for any fuel irregularity, nor for a fuel volume irregularity, nor for a fuel mass irregularity.
Quite often a fuel cell or system as a whole may very well have a dead spot, a location that for reasons of geometry or pressure simply will not fully drain, however, the regulations are quite clear through the language with which they are written, in this case specifically the term at any time, that through the requirement of having to provide the sample it is the teams’ responsibility to identify and design the fuel system free of them.
One theory is that Aston Martin have the ability to contest the penalty because their fuel pump, which is mounted inside the fuel cell bladder, may have failed, however, this theory is invalid because 6.6.3 is quite explicit in that if that scenario arises, an external pump is to be connected to collect the sample.
Further to the disqualification, Aston Martin formally lodged their intention to appeal the penalty as is afforded them by the code swiftly after it had been issued, but interestingly they have also now exercised a request for a right of review, also afforded them by the code but only if significant new evidence that was not available to the race stewards at the time that they heard the matter has become available.
It is curious what significant new evidence could have become available to Aston Martin, given that car 5 was impounded and has not been in their possession since Sunday, and because Article 6 seems quite clear and concise, even to the layman, it seems questionable, to me anyway, that both the rights of appeal and review requested by Aston Martin will not be approved, their reasons fall on deaf ears and the disqualification will be upheld.
It is not the first time that an entry has been disqualified for breaching 6.6.2 and it probably will not be the last.
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