Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has insisted that it would’ve been a “no-brainer” to block Ferrari being given a free pass at the Las Vegas Grand Prix, where Carlos Sainz was penalised for something which wasn’t his fault.
The penultimate round of the recently completed 2023 season got off to the worst possible start, as Sainz hit a loose manhole cover at high-speed in the opening minutes of Free Practice 1, severely damaging his SF-23.
The rest of FP1 was cancelled as a result so that all the manhole covers could be filled with asphalt, resulting in a 150-minute delay to Free Practice 2.
Whilst the incident was clearly not Sainz’s fault, he received a 10-place grid penalty as Ferrari were forced to change his battery, due to extensive damage.
The FIA looked for anyway possible to veto a penalty but unfortunately found nothing to give them the power to do so.
Some claimed that Mercedes had blocked the FIA giving Ferrari a free pass to fit a new battery from outside their allocated pool, something the Silver Arrows categorically denied.
Wolff has stressed that this didn’t happen but that if it had been down to the team principals to decide on whether a penalty should be awarded, he would’ve obviously voted against it.
His argument is that whilst it would’ve be “sporting fairness” to support Ferrari and Sainz, the Italians were in a direct fight with Mercedes for second in the Constructors’ Championship.
Had Sainz not been penalised, Ferrari would’ve likely beaten Mercedes to P2.
This would’ve impacted “2,500 people” at Brackley, a factor Wolff must consider when all his staff have “mortgages and school fees” to pay.
“As a team principal for a rival team that is fighting for P2, I need to look at the regulations and at the full scope of possible actions of ourselves in order to finish P2 in the championship,” Wolff told RacingNews365.
“If the regulation says so, I need to act for the benefit of the team and 2,500 people.
“If we lost the championship by five points because I have acted in sporting fairness, and the rules would have allowed me to actually penalise the car, I need to do this. Every other team principal will do it as much as it’s unfair.
“I need to decide, is it unfair for a rival driver? It is. But I have 2,500 people that I’m literally responsible for – that pay mortgages and school fees. So, it’s a no-brainer.”