The FIA have clarified a potential loophole in the Formula 1 rules which could have allowed Charles Leclerc a higher starting position in the Belgian Grand Prix.
Ferrari driver Leclerc is one of a host of drivers, including title rival Max Verstappen, to elect to take grid penalties at Spa-Francorchamps to introduce new engine components into their pools for the rest of the season, given the overtaking-friendly nature of the track.
The F1 Sporting Regulations state that "if a driver incurs a penalty exceeding 15 grid places, he will be required to start the race from the back of the grid".
However, a possible loophole was then found in the rulebook as Ferrari took their penalties in separate hits – with neither drop exceeding 15 places.
FIA admit vague wording of regulation
The FIA admitted that Article 28.3 (relating to power unit usage) could be interpreted as not triggering a back of a grid penalty as "the wording of the sentence is singular (a penalty)".
As mentioned, Leclerc did not individually receive more than the required 15 places in one hit, with this "exact situation" having not occurred since the rule was put in place in 2018.
After further examination of the rulebook, the FIA stewards stated that penalties "will be cumulative".
This means that no matter how many penalty places Leclerc was handed, they all counted as one – hence no loophole that could have allowed him to take a whole fresh unit and still start ahead of Verstappen, had Ferrari taken a fresh component one at a time.
"Logically, regardless of how many documents the penalties are published in, all decisions accumulate over the competition, and anything over the 15 grid place limit triggers the back of the grid penalty," explained the bulletin.
"It is important to note that the 'start the race from the back of the starting grid' penalty [that] is fully embedded in Article 28 was specifically introduced in response to nonsensically high grid penalties from PU changes.
"[It] has never been used to accumulate grid penalties imposed from other articles of the regulations."
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Leclerc to start behind Verstappen regardless
When it actually came down to qualifying at Spa, Verstappen was dominant and blitzed the field.
His 1:43.655s lap was unbeatable in Q3, with the World Champion feeling so confident he didn't even make a second run to ensure he was fastest.
However, due to his own penalty, he won't be starting P1 v with Leclerc's teammate, Carlos Sainz, promoted from second fastest to inherit pole position.
As for Leclerc, he only made one run in Q3, but this also featured an operational error from Ferrari.
He was sent out on fresh Soft tyres, instead of the planned scrubbed ones, and could not get near Verstappen, Sainz or Sergio Perez, ending up fourth fastest.
Verstappen will start 15th, ahead of Leclerc in 16th, with fellow grid penalty drivers Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris, Zhou Guanyu and Mick Schumacher rounding out the grid.
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