World champion Max Verstappen has come out in support of his rival, Carlos Sainz, who faced a ten-place grid penalty at the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
The penalty resulted from Sainz's car hitting a loose drain cover during the abandoned first practice, causing significant damage.
In order for Sainz to continue, Ferrari had to replace several power unit components, leading to the Spaniard using his third energy store of the season, one more than regulations allow.
Verstappen expressed his view that the penalty was unduly harsh on Sainz, emphasising the challenging political environment in Formula 1, where teams prioritise their interests. While acknowledging the mandatory nature of the penalty according to race stewards, Verstappen hinted at potential lobbying by teams to ensure no leniency.
Despite finishing second in qualifying, Sainz faces an 11th-place start on the grid in Saturday's race due to the penalty. Verstappen suggested a re-examination of the rules, particularly in situations where external factors, such as safety issues on the track, impact a team's performance.
The Red Bull driver argued for a change in the system, stating, "First of all, that needs to change so that these things can be taken into consideration, whether you can take a free, let's say, penalty or not." He also proposed limiting the influence of teams in such matters, believing they may vote against leniency.
Sainz, understandably bitter about the punishment, highlighted the safety issue on the track that caused damage to his car. He expressed disappointment with the penalty, questioning the sport's ability to handle such situations effectively. Sainz called for a more empowered governing body that could intervene in cases of force majeure, where events are clearly beyond a team's or driver's control.
In the midst of this controversy, Verstappen's support for Sainz adds a layer of scrutiny to the existing Formula 1 regulations, prompting discussions about fairness and the need for greater flexibility in penalising teams under exceptional circumstances.