If you’re the type of Formula 1 fan tired of the typical Mercedes/Red Bull exchange of blows, you loved the Hungarian Grand Prix. Esteban Ocon won the race, capping a dream weekend for Alpine that also saw Fernando Alonso finish fifth after a thrilling multi-lap battle with Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel was another unlikely podium sitter, crossing the line second.
It was one of those post-race celebrations that seemed too good to be true — and indeed it might just be, at least for Vettel. F1 announced shortly after 10 p.m. local time in Budapest that the driver was disqualified after his mechanics could extract only a 0.3-liter sample from his car — well below the 1-liter sample teams must provide when requested by the FIA.
Aston Martin immediately confirmed its intent to appeal following the news. That essentially gives the team 96 hours from that point to decide whether or not it will launch a formal appeal. If it doesn’t, the case will be dropped and Vettel’s second-place finished will be stricken from the results, handing the spot to Hamilton and third place to Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
At the moment, though, Vettel technically remains second.
Meanwhile, Aston Martin’s engineers will have to figure out a way to get the rest of the fuel out of the car, or at least prove that there was at minimum a liter of fuel remaining in the car after the race. To that end, Vettel’s No. 5 Aston has been impounded, sealed by the FIA and transported to FIA headquarters.
Aston Martin team principal Otmar Szafnauer says that there should still be 1.44 liters of fuel inside the tank, based on his engineers’ calculations. Here’s how he explained it to Motorsport.com:
“We measure the fuel that goes in,” he said. “And the fuel flow meter that we have in the car, which is mandated by the FIA, measures how much fuel gets used.
“So the difference between what went in, and what’s used, is what’s left. And that’s how we know there’s 1.74 litres left.
“We have that, the FIA work to the fuel flow meter, they have all that data, we supply them with the data of how much fuel we put in, they have the ability to check that at any time. So all that data is available.”
Vettel was told to stop his car before completing his “in lap” and returning to pit lane after finishing the race. That alone proved cause for skepticism within race control, as the rules state that if a fuel sample is to be collected from a car, it must be done after that car has been driven back to the pits under its own power.
Williams’ George Russell and Nicholas Latifi fell under scrutiny for exactly the same reason. By failing to complete their in laps, these three drivers essentially communicated that their cars may not contain the required amount of fuel for collection, which provoked the FIA to find out for itself. If you want to know more, it’s all explained in depth by Motorsport.com’s Adam Cooper.
According to Szafnauer, the inability to extract the rest of the fuel he believes is still inside the car lies with a faulty fuel lift pump. Here’s how Racecar Engineering explains the role of lift pumps within an F1 car’s fuel system:
The tank therefore contains a number of low-pressure electrically powered “lift pumps”, typically 3 or 4 of them, positioned to suck up fuel from the tank corners. Filters at the entry to these pumps protect them from damage that may be caused by impurities that may have entered the fuel cell. The lift pumps deliver to a smaller vessel within the fuel cell known as a “collector”, which typically has a capacity of 2.5 kg or 3 L.
Aston Martin may argue that it’ll need to replace one of the lift pumps in Vettel’s car to get that fuel out, though whether or not the FIA would even allow the team to do that is unclear. Either way, we should find out within the week.