Ferrari Formula 1 driver Carlos Sainz found himself at the centre of a stewards’ investigation during the 2023 Dakar Rally, after he was seen “helping close the car door” for his father Carlos Sainz Sr.
A legend in the world of rallying, the elder Sainz is a four-time Dakar winner and is taking part in the marathon for the 17th time this year – which marks the fourth time since the Dakar, originally a Europe-Africa event, relocated to Saudi Arabia after a decade of running events in South America.
Sainz Jr has been on site as a guest of his father and was seen interacting with the Audi RS Q E-Tron E2 during the third stage of the marathon, after the crew had stopped to make repairs to the left rear suspension.
كارلوس ساينز الابن @Carlossainz55 سائق فيراري في #فورمولا1 يتابع والده كارلوس ساينز الأب #CSainz_oficial خلال تصليح سيارته في المرحلة الثالثة من #رالي_داكار 2023
🎥: @KSAF_SAMF#داكار2023 #داكار_السعودية2023 #Dakar2023 #DakarInSaudi #F1 #F12023 #essereFerrari #Carlossainz pic.twitter.com/6nNEezmlsW
— Ibrahim Al-Zubaidi 🇸🇦 (@IbrahimAlZubadi) January 3, 2023
That footage – and namely the part where Sainz Jr closed the driver side door – caught the eye of the FIA sporting delegate, who reported it to the stewards as a potential breach of Article 49.2.1.
The article reads that “the presence of team personnel or any team conveyance (including helicopters) is prohibited within one kilometre of its competing vehicle” except for some exceptions.
As per the stewards, Audi and Sainz Sr emphasised that Sainz Jr was “not a member of the team” and didn’t act on the “initiative of the team”. This ultimately proved sufficient for the stewards to rule that “there is no evidence confirming a violation of the regulations in a legal sense”.
However, the rest of the verdict makes it abundantly clear that the regulatory forces were concerned by the optics.
“The stewards note that the behaviour of all members of the motorsport community should not raise any doubts,” the verdict read. “Of particular importance is the fact that very well-known people in motorsport set an example for everyone else.
“It should be noted that Dakar 2023 is a round of the FIA World [Cross Country] Championship. Honest pursuit of the result, adherence to sports principles is especially important. And it is important to follow not only written rules. It is also important to avoid situations that may raise doubts.
“For the relationship between father and son would be very difficult to see as completely unrelated.”
The verdict goes on to outline that the article in question is not only related to matters of illegal technical assistance but also “verbal communication” creating a potential undue advantage for some competitors over others.
“In the stewards’ view, a very good example of avoiding questionable situations is when competitors participating in the FIA championships ask even completely unrelated people not to approach the crew members of the car of that crew, if this may raise doubts about the possible acquisition of an unfair advantage.
“In the name of popularising motorsport, raising prestige, competitors are encouraged to avoid any situations that may raise doubts.”
The left rear issue on the third day cost Sainz over half an hour and almost entirely accounts for his current deficit to marathon leader Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota) after five days of competition.
But Sainz’s Audi team received an Equivalence of Technology concession after Wednesday’s action, the RS Q E-Tron E2 given an extra 8kW as part of the FIA’s continuous effort to balance out the performance of the hybrid challenger relative to its turbo-petrol rivals.