Formula One must abolish grid penalties

Jawad Yaqub Roar Guru

By Jawad Yaqub, Jawad Yaqub is a Roar Guru

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    McLaren is entering a long rebuilding phase after Honda. (GEPA Pictures/Red Bull Content Pool).

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    Formula One’s system of penalising drivers with grid penalties for changing components on their power-units was once again in the spotlight at the Italian Grand Prix – with a record of seven drivers having been penalised and viewers needing a Masters of Mathematics to determine the grid.

    Since the introduction of the hybrid power-unit in Formula One back in 2014 and the limitation on the number of units that can be used per driver, the use of grid penalties has done little to restrict teams from undertaking changes.

    Another reason for the system being maligned is that Monza is one of the easiest tracks on the calendar to overtake and teams had strategically taken the penalties to introduce new power-units into their allocated pools for the remainder of the season.

    The whole idea behind the FIA’s implementation of this measure, was with cost cutting in mind, thinking that this would stop the more wealthier teams from spending more to maintain the optimal package at each race.

    While cutting costs in Formula One is a fair concept, it in the case of power-unit penalties is extremely naïve, with it doing little to push the teams struggling with reliability – which is the reason why they’ve had to make multiple changes through a season and of course, detracting from the racing itself with star drivers being forced to start from the back of the field.

    Mercedes-Benz, who have been the benchmark for reliability with their power-units have been the supplier who has suffered the least since 2014. With that, their works team in Mercedes AMG are one of the few teams who can complete a season, taking minimum penalties as possible.

    Contrast that to Renault, or the diabolical Honda, who for the sake of reliability are forced to start from the back of the grid – with the latter’s predicament a lot more disastrous.

    (Image: GEPA Pictures/Red Bull Content Pool).

    Having to consistently view two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, cop monumental penalty counts because his engine supplier cannot produce a reliable product is beyond unacceptable.

    Formula One’s Director of Motorsport in Ross Brawn agrees, stating in Monza that “I hate the fact that we’re having to affect the racing because of the technical issues.”

    “I know you can say if a car breaks down in a race that’s a technical issue and you’ve affected the race, but I think the fans understand that.

    “For a fan to stomach that his hero is on the back of the grid because he had to change the engine, that’s not great sport.

    “We’ve got to find a solution to that, either through a different form of penalty or to remove the penalty altogether and just live with the problem that it was trying to fix.”

    “We are working with the FIA now to try and see if there is a better solution in the future, and certainly hope with a new engine and new rules we’ll definitely have a better solution,”

    “Maybe we’ll be able to implement a better solution before then, because it’s a massively unpopular aspect of Formula One at the moment.”

    A more appropriate solution as earmarked by many, is that teams should be docked constructor’s points. This would ensure that a driver’s race is unaffected, unless the driver is Alonso, whereby his Honda power-unit is doomed to fail forever.

    Stripping points or even handing out fines for excessive changes, at least is another method of dealing punishment to the teams for changes and it maybe one they feel at the end of the season in terms of their finishing position in the standings.

    This debate does raise another issue though, surrounding the reliability of the power-unit. It would have been thought that now four years into their existence in Formula One, that reliability would be near perfect – with it being used a demonstration of what the manufacturers are capable of with their road cars.

    As fascinating as hybrid technology is, the overcomplication of grid penalties and mass-component changes is doing little to attract fair-weather viewers to the sport.

    Though with Brawn and co now on the case, there is time to address this whole area and ensure that the hybrid side of Formula One continues to develop – without the detractors of complicated penalties and unfair advantages to teams with bigger budgets.

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    The Crowd Says (8)

    • Roar Guru

      September 6th 2017 @ 8:11am
      Wayne said | September 6th 2017 @ 8:11am | ! Report

      Punishes the middle of the pack teams, while big teams get away with minimal penalty.

      • Roar Guru

        September 7th 2017 @ 6:30pm
        Jawad Yaqub said | September 7th 2017 @ 6:30pm | ! Report

        Classic example of that was the Belgian GP in 2016, where Hamilton started from the back of the grid with those penalties and still ended up on the podium. Whilst for a McLaren driver to have to take penalties, it is likely that they wouldn’t even get to finish the race.

    • Columnist

      September 6th 2017 @ 2:18pm
      Michael Lamonato said | September 6th 2017 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

      You’re definitely right to say reliability is the major problem here — specifically Honda’s reliability. Increasing the number of power units available per season back to five would be a happy medium for most teams, I think, notwithstanding Honda. Renault would probably still have been pinged with a few penalties, but that engine is just suffering a particularly off-colour season.

      As for alternative penalties, both a loss of constructors points and financial penalties bring with them serious flaws.

      Docking constructors points would be meaningless to McLaren, for example, who would have long run out points to be subtracted, making all the team’s engine changes effectively free. Moreover, a team out of the running for the constructors standings but in with a shout at the drivers title (read: Ferrari) would be able to top up its leading driver’s supply at will to gain a distorted advantage.

      Financial penalties would disproportionately benefit the manufacturer teams, most of which would think nothing of paying whatever price for a timely performance boost or to swap out a suspect engine. The smaller teams would struggle to afford to same luxury.

      There’s no perfect solution, but grid penalties is about as good as it gets. Maybe tweaking the severity of the penalty so no driver can end up with more than a 20-place penalty for a new power unit would make it appear more reasonable.

      • Roar Guru

        September 7th 2017 @ 6:29pm
        Jawad Yaqub said | September 7th 2017 @ 6:29pm | ! Report

        Thanks Michael for the feedback!

        What I should have raised as well, is how in 2018 they will be restricted to just three units for the season. How ridiculous would that be, if the reliability doesn’t improve? That on another note, just highlights how brilliant Mercedes have been with their powertrains.

        It is unfortunate for a layman to have to tune in and attempt to make sense of the grid, when there are mass penalties and the Sergio Perez example can be applied to that. There’s no perfect solution as you say, but when the current system is difficult to follow for those who may not be avid viewers (those who Liberty would be trying to attract) – there has to be a serious rethink.

        • Columnist

          September 8th 2017 @ 8:10am
          Michael Lamonato said | September 8th 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

          Yeah, you’re right: three power units is bordering on ridiculous! It’s a nice idea in a reliability and sustainability sense and, like you say, Mercedes is showing it’ll probably be possible, but racing shouldn’t take place under a cloud of penalties — we’re talking about them like they’re inevitable (because they are this season) when really they should be rare. Except, of course, for Honda!

          Not even just the layman — I think Force India didn’t even know where Perez was starting for a good while! I guess what you’re highlighting there is that communication needs to be improved too, which I think is correct. I’ll be interested to see what solutions Ross Brawn comes up with.

          • Roar Guru

            September 8th 2017 @ 5:38pm
            Jawad Yaqub said | September 8th 2017 @ 5:38pm | ! Report

            You think back to the pre-hybrid days, where you’d only see these penalties for gearbox changes and that was a rare occurrence in itself. If all the manufacturers had a power-unit as robust as the Mercedes-Benz, then this may not be such a huge issue.

            Of course, even the commentators were confused in trying to explain the grid order. As you say, there needs to be a way in which it is simplified – just to avoid confusion. Everything Ross Brawn has said so far in 2017 about the future has been music to many’s ears, so I’m sure he will address this one appropriately.

    • September 7th 2017 @ 10:00am
      Cento said | September 7th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

      What about adding ballast (and not wherever the team wants it but to a specific point in the car) or a fuel flow restriction for a race or 2?

      • Roar Guru

        September 7th 2017 @ 6:33pm
        Jawad Yaqub said | September 7th 2017 @ 6:33pm | ! Report

        In that case, it would be great to just have the reliability there for all the manufacturers, so that undertaking unscheduled power-unit changes is a seldom occurrence. Or increase the limit to 5, instead of cutting it to 3 in 2018 – though that won’t stop the flow of penalties, especially if Honda are still the same.

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