F1 Penalties: Over the top or utterly ridiculous?
Penalties are required in any sport to maintain a sense of order and to make sure that the rules are enforced. In recent times however, I feel that penalties in Formula One have become so over the top, that they can be blamed for ruining some of the races. Well, most of the races.
Penalties that I agree with:
Let me get one thing clear before I start criticising penalties: I have absolutely no problem with penalties being given out to drivers/teams when they are deserved (for some reason Pastor Maldonado comes to mind when writing this?). Drivers should not be allowed to make contact with others or force other off the track, or do anything else that will damage/put another driver in danger. I'm all for rules being enforced so that the racing is fair, and so that mistakes don't come without punishment. You get the picture.
Penalties that I don't agree with
This is the main reason for writing this article - just to have a moan about grid penalties. These are the current rules: "Each driver is permitted to use only a limited number of power unit elements – of which there are six types – during a single season. The limits are three ICE (internal combustion engine), MGU-H (motor generator unit-heat) and TC (turbocharger), and two ES (energy store), CE (control electronics) and MGU-K (motor generator unit-kinetic). Should a driver use more than this, a grid penalty will be imposed."
I think this is completely ridiculous, hence the title. Firstly because it can ruin a team's hopes in both the drivers', and constructors' championship, as Red Bull are starting to show. Due to their chronic unreliability, thanks to the Renault power unit this season, Daniel Ricciardo has already had to take an engine penalty, an we are only half way through the season. After the failure for Max Verstappen in Hungary, you have got to think that he's got a penalty or two coming his way after he gets back from his holiday.
The current system also means that the drivers cannot risk running their engines flat out or going anywhere close to what it is capable of because they know that if they wear out before they are scheduled to be replaced, they face the back row of the grid. This takes away from the spectacle for the fans, as even though it may create one exciting race, it could mean that the championship battle is ruined. For example, if Sebastian Vettel has to start from the back in Belgium, and then lets say he finished fifth, the points he loses due to this penalty could be the difference between him and Lewis Hamilton come the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi. This especially pisses me off because it would mean that the drivers' championship would be decided by something that the driver had no control of, and something that was meant to punish the team. An example of this would be Lewis Hamilton in Brazil 2017, where he had already won the drivers championship, and the team had already won the constructors. This meant that they could use another engine, and then take the penalty without any consequences (Hamilton had crashed in qualifying as well, so they were due to start from the back anyway.). Equipped with a new power unit, Hamilton made light work of the field, and was able to push his engine to the limits. This is a quote from a Guardian article after the race: "Having fitted a new power unit overnight in order to run the engine at maximum output – which his lap times demonstrated was ominously strong". Don't we all want to see the cars running as fast as they are capable of?
Also, I think that these grid penalties, although aimed at cutting costs for the teams, can in some cases end up costing more money. For example, just look at the McLaren Honda penalty count from 2015 to 2017 (a whopping 825 places in just three years, by the way). Until the rules were changed, it meant that on a few occasions Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso would have to not only start at the back of the grid, but also take a grid penalty within the first three laps of the Grand Prix because they had been given such a large number of penalties. Now, this has got to have cost Honda more money than just the cost of a new engine, because if you remove the grid penalties that they were given, how many more points could they have scored? Would this have moved them up from ninth in the championship, and therefore given them more prize money? Its an interesting thing to consider, as if they had been allowed to use a few more engines, would the cost of this have been countered by the increase in prize money?
This isn't even a case of a team using new engines willy-nilly, as it has been caused by (numerous) mechanical faults. Grid penalties were mainly to stop teams spending way too much money replacing the power unit at every opportunity, not to punish those who were woefully unreliable. Surely the unreliability is enough punishment?
This is the only real problem I have with the penalties that are handed out to drivers due to what they've done on the track. For example, for what looked like a very similar incident, the two Ferrari drivers got two different penalties.
Compare these two videos:
As you can see, both incidents happened at virtually the same point in the race, but after looking at footage it would appear that Bottas had sustained the most damage. This post on Reddit made a lot of sense to me, as it pointed out everything that I see is wrong with the current system. It lists what the FIA has said about penalising drivers (in relation to this incident):
1 - After Vettel vs Bottas, the FIA said that maybe they should start considering how bad the outcome of an incident is and set the penalty accordingly.
2 - After Vettel held up Sainz, the FIA said that the punishments are not and will not be influenced by the driver's position and status in the championship.
3 - After the same incident, the FIA threw the word "consistent" around.
Then, it shows how the FIA completely contradict themselves when dealing with these incidents:
1 - If they wanted to give penalties based on the level of damage, how come Kimi got more for much less?
2 - If they swore being a title contender does not grant privileges, how come the title contender's wrongdoer got a more severe penalty, than the not title contender's wrongdoer?
3 - If the 5 extra seconds was not because of severity and not because of Hamilton being a title contender, then shouldn't Kimi have gotten 5 seconds as well instead of 10? Consistency, where?
It is clear to me the FIA do not count each driver as equal, as giving Vettel a more severe penalty could take away from the championship battle, and therefore decrease ticket sales and viewing figures. I do understand this, but it is not how the sport should be. Every driver should be treated as an equal, as they are all racing from the same rulebook.
This is how I would fix it...
Firstly, instead of giving out grid penalties whenever a team uses too many engines, they should find a way to punish the team and not the driver. I don't think that charging the teams for new engines is the right way to do it, as bigger teams could easily afford it. If I was to make the rules, I would consider docking the team points from the constructors championship, but have the number of points lost relate to what position they are in, and what part of the power unit they are replacing.
I think that it would be important to subtract different amount of points depending on where the team is in the constructors championship, because this usually reflects how important the prize money is to each team. Now, you may argue that this would be unfair on a team such as Force India if they were to suffer reliability issues, but would the extra points gained by not having grid penalties counteract the loss in constructor points?
Also, another point to consider in this would be the number of points taken away due to a mechanical failure in a race or qualifying. This is because, as I pointed out before, if the team loses points from retiring from a race, isn't that enough of a punishment? That would be like banning a footballer from the next match if he was injured in the previous one.
Ross Brawn has made it clear that for the rules overhaul in 2021 he would like to 'get rid' of grid penalties, even going as far to say that they are a 'farce'. They are suggesting that the teams should be given a 'pool' of parts, and would be allowed to use them as much as they want in a season. It is a step in the right direction, but personally I don't think it is going far enough.
As for the consistency of penalties, this just needs all of the drivers to be treated equally, regardless of their position in the championship. This is something I do not see changing soon unfortunately.
What do you think?
I know that after reading this, you will probably have some differing opinions. Please feel free to share them in the comments or on Twitter, and I encourage you to change my mind. Also, don't forget to vote in the poll below.