Motorsport 8.9.2017 08:30 am

Penalty system clear as mud

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton competes to win ahead of Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel during the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Spa on August 27, 2017

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton competes to win ahead of Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel during the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Spa on August 27, 2017

Grid penalty concept is there to cut costs, but only serves to confuse fans.

What an interesting weekend Monza provided. Sadly, from the racing point of view the 13th round of the 2017 Formula One season proved to be processional.

A perfect lights to flag win for Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton left the Englishmen as the overall Drivers’ championship leader.

His achievement was made sweeter by team-mate Valtteri Bottas’ second place, ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, plus Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

I have said before that the concept of grid penalties due to engine component replacement as a means of cost cutting is doing nothing to benefit the sport. In fact it is costing F1 due to totally confused fans and I can not blame them. Last weekend was a classic example.

The weather gods upset the apple cart during qualifying, resulting in an unusual grid line up.

Then the officials and the rule book started handing out penalties to confuse everyone, including many of the commentators, including former F1 driver Martin Brundle.

Brundle has openly stated his dislike of the system and wants to see it abolished. He jokingly said last weekend that if more than half the grid were to get penalties at a race meeting he would go home.

It was a close thing as nine of the twenty competitors were burdened with those ridiculous “cost cutting” measures. Brundle even challenged FIA President Jean Todt during his grid walk, the Frenchman intimating that if someone could come up with a better suggestion they would be willing to discuss it.

Many are concerned about the detrimental effect of engine grid penalties – not least the new sporting chief of F1 Ross Brawn.

He is reported as saying, “I hate the fact that we are having to affect racing because of the technical issues. “I know you can say that if a car breaks down in a race that is a technical issue and you have affected the race, but I think 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 is just bad for the sport.” Brawn continued, “We have 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.”

He confirmed they are working with the FIA to find an alternative and are hoping that with new engine and rules they will have a better solution.

Unfortunately that is only due in 2021 and something has to be done before that as further situations like last weekend’s will certainly result in a total lack of interest to many followers of the supposed pinnacle of motorsport. Why am I complaining so much? Let me explain.

Monza’s wet qualifying produced an interesting grid, but the Red Bull team opted to change engines to ensure a good result in Singapore, a circuit well suited to their RB13.

That made sense but of course meant penalties. Max Verstappen, who had qualified second changed his engine and MGU-H and received a 15 grid position drop.

His team-mate Ricciardo – third after qualifying – was penalised 25 grid slots after changing his engine, MGU-H, turbocharger and gearbox.

So that meant Verstappen would drop to 17th and Ricciardo to 28th – but there are only 20 grid boxes, so the best that could be done was to move the Australian to stone last.

Now it starts to become interesting. Fernando Alonso, despite having qualified his McLaren13th had a 35 place penalty so he has to be the last man.

So we move Ricciardo up to 19th, but we are forgetting Romain Grosjean, who crashed his Haas during Q1.

So, given the stewards’ permission to start from the back of the field and a five-position penalty for a gearbox change meant it was the Frenchman in the last spot and Alonso moving up to 19th.

Then Alonso’s team mate Stoffel Vandoorne collected a 25 place penalty after finishing Q3 in tenth so he moved to 18th, bumping Ricciardo up once again.

But wait – Jolyon Palmer received a 15 place penalty. This gets very interesting as he had qualified 17th and as the bottom of the grid was getting very busy he stayed 17th – no penalty effect for the Renault driver.

It was the same for Carlos Sainz, who qualified his Toro Rosso 15th and despite a ten-place penalty remained in that spot.

Confused? It gets better.

Nico Hulkenberg lost just two places to fill 13th place despite a ten position penalty, the Sauber pair of Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson benefitted with all this movement gaining seven places each for 12th and 11th respectively.

What a shambles. It gets worse. Force India’s Sergio Perez, who qualified eleventh on the day, required a gearbox swop that would cost him a five-place drop.

Fortunately for the Mexican the lower grid positions were now so full he was moved up to tenth.

Need I say more?

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