‘Not in the DNA of racing’ – Monza grid debacle shows system untenable – The Race

'Not in the DNA of racing' - Monza grid debacle shows system untenable - The Race

Various games of Formula 1 grid bingo played in the aftermath of Italian Grand Prix qualifying have highlighted yet again the main negative consequence of F1’s convoluted grid penalty system.

F1 championship leader Max Verstappen qualified second fastest but knew he faced a fifth-place grid drop to take his 2022 Red Bull’s fifth V6 internal combustion for Monza.

Logically, he suggested that he would therefore start the race seventh when asked if he knew: “I think it’s P7, unless I’m stupid”.

Verstappen is far from stupid, and in the end it turned out that he was right, albeit after several hours of uncertainty.

This was because there were competing interpretations of what the order should be – as highlighted perhaps best by Alpine driver Esteban Ocon writing “wanted to post my starting position for tomorrow but I have no idea” on social media.

McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, for his part, said his race engineer told him he would start fifth, before his team then told him he would actually be fourth – which was proven correct.

Grid penalties in F1 are nothing new, but they have become increasingly prevalent and disruptive since F1 switched from normally aspirated V8 engines to sophisticated hybrid V6 units in 2014.

This is where grid penalties join an incompatible axis with F1’s need for sporting justice, push for increased environmental sustainability and reduced costs, and the long-standing desire for a complicated competition to be more easily digested by casual spectators.

The simple fact is that the current hybrid engines are not reliable enough to meet F1’s requirement that three engines last 22 races per competitor. The penalty system is precisely designed to disadvantage those who exceed the limit, and thus encourage greater trustworthiness, but what we have at the moment is a clearly insufficient deterrent.

Teams and drivers routinely take tactical engine penalties, as they also did at Spa recently, willingly accepting a hit to their starting positions to increase their available engine components for the rest of the season. This improves their overall competitive outlook to jeopardize one race. It also clearly highlights the flaw in the current system.

Verstappen, Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez, Lewis Hamilton, Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen, Mick Schumacher and Yuki Tsunoda all face grid penalties of varying severity at Monza.

With the possible exception of Bottas – whose Ferrari engine exploded last Sunday at Zandvoort – and Hamilton after his Spa incident, these drivers have all taken new engine components not because they need now but because it is calculated to be to their competitive advantage. beyond Monza.

F1 simplified its grid penalty system at the back end of the 2015 season, after McLaren-Honda drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button collected grid penalties worth 55 and 50 places respectively during the Belgian GP weekend.

Fernando Alonso McLaren Belgian Grand Prix 2015 Spa

On a 20-car grid this was clearly nonsensical, so the system was revised to require a sliding scale to 15 places and then back-of-the-grid start as the ultimate sanction for any breaches of greater severity.

This solved the optical problem of drivers receiving more penalties than could possibly be served in reality – but it doesn’t make it any easier to calculate the final grid when multiple drivers receive grid penalties at the same time, nor does it address the larger issue of drivers accepting. penalties for tactical reasons.

“You know, you get a penalty and you time it strategically depending on what other guys are doing – so, some guys took five places here because some of the guys took back the grid, so it made sense – I just feel like this doesn’t should be part of the DNA of racing,” AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly said on Saturday. Gasly qualified ninth but will start fifth.

“At the end of the day, when you look at qualifying, the fastest guy starts up front on the grid for the race on Sunday, and that’s how it should be. It all becomes a bit… I don’t know how to say in English, but I just feel like it should be handled a little differently.

Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri F1 Italian GP Monza

“But at the end of the day I got three positions [actually four] so I won’t complain about that today! But I think in the long term we should review how to deal with that.”

Gasly – suffering from illness this weekend – added that he had “no answer” on how to fix the system and was “in no shape to even think about it”.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Mercedes driver and GPDA director George Russell, who will start second at Monza despite qualifying only sixth fastest.

“We are trying to be more sustainable in F1, reducing the number of engine parts we use throughout the season, and we have more and more races.

“We’ve got three engines to take us through 22 races – I don’t know how many kilometers that runs out on a single engine, but it’s a huge amount. It is normal that there will be setbacks along the way.

“I’m sure F1 will have a bit of a rethink after this.”

On the Alpine side, Ocon took a fifth place penalty for an engine change at Monza and qualified 11th fastest. He will start on the 14th.

Esteban Ocon Alpine F1

He agreed that the system was “a bit difficult to understand perhaps” and suggested that the engine allocation was simply too small in relation to the current level of reliability that each manufacturer can achieve.

“No other manufacturer manages to use so few parts for the entire season,” he said. “We do too many races and it’s just not possible.

“We had two penalties, Fernando [Alonso] had two penalties, some producers had more penalties. It’s not just us, it’s the whole field.

“Probably something for the FIA ​​to revise for next year. Increase the number of parts a bit.”

This is a simple solution, but goes against F1’s mandate to reduce costs and increase sustainability.

If there was a huge difference in reliability between the leading teams of the championship, it would presumably reduce the attraction of taking tactical engine penalties at certain races for fear of dropping too many championship points.

But at the same time, it’s been rare in recent seasons for any team to go an entire season without taking an engine penalty, which suggests they simply have to factor that into their planning and then make a perfectly understandable tactical decision about when to take the engine. hit

So F1 is hurt by the fact, as Ocon says, Ferrari, “Honda”, Mercedes and Renault, to a similar degree, all struggle to produce three powerful units reliable enough to last the full season.

Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo F1 Zandvoort Dutch GP

A new engine cost limit for 2023 will not help focus minds on the need to do better in this aspect, as work on the current engines is exempt under the limit, so F1 may have to look at making penalties for “unnecessary” (as defined). according to the rules) more severe engine changes.

If teams faced point deductions for breaking these rules – as they do for breaking the cost cap limits in the new financial regulations – then perhaps they would be more cautious about “introducing new powerful elements into the pool” unless absolutely necessary.

Perhaps each engine (and its auxiliary components) must reach a certain mileage before being allowed to be exchanged. Perhaps failures must be categorized and proven before exchanges are allowed – with penalties more severe than now then applied regardless.

Whatever F1 does, there will always be some confusion around the starting grid at a race where several drivers face different penalties at the same time.

McLaren’s Lando Norris (who benefits from the system on this occasion and will start third) even suggested that people should be grateful for simultaneous grid penalties spicing up the race by shuffling the order so dramatically.

But perhaps there are still some things F1 could do to discourage so many grid penalties being taken for tactical gain, rather than out of necessity. It would potentially reduce the number handed out by causing teams to take a different view of what is currently a slightly skewed balance between risk and reward.

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