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A guide to penalties in F1

An insider’s guide to how drivers and teams can be penalised in Formula 1

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Formula 1 can be fairly strict when it comes to dangerous driving and rule breaking. What penalties can competitors incur?

Sebastian Vettel swapped the number boards in parc ferme at the 2019 Canadian Grand Prix after a time penalty cost him the race win (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

The 2022 season was marred by teams and drivers receiving penalties. From the grid-drop fiasco in Monza to Red Bull’s high-stakes fine, they’ve been a fairly big talking point.

They can range from minor time penalties to extreme consequences that could affect an entire season. 

According to the regulations, there are five main penalties. These are:

  • Reprimands and warnings
  • Time penalty
  • A drop in grid places
  • Disqualification from the event
  • Suspension from further races
Reprimands and warnings

Deciding whether a competitor deserves a penalty is mainly down to the race stewards.

Reprimands and warnings vary depending on where F1 is racing that weekend. As regards warnings, these are dealt out frequently at circuits where track limits are important, such as the Red Bull Ring. 

In this example, a driver will receive three warnings before being handed a time penalty.

In addition, each racer is allowed four reprimands per season. These are split into sporting and non-sporting offences. Once they have received a fifth reprimand, they will be given a 10-place grid penalty as long as four of the reprimands were driving-related. 

This happened to Yuki Tsunoda, who was penalised at the Italian Grand Prix this year. A more controversial, non-sporting example is when Sebastian Vettel received a reprimand for wearing a ‘Same Love’ shirt at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix. 

Time penalties

These can be either five or 10 seconds, and are usually served during the driver’s next pit stop.

The car must be stationary for the required time before any work can be done on it. These are very common and can be handed out for a range of offences, including causing an incident or speeding behind the safety car. 

If the driver does not need to pit, the time penalty will simply be added on once they have finished the race. This could see them fall down the order. 

Another type of time penalty is a drive-through penalty. In this case, the competitor must enter the pit lane and, unsurprisingly, drive through it without stopping. From the point at which the team is notified of this punishment, the driver has only two laps to enter the pit lane. 

If they are unable to pit, for example because the penalty has been awarded after the race, 20 seconds will be added to their final time. 

The final time punishment you could receive is a stop-go penalty. This follows the same conditions as a drive-through, but they must pull into their box and stay there for 10 seconds. After this, they must immediately rejoin the race without any changes being made to the car. 

If this penalty is given in the last three laps, 30 seconds is added to the driver’s final race time. 

Grid place penalties

Every season, there will be a period of races where most drivers are handed a grid-place penalty.

These are given out when competitors exceed their allocation of power-unit components. The first driver to take one this season was Fernando Alonso, who was forced to start at the back of the grid at his home race.

To put it simply, drivers are only allowed to use three engines per season. It gets more complicated when you consider the seven various components of a power unit; each driver is allocated eight exhaust elements, for instance. 

Once this number is exceeded, the driver will receive a 10-place grid penalty. If it happens again, they’ll only get a five-place drop. It is possible for a driver to incur a penalty that is over 15 grid places, which will send them to the back of the grid. 

A number of grid penalties at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix resulted in chaos as the FIA scrambled to settle on a starting order (Photo by Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

There are similar rules for changing gearboxes, which is sometimes necessary after a significant incident. 

Normally, teams will plan when to take their grid penalties at a specific point of the season. For example, they will wait for a circuit where overtaking is easier, rather than somewhere like Monaco.

Disqualification

As a penalty, disqualification is reserved for more extreme, typically technical, offences. 

A driver disqualified during qualifying will start the following race from the back of the grid. Alternatively, if they are penalised during or after the grand prix itself, they will simply not receive any points and their result will be void. 

Recent examples of this include Vettel losing his impressive second-place finish in Hungary in 2021. This was the result of Aston Martin’s failure to provide the required fuel sample after the race.

Furthermore, Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from qualifying in Brazil in 2021 due to an infringement found on the rear wing of his car. 

Suspension

This only occurs in the most extreme circumstances, and is therefore rarely seen.

Suspension involves drivers being banned from competing in a set number of races after they have committed an offence.

In the last 40 years, there have only been six suspensions. These range from Michael Schumacher receiving a two-race ban for ignoring penalties in 1994, to Romain Grosjean missing one race for causing a four-car accident in 2012. 

Financial penalties

On occasion, the standard punishments do not fit the offence. This is usually when the team is to blame instead of the driver, and will typically incur a financial penalty. 

Many will remember the term ‘pink Mercedes’, coined when Racing Point’s 2020 car looked remarkably similar to the previous season’s Mercedes. When a number of teams complained, RP was fined €40,000 for copying the Silver Arrows’ brake duct design. 

More recently, Red Bull were fined £6.05m and handed a 10% reduction in aerodynamic testing for breaching the 2021 cost cap. 

However, the most notorious example is Spygate. Back in 2007, McLaren were disqualified from the Constructors’ Championship and fined a mighty $100m after chief designer Mike Coughlan accepted confidential technical information from Ferrari chief mechanic Nigel Stepney. 

Penalty points

The penalty points system was introduced in 2014 in an attempt to stop repeat offenders. 

Every offence comes with a number of penalty points attached to it. If a driver accumulates 12 points, they will be suspended from the next event. 

After a suspension, they get a clean slate, and points vanish after 12 months. So far, no one has reached the threshold, but Pierre Gasly is close, currently having 10 penalty points.

Featured Image Credit: Getty Images

  1. so what does it mean when a driver is given a penalty +3? I have no understanding what that means.

  2. It’s interesting when you said that you should be aware of time management for proper time production for the race. A couple of days ago, My cousin informed me he was preparing to have a racecar student membership to learn fundamental racecar driver skills for his racing career. He asked if I had opinions on the best option for a great learning option. I love this helpful race article. I’ll tell him it will be much better if we consult an online racecar driver class for facts about the learning process.

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