F1: Everything is “under investigation”

The Spanish and Monaco GP have again highlighted the issue of penalties in modern F1. Schumacher was penalised in Barcelona for running into the back of Bruno Senna with a five-place grid penalty for Monaco, something that cost him a potential victory. Massa and Vettel were penalised for not slowing enough under the yellow flags, a penalty that had last been applied to Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. Several drivers were under investigation for short-cutting Ste. Devote on lap 1 of Monaco to avoid the spinning Lotus of Romain Grosjean. Sergio Perez was penalised for crossing the track in front of Kimi Raikkonen while entering the pits. Pastor Maldonado, the hero of the Spanish GP, was penalised for running into Perez during practice and then incurred a second penalty by changing his gearbox. He was lucky to avoid a third penalty for running into the back of Pedro de la Rosa at the start of the race.

Everything seems to be “under investigation” in Formula 1 these days. The number of penalties is exponentially higher than 10 or 20 years ago. Why is that?

For a start, there are more rules nowadays, so the sport had to invent more penalties for breaking those rules. For example, 20 years ago there was no Safety Car and no pit lane speed limit, so obviously no penalties were required.

Secondly, there are technical requirements that require a penalty, such as the limitation in number of engines to be used in a season or the need for gearboxes to last four races. In the past, any technical infringement would be dealt with through disqualification, but that’s obviously not very reasonable in case someone’s gearbox goes bananas.

Finally, there is a “excess of zeal” culture in Formula 1 that has gone beyond reasonable limits. It all started for good reasons after Imola 94 but has evolved to a stage where there are way too many penalties, which creates a negative culture in the sport, with various participants in the sport chasing penalties for any incident, much in the same way as football teams claim penalties for anything vaguely unusual happening inside the box. The myriad penalties we see in modern F1 racing also generate significant consistency issues, which further reinforces negativity amongst teams, drivers and above all the fans.

For example, is the pit unsafe release rule really required given that cars are already damn slow on the pitlane? What about the investigation done on the cars avoiding Grosjean on Turn 1? No action was taken but the simple fact that the matter was investigated shows the current culture in Formula 1. Even more ridiculous are the penalties for impeding other cars in qualifying, often in very dubious situations. If Ayrton Senna was alive, surely he would tell the cry babies to shut up and SORT IT OUT, if they find traffic in their hot laps it is their own fault for not being good enough to get a good track position. Most of the drivers come to F1 via karting where constant overtaking is required. They should stop complaining and just get on with it.

Collisions and incidents are way over-penalised as well. Most of them are racing incidents and should be treated as such. If anything, drivers should sort out their issues as adults. Of course, there are limits to be respected and any dangerous driving should be dealt with seriously.

Finally, there is one big issue with the way penalties are applied. They should only affect the event where the infringement happened. No “leftover” penalties for future events should be allowed. So, Schumi shouldn’t have been penalised in Spain in the first place, but if it would be deemed fair to give him a penalty, then it should not affect future races. He was out of the race so the only thing left to do was to fine him or dock some points (not that he has many…). Anyway, it is a sure thing that it is the penalties system that needs be urgently “under investigation”.

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