'Not in racing DNA' - Monza grid mess shows system is untenable - The Race

‘Not in racing DNA’ – Monza grid mess shows system is untenable – The Race

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

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

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

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

Indeed there were competing interpretations of what the order should be – as perhaps best pointed out by Alpine rider Esteban Ocon who writes “I 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 told him he would actually be fourth – which turned out to be correct.

Grid penalties in F1 aren’t new, but they’ve become increasingly prevalent and disruptive since F1 switched from naturally aspirated V8 engines to complex hybrid V6 units in 2014.

This is where grid penalties join an axis incompatible with F1’s need for sporting fairness, push for greater environmental sustainability and lower costs, and the long-standing desire that complicated competition be made easier digested by casual viewers.

The simple fact is that current hybrid engines aren’t really reliable enough to meet F1’s requirement of three engines to last 22 races per competitor. The penalty system is rightly designed to disadvantage those who exceed the limit, and therefore encourage greater reliability, but what we have now is clearly insufficient deterrence.

Teams and drivers regularly take tactical engine penalties, as they also did at Spa recently, happily accepting a hit at their starting positions to increase their pool of available engine components for the rest of the race. season. This improves their general competitive prospects with the aim of compromising a 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 exceptions of Bottas – whose Ferrari engine blew up last Sunday at Zandvoort – and Hamilton after his incident at Spa, these drivers have all adopted new engine components not because they need them now, but because that this is calculated to be to their competitive advantage. beyond Monza.

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

On a 20-car grid this was just nonsense, so the system was revised to impose a sliding scale at 15 places and then a back-of-the-grid start as the ultimate penalty for any breach of greater gravity .

This solved the optical problem of drivers receiving more penalties than could be served in reality – but it does not help in calculating the final grid when multiple drivers receive grid penalties at the same time. times, nor does it solve the larger problem of drivers accepting penalties for tactical reasons.

“You know you get a penalty and you time it strategically based on what the other guys are doing – so some guys have taken up five spots here because some of the guys have moved back off the grid so it made sense – I I just feel like it shouldn’t be part of the DNA of the race,” 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 goes ahead on the grid for Sunday’s race, and that’s how it should be. It’s all getting a bit… I don’t know how to say it in English, but I just feel like it should be handled in a slightly different way.

Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri F1 Italian GP Monza

“But at the end of the day, I gained three positions [actually four] so I’m not going to complain today! But I think in the long term we should rethink how to handle this.

Gasly – ill over the weekend – added he had ‘no answer’ on how to fix the system and was ‘in no position to think about it’.

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

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

“We have three engines to cover 22 races. I don’t know how many miles that’s flat out on one engine, but that’s huge. It’s normal for there to be hiccups along the way.

“I’m sure F1 will be redesigned a bit after that.”

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

Esteban Ocon Alpine F1

He agreed that the system is “a little difficult to understand perhaps” and suggested that the engine allowance was simply too small compared to the current level of reliability that each manufacturer can achieve.

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

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

“Probably something the FIA ​​will have to review for next year. Increase the number of parts a bit.

It’s a simple solution, but one that goes against F1’s mandate to cut costs and increase sustainability.

If there was a huge reliability gap between the championship-leading teams, it would likely reduce the appeal of taking tactical engine penalties at certain races for fear of losing too many championship points.

But at the same time, it’s been rare in recent seasons for a team to go an entire season without incurring an engine penalty, suggesting they simply need to factor this into their planning and then make a perfectly understandable tactical decision as to the time to take success

F1 is therefore hurt by the fact, as Ocon puts it, that Ferrari, “Honda”, Mercedes and Renault are, to a similar degree, struggling to produce three engines reliable enough to last the whole season.

Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo F1 Zandvoort Dutch GP

A new engine cost cap for 2023 won’t help focus minds on the need to do better in this aspect, as work on current engines is exempt from the cap, so F1 may need to consider changing the cost of the engine. Penalties for “unnecessary” (as defined by the rules) engine changes are more severe.

If teams faced point deductions for breaking these rules – as they do for exceeding the cost cap limits in the new financial regulations – then perhaps they would be more circumspect about “the introduction of new power unit items into the pool”, unless absolutely necessary.

Perhaps each engine (and its ancillary components) has to reach a certain mileage before it can be replaced. Perhaps failures need to be categorized and proven before trades are allowed – with harsher penalties than today that still apply.

Whatever F1 does, there will always be a degree of confusion around the starting grid in a race where multiple drivers face different penalties simultaneously.

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

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

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