Power unit penalties to shape second half of season

2014 F1 season

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The Formula One season reaches its halfway point at the Hockenheimring this weekend. But some teams have already begun using the last of their allocated power unit components for the season.

It is therefore becoming increasingly inevitable that drivers will collect penalties for using extra parts under the complicated new rules introduced this year.

Each power unit is defined as six different components: the internal combustion engine (ICE), the Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic (MGU-K), the Motor Generator Unit-Heat (MGU-H), the energy store (ES), turbocharger (TC) and control electronics (CE). Each driver is allocated five of each per season.

Power unit penalties ‘carry over’

A driver will receive a ten-place grid penalty the first time they use a sixth power unit component. On any further occasion that driver uses a sixth component they will receive a further five-place grid penalty. This pattern repeats for a seventh power unit component and so on.

On top of that, these sanctions work differently to other grid penalties in F1. Normally there is no consequence if a driver cannot serve their full grid penalty at a race – for example, if they have qualified last and receive a five-place penalty. However penalties relating to power unit components can be carried over to the next race.

For example, If a driver qualifies 20th and receives a five-place grid penalty due to a power unit component change, they would be moved back to 22nd and carry a three-place penalty into the next race.

These new penalties can only be carried over once, so if this driver were to qualify last for the following race, their three-place penalty would not carry over to the next round. Note this only applies to the change of power unit components, not gearboxes, the rules for which are unchanged.

With ten races remaining, half the field are already on their last or penultimate example of at least one power unit component. Daniil Kvyat used his fifth engine and MGU-K at Silverstone, and several other Renault-powered drivers including Sebastian Vettel are increasingly at risk:

1Sebastian VettelRed BullRenault444424
3Daniel RicciardoRed BullRenault333322
44Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes333333
6Nico RosbergMercedesMercedes333323
14Fernando AlonsoFerrariFerrari333334
7Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari333433
8Romain GrosjeanLotusRenault343323
13Pastor MaldonadoLotusRenault444423
22Jenson ButtonMcLarenMercedes333322
20Kevin MagnussenMcLarenMercedes333322
27Nico HulkenbergForce IndiaMercedes333322
11Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes333322
99Adrian SutilSauberFerrari333333
21Esteban GutierrezSauberFerrari333333
25Jean-Eric VergneToro RossoRenault444333
26Daniil KvyatToro RossoRenault545322
19Felipe MassaWilliamsMercedes333323
77Valtteri BottasWilliamsMercedes333322
17Jules BianchiMarussiaFerrari443424
4Max ChiltonMarussiaFerrari444434
10Kamui KobayashiCaterhamRenault333334
9Marcus EricssonCaterhamRenault333323

The situation between championship protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is all square at the moment. But if one of them were to need a sixth component in the latter stages of the season it could prove decisive in the championship.

Having to take a ten-place grid penalty could prove twice as costly at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, where double points are being awarded for the first time this year. Given the right circumstances a driver may consider it preferable to pre-emptively change an engine component before that race, and instead take the penalty at a track where fewer points are available.

And it will only get tougher for the teams next year. For 2015 the number of power unit components will be cut from five to four, providing there are no more than 20 races on the calendar.

2014 F1 season

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Image © Red Bull/Getty

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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88 comments on “Power unit penalties to shape second half of season”

  1. To be clear, what penalty would be if, for example, Kvyat will use new ICE(6th) and MGU-K(6th) next GP? 15 positions? ICE(6th) + MGU-H(5th)? 10 positions?

    1. @syntezzz

      A driver will receive a ten-place grid penalty the first time they use a sixth power unit component. On any further occasion that driver uses a sixth component they will receive a further five-place grid penalty.

      So 15.

      As it also says in the rules (linked in the article above):

      Penalties will be applied according to the following table and will be cumulative

      1. So what would happen if a driver were in a position where he had to replace each engine part for a sixth time? Would he be given a 35 place penalty?

        1. You’d start from the back of the grid on the first race and then whatever remainder would be rolled over for the next race. Presumably except if you replace the bits in the last race where you would just start from the back of the grid (or in front of anyone else taking a penalty that race, depending on how that all works out)

          Actually it’ll be interesting to see whether, given the potential for getting double points, you’ll see multiple teams choosing to just replace everything for the last race. Could be madness.

        2. @jackysteeg as far as I understood – you could change the whole unit (all components) and then start from the pit lane – no further penalty will be given.

          1. Part of me wants 21 cars to do that at Abu Double, leaving just Chilton starting on the grid.

          2. @raceprouk LOL OK, now THAT would be funny :)

          3. @tmf42 Half the grid starting from the pits would be epic. :)

          4. Chilton would still be last by the second corner!!

      2. @keithcollantine isn’t there a flaw in this system for all the guys who usually qualify 12th or lower? Because then I’d switch the whole unit start from the pit lane and have a 6th component of everything available to use.

    2. Wouldn’t it be amusing if the entire grid elected to change 4 components at the same race?

  2. Its pretty clear that mercedes PU is consistently the most reliable as well as the most powerful followed by ferrari than renault

    1. @aqibqadeer But there’s also cause for alarm that both Susie Wolff (running one of Bottas’s old engines) and Lewis Hamilton had the same issue at Silverstone running high-mileage ICE’s which, based on the words coming out of the event during FP1 & FP2, rendered the units totally unusable for the rest of the season.

      Mercedes have made noise about fixing Rosberg’s gearbox problem, but there’s been no mention of resolving the core of the PU basically eating itself alive once it reaches critical mileage.

      1. still i think mercedes have had the least amount of problems and the old engines are mostly for use in practice sessions right?

        1. @aqibqadeer At the moment, but in 6-7 races time, they’ll be managing 4-5 relatively high mileage engines. Given the time taken to replace engines, I can see at least one or two teams having nightmares if they have a PU fail in FP3 like they did for Williams and Merc at Silverstone.

    2. Its pretty clear that mercedes PU is consistently the most reliable

      @ Aqib, that or if you’re Daniel Riccardo lol

      1. yes there are a few exceptions but only mercedes engined teams havent used their 4th component yet otherwise in most other teams atleast one driver has used the 4th component and 5th in the case of kvyat

    3. The ferrari is much more reliable as it has not had so many complete failures for similar allocation.

  3. Is so stupid to make this on the first year of this power units. At some point I guess all the top team will get penalties, it will be fun but so wrong at the same time.

    1. its all done to reduce costs and ensure the focus is towards reliability but if you are going to use additional
      components its not really going to reduce costs

  4. I wonder if we’ll get a multiple qualifying penalty shunt to rival the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix?

    2009 Japanese Grand Prix grid

    1. Good chances we might see it this year yeah. I remember how bonkers that was.

    2. I’ve been thinking it for some time… but it looks increasingly likely to occur when a lot of drivers reach their 6th one, if so happens, perhaps around Abu Dhabi. Trying to explain all that, and why the race is worth double points, will be comedy gold.

    3. @keithcollantine, do you know in what order the penalties will be applied? I believe in Japan it was based on the order in which the penalties were handed out. Does this mean teams have to announce engine-component changes earlier than their competitors?

    4. @keithcollantine And people say how “confusing” the 2013 spanish GP was…

  5. Just a couple of thoughts at first blush. I’m glad to see that in spite of LH’s and NR’s issues they remain fairly equal in terms of component life…ie. numbers are exact but not sure if actual life of all components is identical between the two, but close enough I would say. What a shame it will be if this rivalry gets decided by penalties.

    So the unfortunate aspect that I think can easily be forgotten for those who consider fuel and tire conservation not turning out to be the ‘scary’ aspect that we were lead to believe it would be, eg. that LdM would, is that in fact the drivers likely aren’t pushing as hard as some think they are. It’s about more than just fuel, tire, and gearbox conservation and it would seem F1 is more about endurance and less about sprint than it has ever been…and even moreso about endurance for next year.

    1. There was a lot of engine management in the 1960’s and 1970’s – for example, in the 1963 season the works Lotus team only had four engines allocated to them for the entire season, given that Coventry Climax’s production capacity was limited.
      Usually, only three of those engines were operational at any one time – the team tended to run a rotation system where they would have two engines in use at any one time, the third on standby as a replacement and the fourth would usually be back at the factory being serviced after reaching the end of its life.

      Similarly, the famed Cosworth DFV, although reasonably robust, still needed careful management – it was still common for drivers to short shift slightly because the valve springs tended to fail if the engine was even fractionally overreved (just revving 150rpm too high was enough to cause them to fail), an issue that continued well into the 1980’s when the engine was finally retired.

      1. The difference being, in the 60-70s the engineers could re-build the engine without penalty, often engines were re-built between Q and R. I really doubt that any money is being saved by sealing components, in fact I suspect it is driving costs up.

    2. HAM’s engines should have 1-1/2 more races in them than Rosberg’s due to Hamilton’s two DNF’s.

  6. Its good so far that the Merc’s are identical, its always nice to see the championship being won on track.

  7. Penalties and rules, rules, rules… One could almost sing a song of madness to the melody of “Row Row, Row your Boat” regarding the FIA… Please add more verses at your comfortable leisure.

    Rules rules rules and such
    Be careful not to touch
    Penalties penalties penalties penalties
    We dun like them to much

  8. @keithcollantine

    Is there any data on how many of the units which have been used by each driver have been put beyond use? i.e we know how many new units each driver has used, but how many of them could still get life out of the older units they’ve already used rather than having to stick a new one in?

    I guess teams are pretty cagey about releasing this info. But we know that a couple of incidents have resulted in components being completely destroyed.

    1. @mazdachris You cannot reuse components. So once you changed, you can’t use any of the previous components. The exception is the last race, where you can use an old component.

      1. That only applies if the component has been changed during parc ferme – otherwise teams are free to reuse parts.

        1. To a maximum of 6 components.

      2. @mike-dee

        This is a confusing one, because it just says that items replaced in accordance with Article 34.2 can’t be reused. However, article 34.2 simply outlines what can and can’t be removed/replaced while the car is under parc ferme conditions. So it’s not really clear whether this means that the parts can only not be reused if they’re replaced while the car is in parc ferme, whereas anything changed outside of those times would still be usable. It’s open to interpretation exactly what this means.

        It wold also be slightly contradictory to the last line in Article 28.4b which says “Each driver will therefore be permitted to use five of each of the above six components during a Championship season and any combination of them may be fitted to a car at any one time.”

        1. @mazdachris Yes, they can reuse the components as much as they want, there’s a pool of 6 PUs and they can use any combination they like.

          @mike-dee What you said only applies to gearboxes.

          1. @mantresx

            No, what @mike-dee is referring to definitely does apply to PUs:

            If a power unit or any of the six components within it are changed in accordance with Article 34.2 the power unit components which were replaced may not be used again during any future qualifying session or race with the exception of the last Event of the Championship.

            The think I’m not clear on here is the mention of Article 34.2 which specifically outlines the details of Parc Ferme. It seems odd to mention Parc Ferme unless they are specifically referring to items replaced under Parc Ferme conditions.

          2. @mazdachris I understand now, I was also confused by Article 28.4b… very weird indeed.

        2. Sorry, 5 PUs obviously!

  9. who on this planet would have bet Daniel has better reliability then Hamilton and Rosberg at the halfway point! I’m speechless.

  10. Occasional fan: Who won the grand prix, then?
    Fanatic: Brown won.
    Occasional fan: What happened to Smith? Thought he was fastest in qualifying.
    Fanatic: Yes he was. But he had a fifteen place grid drop for using a sixth MGU-H, plus a ten place penalty from last time and he’ll drop ten places next race because he needs another ES and ICE. Mind you, Brown has a five place grid drop because of his penalty points, and the next track doesn’t do well with hard tyres on his car and he might have to change gear box – another penalty . . .
    Occasional fan: Right. I think I’ll watch the synchronised swimming instead.

    1. How about…

      Fanatic: He had a grid penalty.
      Occasional fan: Oh, I see.

      1. Yeah. Fanatic sounds like a pretty dull person there..

        1. Occasional fan:Oh, I see. ………………???? why ?
          Fanatic: well………………

  11. Every driver has used more than half of components and not done half of races yet. Clearly most drivers will be at risk in the last 3 races. Why all teams don’t just agree to take 1 of each component and take penalties which will result in no change of order.

    1. No, they are currently using the 3rd component. You have 5 in total. If you had 20 races, the 3rd component would be used from the 8th to the 12th race… since the season has just less than 20 races this seems about right as Germany is the 9th race.

      1. I also think it ticks up from ‘first use’. Of those used components, most of them are likely still serviceable for at least practice running.

  12. Its a shame that teams are forced to limit their running to save engine components,gearboxes and tyres etc and even worse next year when they are reduced to 4 PUs

    and why do teams get so few intermediate tyres whenever it rains no one really comes out its such a shame

    1. It’s indeed a shame.
      But do u save on costs and still encourage teams to do more on track running.
      Catch 22.

      1. Aqib (@aqibqadeer)
        17th July 2014, 8:50

        limited running is bad for the fans that show up on the track and also on TV people get bored when no one gets out on track which hurt viewing figures

  13. Just to get this straight, are we sure all of these components have been replaced because of individual failure, or can the previously replaced but working components be reused later in the season (and have simply been replaced to give a completely fresh set of all 5 components when just one fails)?

    If the latter, surely the penalties won’t be as drastic as suggested here.

    1. My guess is that for some components that is the case (they can be used again). But many others are used for FP running after they get over their planned life anyway (and can’t be run anymore for the race) @john-h. On top of that, I think there are circumstances that stop you from being allowed to use such a replaced part again.

      Another thing to keep in mind is that some of the replaced components would have been replaced because they were far less reliable and possibly a lot less optimized so its uncertain using them is a better idea than taking a grid penalty.

    2. @john-h This is what I’m asking above. The stats in the article just tell you how many of the five units have seen use during a race weekend. For all we know this may be fully in line with each team’s plan of lifecycle management. Some will have been retired because of failure, but I think the majority will still be usable, though obviously some will be approaching the end of their usage based on mileage. It really depends on how they’re using them.

      There’s nothing in the rules that says you need to keep the same part in the car until it either fails or reaches the limit of its mileage.

    3. You cannot reuse components. So once you changed, you can’t use any of the previous components. The exception is the last race, where you can use old components again.
      @john-h @bascb

      1. Thanks Mike

      2. Indeed. Thanks @mike-dee

      3. That’s not true. The only components you’re not allowed to reuse are ones removed under parc fermé conditions. It sounds like you’re misinterpreting Article 28.4g of the Sporting Regulations:

        If a power unit or any of the six components within it are changed in accordance with Article 34.2 the power unit components which were replaced may not be used again during any future qualifying session or race with the exception of the last Event of the Championship.

        As you might guess, Article 34.2 outlines changes to the car you can make when parc fermé is in force.

        1. yeah, but given that Parc fermé is in force from Qualli onward, everything that is changed between Q sessions and the race falls under that rule.

  14. Not surprise me that Luca di Montezemolo is complaining about that format f1, makes no sense an engine decide the championship. This is a factor unrelated to the track, at least the number of pieces for each pilot should be higher.

    Think we are halfway through the season, and almost half of the pilots used the limit of pieces that could use throughout the season. I predict many punishments and races being decided because of this kind of punishment.

    1. Why not decided by the engine? Why should that be less important then the rest of the car?

      Never understood this argument. Engines have been a pretty important part of cars for a while now…

      1. because it’s something the teams can’t influence; Red Bull, for instance, have been put at a massive disadvantage which they cannot rectify; if it were merely down to the aero, that’s something you can change.

    2. @nbadallas The system penalises teams and engine manufacturers who have made shonky design decisions, chasing performance over reliability. The FIA have long communicated this was the goal and no team generally protested it.

    3. Luca is complaining because he is not winning. If the rules suited him, we would not be listening any complaint by him.

      1. As everyone does

    4. Luca needs an argument to stick with, first it was too much aero, now it’s too much on the engine. Honestly, I don’t think Luca needs to be taken seriously anymore.

  15. Let me get this straight- Is it possible to get a 35 place grid place penalty? That would be a hard one take!

    1. Actually that would probably be a pretty decent strategy for the teams towards the back of the grid. If you start towards the back anyway, you could replace everything and only lose a couple of places for two consecutive races.

      1. Good point.

      2. Tell that to Chilton!

      3. Haha, I can just imagine Chilton breezing past Rosberg in one of the latter races as Rosberg tries to conserve his power unit… Surely there’s a rule that stops teams from doing that though, it seems far too good to be true

  16. Ferrari are doing pretty well in reliability, all things considered. Obviously, below the target, but their PUs arent falling apart either. If they can outlast Mercedes, Alonso for pole =P

  17. Interesting to note that McLaren, Force India and Williams are the most reliable, along with Ricciardo. That could hamper Ferrari in the WCC, if they are taking penalties at one race which loses them points.

    It looks like Vettel, Ferrari, Lotus, Toro Rosso, Marussia and Caterham are all guaranteed a grid penalty this year. For the latter two that doesn’t really make much difference, though. But Lotus, Toro Rosso will start amongst them, while Vettel and Ferrari will want to still be starting in the midfield if possible.

  18. If the entire power unit is replaced the car has to start from the pitlane rather than receive a 35 place grid drop.

  19. Random thoughts about this inevitable chaos by design.

    If only Marussia, Caterham and Sauber could have built their own bulletproof engines and associated parts. Maybe not that fast, but just wait until everybody else has used theirs up.

    Most of the season so far has been down to who got performance right the soonest and some good racing. Now it will be down to who uses spare parts the least and double points.

    If the engine packages are homologated, can reliability be improved for the future when there will be less spares available without penalty?

    I really do like the hybrid package and the technology developing through racing. Reliability is a needed component along with performance. Surely the teams would not have cared much about season long reliability compared to single race reliability if their hand was not forced. But still, we are going to need a grid placement calculator to determine which driver goes where after every qualifying. There will be the parts penalties, racing penalties, non-racing penalties, etc. Qualifying will be like going through the motions and a calculating session to see where everybody really starts. Somehow this does not seem the most sporting way going forward.

    New strategy for multiple parts quota grid penalty drivers. Drive practice sessions to get your race setup. Do absolute bare minimum qualifying driving time to save tires and engine parts since you will be starting near the back of the grid anyway.

    1. @bullmello Reliability can be improved at any time during the year as long as the manufacturer can demonstrate the improvement is only for reliability and not performance. Engines are only homologated for a single year, engines will be re-homologated for 2015 (apart from a limited number of parts).

  20. One can imagine that many drivers will force-change components (and thus force-penalize themselves) on the race previous to Abu Dhabi, so as minimize the chances of having a penalty at the double-points race.

  21. I wonder how many years it’ll be before we see teams having to use the same PU for the entire season. It seems the logical goal towards which they are moving. Maybe by 2020?

    1. @mazdachris That would be the logical goal, but 2020 seems too soon for that to happen, but who knows. Maybe three or two PUs will be possible by then.
      I think it will depend on the regulations, but that will depend on what the engine manufacturers will want to do, and all the politics that go along with that.

  22. Why all teams don’t just agree to take 1 of each component and take penalties which will result in no change of order.

    1. @wil-liam For the same reason the teams practically never reach unanimous agreement on anything: they’re all trying to beat each other.

  23. Marcus Ericsson on pole for Abu Double anybody?

  24. It seems Formula 1 wants to be known as the pinnacle of enurance and fuel saving racing no wonder fans are turning away.

  25. Erm, when all the crazy and exciting new F1 rules attract lot and lots of casual new fans, how on earth can this be explained!?

    1. @skylab Whats so difficult to explain?

      Each car is allowed certain number of parts, if they use too many, they get a penalty, the more they do it bigger the penalties.

      How is that difficult to understand? Why should a casual or a new viewer need to know more? How is that even relevant when the cars have lined up on the grid and the race has started? And what’s crazy about it?

  26. A few updates to the table above based on data from the FIA before this weekend’s race. Vettel is on his fourth MGU-K, Rosberg is on his second ES, Vernge and Ericsson are on their third CE and Bianchi is on his fourth.

  27. D. Kvyat now probably will be the first rider to take this punishment. The fire in his car may have damaged some piece and will have to exchange it for the next race …

  28. 5 Main North Rd
    Kaiapoi RD1
    Having read most of the comments re this subject, and having now got bored, I’ve come to the conclusion that whoever dreamed up the current so-called rules must have been on pretty powerfull medications or alcaholic beverages to evan begin to understand the concequences of those rules! It’s totally riduculous!
    Fond regards,

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