Has F1 hit ‘peak penalties’? Fewer sanctions in 2016

2016 F1 season

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Driver penalties became a major talking point in 2016 as teams urged stewards to ease up on the number of sanctions being handed down.

Just last week Derek Warwick, one of several ex-F1 drivers now involved in F1 officiating, urged the FIA to “take away all these penalties” and “get back to harder, harsher racing”.

However following a record-breaking 2015 during which over 100 penalties were issued the total number of sanctions fell slightly in 2016.

As the calendar had grown from 19 races to 21, that meant the average number of penalties per race fell by 15%, from 5.3 to 4.5. The number of investigations dropped by almost 20%, from 8.6 to 6.9.

This graph shows the total penalties handed down over the last six seasons, whether they were incurred by a driver or team, and how many investigations resulted in no action being taken:

The fall in the number of penalties being issued came as the FIA largely abandoned its effort to impose rules on what radio messages drivers could receive. Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button received penalties for this before the regulations were changed mid-season.

Pleas for fewer penalties weren’t always heeded
However as the season came to an end F1 increasingly found itself caught between conflicting urges to ‘let the drivers race’ while also imposing fair rules. While some drivers clamoured for fewer penalties others wanted tighter restrictions in certain areas, such as Max Verstappen’s defensive moves.

These conflicting demands came to a head in Mexico. The weekend began with team principals saying “we should get rid of all these penalties and all this nonsense” but as the chequered flag fell the radio airwaves were thick with recrimination.

Three drivers – Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen – all cut the first corner at one point during the race, yet only one of the three was penalised. The FIA later took the unprecedented step of sending race director Charlie Whiting to a press conference to explain the reasoning for the decision.

In the final laps of the race Sebastian Vettel became the first driver to fall foul of what had been dubbed ‘the Verstappen rule’ – a clarification to the rules intended to stop drivers changing their lines under braking.

Encouragingly, the FIA has recognised the need to make the sport self-policing where possible, such as by discouraging drivers from using run-off areas. The role of the referee is always likely to remain both necessary and contentious, but perhaps we’ll hear a bit less from the stewards in 2017.

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Penalties by driver

Kevin Magnussen found himself before the stewards more than any other driver, facing a total of 14 investigations. He was judged to have been responsible for six of those, the most of any driver along with Daniil Kvyat.

However Hamilton could usually blame his team when he got a penalty. His six such penalties were the most of any driver, one more than Vettel.

McLaren’s all-champion line-up did themselves justice by going the entire season without incurring a penalty for a driving infringement:

DriverPenalties due to driverPenalties due to teamNo action
Kevin Magnussen644
Sebastian Vettel450
Lewis Hamilton262
Daniil Kvyat610
Carlos Sainz Jnr521
Marcus Ericsson241
Esteban Ocon421
Nico Rosberg323
Valtteri Bottas322
Felipe Nasr500
Romain Grosjean142
Esteban Gutierrez413
Kimi Raikkonen131
Nico Hulkenberg223
Sergio Perez220
Fernando Alonso042
Pascal Wehrlein311
Rio Haryanto310
Jolyon Palmer210
Felipe Massa200
Max Verstappen201
Jenson Button020
Daniel Ricciardo100
Stoffel Vandoorne000

Penalty points

Since penalty points were introduced three seasons ago no driver has racked up enough to incur a race ban. Once issued penalty points remain on their licence for 12 months and if a driver reaches a total of 12 they are suspended from the next race.

Kvyat will have to watch himself in the opening races
As 2016 came to an end Kvyat was the driver in greatest danger of collecting a ban, with eight points on his licence. He will deduct three on May 1st next year. Esteban Gutierrez has the next-highest total with seven, but seems unlikely to be racing in F1 next year anyway.

Nico Rosberg’s remarkable five-year run without collecting a penalty for a driving infraction ended when he clashed with his team mate in Austria. Last year’s world champion got his elbows out a few more times during the season and by the end of the year had gone from zero points on his licence to six. But he’s unlikely to use his licence this year, so no worries there.

In contrast team mate Hamilton kept a clean sheet, as did Jenson Button and Daniel Ricciardo – the latter having also been penalty point free in 2015.

As for Kvyat, he may want to take a lesson from the driver who replaced him at Red Bull early last year. Max Verstappen began last season with eight points on his licence but ended the year much better off having trimmed it to three.

Along with Kvyat, the only other driver likely to be on the grid this year who is already at least halfway towards a ban is Vettel, on six points.

Drivers’ total penalty points throughout 2016. Toggle drivers using controls below:

Notes on the data

Fines given for pit lane speeding during non-competitive sessions were not included.

Over to you

Are too many penalties being issued in F1? Are there some incidents the stewards should turn a blind eye to?

Have your say in the comments.

2016 F1 season

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Author information

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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32 comments on “Has F1 hit ‘peak penalties’? Fewer sanctions in 2016”

  1. Not to cast aspersions on him or anything, but this was the first year since the data were compiled, that we haven’t had a certain Venezuelan driver on the grid.

    1. I miss that guy :-(

    2. hahaha Gold!

    3. He actually was the driver closer to a ban, with 11 points

      6 of them in 2015

      This means, that your comment is actually on point

    4. I do miss HasMaldonardoCrashedToday, though!

      1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
        18th January 2017, 17:57

        Me too, though it has a spititual successor:


    5. @tomd11 That is certainly true! However there were more total penalties last year than every Maldonado season bar 2015, so I don’t think we can just blame him.

      And it only just occurred to me that the effect of the drop is even more pronounced when you take into consideration the fact there were two more cars on the grid this year.

      1. Actually, it was Max Verstappen with the biggest number of penalty points (8) that helped the cause a little bit, Maldonado was second (6).

        One factor that could also contributed to this is the number of the rookies in the field, in 2015 we had 5, and this year 3 ( I think we can count Ocon and Haryant as one, since they did roughly half a season each)

        1. @johnmilk Good point. Yes there 2 extra cars but no Maldonado and RB drivers (Max) earning immunity to the usual f1 penalties, that makes up for a lot. There’s one extra factor though @keithcollantine , reliability, overall it was better this season.

          1. No one earned immunity ( maybe HAM with his unpunished grass mowing actions)

      2. @keithcollantine I think GUT was a suitable replacement.

  2. Let us start with giving team penalty’s to the team and not to the driver.
    A engine (or other limited spare part) change should hurt the team. Not the driver.

    1. @seth-space I don’t think it’s possible to do that and still have the engine penalties do what they are supposed to do, which is deter the top teams from using one engine per race.

      To prevent that you have to have a sporting penalty for using too many engines, and that will inevitably compromise the driver. If you make it financial, by charging a fine or deducting constructors championship points (the latter being, ultimately, a financial penalty), it’s not enough of a deterrent to stop teams changing engines on purpose.

      But if you’ve got an idea for an engine change penalty which both leaves the driver unaffected and deters teams from using one engine per race, I’m all ears!

      1. Penalty for engine change: 3 GP’s no constructor points for the affected car.

        1. @seth-space Like I said…

          1. I do not think it’s only a financial penalty. look at the battle between Ferrari and RBR. Financial the difference is relative small but the second place was very important for both teams. And even the struggle for 4e place was important, not only from a financial pov.

            Alternative is when a car uses more parts than allowed it will not get any constructor points for the rest of the season. There will be always advantages somewhere down the line by using new parts, so even this rule will not prevent the use of extra parts.
            The only real penalty would be a car that’s disqualified when using extra parts during the season. Resulting in only one car for the team but hurting the driver also.

    2. Then they shouldnt give driver penalties to the team either. If the driver gets enough points for a raceban he should be forced to race but only for constructorpoints etc.

  3. I think the introduction of the 5 and 10-second time penalty has been bad for the number of penalties dished out.

    Don’t get me wrong, the time penalty is a great solution to minor infractions, but the majority of penalties given during races were time penalties – even for more serious accidents. I feel like this way the stewards are covering their backs. They can dodge criticism by justifying a controversial decision if there’s only a small penalty given. I also think that they are more willing to hand these out more frequently if they see something small they want to address.

    So all in all it leads to an increase in penalties, all of which become small time penalties.

    I think the small decrease this year has been largely due to the standard of racing – or lack thereof. Cars racing closely less than even last year, as well as a lack of the likes of Maldonado, and indeed fewer rookies.

    Also, that points system is applied in a diabolical manner. 2 points for ignoring a blue flag, 2 points for crashing into somebody. They might as well have said 6 points for a ban, and 1 point as standard for every single incident. Why not come up with a system whereby points are given according to how bad the problem is.

    1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      18th January 2017, 16:59

      Totally agree @strontium The 5 SECOND PENALTY IS THE PROBLEM, and it needs scrapped.

      I personally thought it was a good idea when introduced, but it has turned the sport into an exercise in nitpicking, whinging, and gamesmanship.

      As Sainz says, it is now easier to pass someone by whinging to Charlie, and getting them penalised for a bit of weaving, than by actually racing them for the position.

      It used to be that you would have to do something bad enough that it merited a drive through the pits, and thus small infractions went unpunished, which in hindsight was a good thing for the racing.

      Nowadays, the (already much too thick) rulebook is applied to every jink and jive, and the meaning of ‘hard but fair’ racing is defined artificially by the stewards, instead of naturally by the drivers.

    2. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      18th January 2017, 17:47

      Having reread your comment evidently I don’t ‘totally agree’ @strontium . I was too eager to rant about penalties my bad *presses imaginary edit button*

  4. I still think the most harsh penalty of the season was possibly the one given to Bottas in Bahrain. A drive through penalty and some penalty points was extremely harsh given it was just at the first corner.

    These sorts of things have happened loads of times last season as well as previous ones before that, but if they have affected drivers that are closer to the back, they don’t seem to be as important as the faster cars so it is often the case that whoever caused the accident is less likely to be punished. Quite a few of us on the planet F1 forum thought that that incident involving Bottas and Hamilton should have just been classed as a racing incident. I certainly do blame Bottas for it but I don’t think any other driver got such a huge penalty for something like that last season. Even the commentators on Channel 4 thought the penalty should have been a 5 second time penalty or something instead of a drive through.

    It just frustrates me that the stewards seem to be more harsh if somebody has affected a driver at a better more compettetive team. The drivers just don’t get treated equally. If Bottas had hit someone near the back, that could well not have been investigated any further.

    In 2015 at Abu Dhabi, Maldonado got knocked out first corner by Alonso and he had to retire. Having to retire is a lot worse than the damage Hamilton suffered in Bahrain and yet Alonso got the same drive though penalty as Bottas (maybe even without any penalty points if I am correct). I know that was 2015 but just 2 races later in Bahrain 2016, a much more minor thing happened but just because it affected a driver like Hamilton seemed to make the the penalty much more harsh in a way somehow. Very inconsistent rules. I hope they have changed!

    1. True, but in hindsight the Bottas-Hamilton incident influenced the outcome of the championship, and the Alonso-Maldonado incident did not.

      That said, I felt the penalty for Bottas was unjustified.
      As Hamilton was lining up to pass Rosberg on the outside and only switched back to the inside when Bottas was already committed and had nowhere to go.
      It is the first corner, the drivers are supposed to expect going through it side by side and need to leave space.
      They hit just past the apex.
      Maybe Bottas overshot it ever so slightly, but nowhere near some other inside overtakes we’ve seen this year.
      It wasn’t pingpong, to quote a driver known for sweeping into the apex of the first corner with other cars in between…

  5. “F1 increasingly found itself caught between conflicting urges to ‘let the drivers race’ while also imposing fair rules.”

    This really is the crux of the issue isn’t it. Do we want to just make F1 a free for all where the drivers can go at it hammer and tongs like they are in F3, GP2 or Nascar or do we want to continue reaching for our well thumbed copies of the sporting regulations and having our lawyers on speed dial in case two cars come within 200 feet of each another?

    Years ago when two cars came together the drivers would get out of their stricken cars, wave their hands about, throw a few punches (if you were Nelson Piquet or James Hunt), storm off in different directions and the race would continue. Only if the incident was really, really avoidable (like the Irvine/Verstappen/Brundle incident at Interlagos in 1994) were penalties and bans handed out. You didn’t always get the right decision by the letter of the law, but the result felt more sporting.

    We need to decide what is more important, the letter of the law or sporting integrity.

  6. I love how the three McLaren drivers are the only ones with no driver penalties.

    1. They didn’t race anyone behind the pack so they couldn’t hit anyone to deserve penaulties.

  7. Wow making an issue about how corner cutting after the start should be penalized the same as later during the race? How many drivers go off track at any F1 race start and how many of those are penalized?

    It’s fine that people who don;t understand the rules make an issue about this, but I’d expect better from the editor here. Although perhaps I shouldn’t.

  8. I’ve personally never had a problem with the way the rules and regulations have been implemented since I started watching in 2002, most races will only see one or two penalties handed out, it’s not like we see Valencia 2010 all the time with regards to the number penalties. F1 drivers should be held to the highest of standards and punished for poor driving.

    Penalties are never nice to see but drivers can’t be allowed to illegally harm each others’ races and get away with it, when a penalised driver excuses himself by saying “that’s racing” I personally interpret that as them refusing to own up to their mistakes and accept the consequences. Some have also made the argument of how drivers will become more reluctant to overtake if we keep penalising them but I have seen no evidence of this actually happening.

  9. A lot of the complaints about penalties are about steward inconsistencies, rather than the amount that are being given.

  10. Keep up with the strict penalties. Root out the cheating and dirty driving.

  11. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    18th January 2017, 20:08

    I have some petty grievances but generally they do a very good job on the whole. I think F1 is probably more just than it ever has been in this respect. Sometimes it penalties seem a bit petty and grid penalties are farcical but that’s not the rules or their enforcers fault. I think in the bigger scheme of things it’s not a major issue for F1 even if it gets blown out of proportion. Some people just say “just let them race” but you can’t have a free for all it would be chaos like it would do in any sport.

  12. Didn’t do the maths, but the graphic shows that, in fact, the penalties peaked in 2016 if you take them as a proportion of investigated incidents. Less occurrences ended without action, deemed mere ‘racing incidents’, so the stewards are in fact regulating the drivers ever more tightly

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