Vettel to avoid grid penalty as Ferrari confirm Malaysia gearbox is working

2017 Japanese Grand Prix

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Sebastian Vettel will not have to take a grid penalty at the Malaysian Grand Prix as he can continue to use his gearbox from the race weekend, Ferrari has confirmed.

Damage to the left-rear of Vettel’s car following his collision with Lance Stroll on the slow-down lap after Sunday race prompted concerns he would have to use a new gearbox for this weekend’s race in Japan. As this would mean replacing a gearbox which had not been used for six consecutive events, Vettel would have incurred a five-place grid penalty.

Vettel said he feared a “bad surprise” following the collision. However his team has allayed those fears. On Wednesday is announced “the gearbox [Vettel] used in Malaysia is still available.”

This will be the second race weekend for the gearbox which was used for the first time in Malaysia. He will have to continue using the same gearbox for all the remaining races if he is to avoid a penalty, unless he retires from one of the upcoming rounds.

Vettel endured a difficult weekend in Malaysia where he was unable to set a time during qualifying due to a problem with his power unit. As he started last, Ferrari used the opportunity to fit more new power unit parts to his car without being moved further back on the grid due to penalties.

The Ferrari driver goes into this weekend’s race 34 points behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton. Both Ferrari drivers have avoided gearbox change penalties so far this year but the Mercedes pair have had one each.

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    Keith Collantine
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    31 comments on “Vettel to avoid grid penalty as Ferrari confirm Malaysia gearbox is working”

    1. It might be more of a risk to run this gearbox in the race than take a new one and drop 5 places. Then again, he needs to take that risk otherwise the championship is over.

      1. Well, if no damage was done to it, and there was only damage done to the chassis, I don’t see why it’s a risk. Of course the transmissions may have got messed up by the crash, but still, if they don’t see any problem with it, I imagine it’ll be fine.

        1. It’s all “should” be fine until Saturday’s morning session – Seb will be holding his breath through that hour…

    2. slightly esoteric question – what counts as a retirement? could you retired on the penultimate or last lap and take a free gearbox? is there allowance for retiring but still being technically classified? if you were a full lap (or more) in the lead then you could take the hit and still keep your position. obviously this is a pretty much beyond the bounds of lunacy but i have seen a GP which was won by 2 laps.

      1. The regulations use the words “finish the race” so retirement would count as any failure to take the chequered flag. But the regulations say – obviously to stop people retiring on purpose for a free gearbox – that the failure to finish must be “for reasons which the technical delegate accepts as being beyond the control of the team or driver.”

      2. @frood19
        Nothing esoteric about that, quite the contrary. Just one error in reasoning, but I’ll get to that later.

        The sporting regulations state the following in article 23.5 a:

        Unless the driver fails to finish the race (or is unable to start the race for reasons other than a penalty imposed by the stewards) the gearbox fitted to the car at the end of the Event must remain in it for the remainder of the six race sequence.
        Any driver who failed to finish the race at the first, second, third, fourth or fifth of the six Events for reasons which the
        technical delegate accepts as being beyond the control of the team or driver
        , may start the following Event with a different gearbox without a penalty being incurred.

        Even though the exact meaning of “finish the race” isn’t defined anywhere, there are precedents that show that the determining factor is crossing the finish line after completing the race distance (or maximum time), or crossing the finish line after the race winner has finished the race (for lapped cars). In more coloquial terms: Seeing the chequered flag is what counts. If you don’t, then you’re allowed to replace your gearbox without a penalty, as long as the FIA doesn’t come to the conclusion that you retired the car for no reason.

        Now, as for retiring a car but still winning the race:
        That’s impossible (well, almost. The only possible exception would be a race that’s stopped before reaching the full race distance, i.e. a red-flagged race or a race that reaches the time limit). Even if someone were leading a race by 10 laps, retiring the car somewhere between 1 and 9 laps from the end would (almost, see above) inevitably result in losing the race. Why? Because the leading car has to cross the finish line after completing the race distance to trigger the end of the race, after which every competitor can only cross the finish line once more. If the race leader stops before reaching the finish line, the race simply goes on until someone else crosses the finish line after completing the race distance. So, yes: It is theoretically possible to lead a race by several laps before retiring on the final lap, and still finish last.

      3. @frood19, since you ask, the FIA states that a driver will be classified as having finished the race if he has completed at least 90% of the laps covered by the winning driver (who is defined as the driver who crosses the line within the least amount of time required to complete the race distance).

        As nase and @neilosjames note, in reality the FIA would almost certainly take action in that case – the precedent was set with BAR-Honda back in 2005, when they deliberately pulled out of the Australian GP one lap before the end so they could have a fresh engine for the next race. The FIA immediately changed the rules after that to include the requirement for a retirement to have to be on genuine technical grounds – ironically enough, in that case the tactic didn’t work for BAR, since both new engines promptly failed in the next race and earned them a grid penalty…

        nase, strictly speaking, the FIA does define what counts as being a classified driver.

        You are correct that, in reality, the only way that a driver could retire from the race and still be classified as winning would be if the red flag came out just after they retired, since they then go back to the last completed lap. Thinking back, perhaps the closest to that happening was in the 1984 Monaco GP – Senna had technically passed Prost as they began the 32nd lap, but had hit the barriers and smashed his suspension in the process. He would probably have had to retire on the next lap due to that damage but, if the race had been stopped on the 33rd lap and been counted back to the 32nd lap, then I think he would have been declared as winning even though he’d have probably retired by then.

        1. ok, that makes sense. i can still envisage a way for a driver to stop on the penultimate lap, say, and still be classified second without seeing the flag but it involves the top 3 being spaced by multiple laps so it’s not worth getting into fully. however, it does seem like there is no way to game the system in terms of taking a free gearbox, which is as it should be really.

    3. I’m amazed at the level of knowledge (no, this is not trust, this is pure science) over their own creations those engineers have. It’s obvious that if there were risk of gearbox failure, they would change it, simply because to earn points in a race, first you have to end said race.

    4. It is time for the FIA to change the gearbox / engine penalty system. What about changing it to removal of constructor’s points? It needs to stop affecting the drivers and the ‘show’.

      1. No, it does not.

      2. Personally I don’t think that “your” solution (seen it mentioned many times before) is any better than the current arrangement.

        Take Ferrari as an example now. The WCC is now pretty much off the cards, as they’d need to outscore Mercedes by over 100 points, which is pretty unlikely (though not impossible). Far more likely is that Vettel could catch Hamilton for the WDC. With the above suggestion, what’s to stop Vettel replacing everything on his car at every one of the remaining races? Ferrari would gladly take the points hit, as they’re far enough ahead of Red Bull to maintain second. Once Mercedes see that, they too would replace all of Hamilton’s equipment. How unfair is that on the rest of the field?

        I think the current system is actually fine, it’s a team sport. If the driver crashes out, should the team get points anyway because they fulfilled “their end”?

      3. Whilst the current system runs the risk of “farcial grids” at times (especially on very special tracks such as Monza since the power-weak teams often feel the need to sacrifice the same race since it is their weakest on paper), I don’t really mind it since I haven’t heard any better suggestion. It also allows struggling teams or rather engine manufacturers (read McLaren Honda) an opportunity to update their engines for the small penalty of starting at the back, rather than loosing championship points for every change, thus increasing the chance that they might catch up to a reasonable level.

        And for sure, removing the connection between constructor and driver is bound to cause controversy.

        However, I have always wondered why the rules are different for gearboxes than for engines. When the limitations were introduced, the rules were that an engine must last x number of races in a row, unless the car was retired. Which is exactly as it is for the gearboxes still. Why not allow a certain number of gearboxes for the entire season as well? Otherwise a top team outside the points will basically always retire a couple of laps before the finish, just to get a fresh gearbox in the car. This skews the results for the small teams. Back in the days of Caterham and Marussia when none of them scored points, their relative position in the constructors championship could be decided by top teams struggling for a particular race and wanting a new gearbox for the next race.

        1. Don’t think what the sport needs is smaller teams retiring to save their parts – what about the race!

          This is a tricky question and eventually boils down to spending. As long as a cap is enforced, these penalties must stay in place. If the spending cap is lifted, the penalties should be abolished as well. The fact that FIA wants a fair world when the world is simply unfair is a deeply philosophical question. Either normalise everything Indycar style – or let it loose. I fear normalisation will take away the technical competition side of things, that mainly hardcore fans wait for every race. IMO normalisation will make things much much cheaper, and last longer, only I would personally hate for that to happen.

          In the current situation, applying even more rules means penalties will be separated between mechanical failures and shunt caused failures… but then even more complications when everyone thinks a simpler approach should take place.

      4. No. Only when it’s affecting Hamilton should this be changed. See 2015 and 2016.

    5. I’m not accusing Ferrari in any way but how do the teams show it’s the same gearbox? I guess the gearbox isn’t followed around the world by an FIA representative and if a team strips the car down in their own factory wouldn’t it be easy to swap parts around? Again, nothing against Ferrari! I’m just curious how the whole process works.

      1. @f117 The FIA attaches seals to the gearboxes. If these are missing or damaged or damaged it shows the gearbox has been replaced or been opened up to have parts replaced.

        When Ferrari deliberately incurred a penalty on Felipe Massa’s car at the Circuit of the Americas in 2012, all they did was break one of the seals.

        1. @keithcollantine
          Well, if the don’t open it, how do they know it’s all good?
          It might be running at the moment, but can they see there’s no damage, for example some cracks, on some parts?

          1. Biggsy, teams routinely run non-destructive testing on components, such as the use of ultrasonic testing on suspension components to detect whether or not they have cracked. For gearboxes, they could X-ray the gearbox to check the internals or perhaps back analyse the vibration of the shafts to assess whether the resonant frequency indicates cracks have developed – so there are ways in which they could potentially test the gearbox without necessarily needing to open the casing.

        2. @keithcollantine
          I was wondering the same as Biggsy. In order to make certain that the gearbox is ok, it seems likely to me that Ferrari would have to remove the seal and disassemble the thing. Is an FIA inspector summoned to witness the process?

    6. That’s pretty surprising, the damage looked extensive. Good for the championship though, game on.

    7. But will it be reliable.

    8. I really hope it doesn’t now fail during the weekend.

    9. Good news for the championship battle, but… it’s still possible they’ll find an issue when they put it in the car and subject it to the on-track stresses in FP1.

    10. So….. FIA(?) imposes requirements on the number of races a gearbox has to to be in use, all in the guise of saving money, but the F1 team flies a gearbox Italy and back to Japan for an engineering inspection to avoid a five grid spot penalty . . . . . . would it not be better for the environment, cheaper for the team to replace with a new gearbox?

      1. We’re talking a rather seldom event contrasting a constant change of parts (which would happen without the rule).

        Plus with the prices of F1 components, I’m pretty sure they could have flown it around the world a few times and still save money by not replacing it.

        1. All right, I see your point. thanks for sending me an answer and good luck to your team.

      2. would it not be better for the environment, cheaper for the team to replace with a new gearbox?

        Yes, but that’d also be against the spirit of the rule. The rule is in place to ensure that teams use gearboxes that can do 5 races, instead of using lighter, more fragile gearboxes that need to be changed after every race or even session, because that’d allow the richer teams to simply throw money at wear parts so that they can use fresh and more performant parts in every session.
        Ferrari did spend a lot of money on that gearbox, but, crucially, they didn’t gain an advantage by doing so. The rule has its flaws, but it works as intended.

        1. and by five races I mean six races.

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