Another record-breaking year for F1’s stewards despite drop in driver penalties

2017 F1 season

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Twelve months ago it seemed fit to ask whether Formula One had hit a peak in penalties and was now beginning to see fewer sanctions handed down.

Did that decline continue in 2017? There’s evidence to support both sides of the argument.

Yes, the total number of penalties increased again last year to a new high of 104. That’s nine more than last season, despite a significant drop in the number of race participations, and two higher than the 2015 record.

However the majority of penalties issued last year were due to teams exceeding their allocation of power unit components. Penalties for driving infractions such as collisions and abusing track limits fell significantly:

As the graph above shows this continues a recent trend. The number of penalties issued due to driving infractions fell for the third year in a row and at an accelerating rate.

This doesn’t prove the stewards have become more lenient. For example, drivers may have developed a better understanding of the rules and therefore less likely to break them.

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But it’s clear that four years ago drivers penalties were being issued at a race of nearly three per race. Last year that figure fell to just over one-and-a-half.

While the number of ‘driver penalties’ fell last year, the number of ‘team penalties’ – chiefly for power unit and gearbox replacements – jumped:

Despite the fall in penalties for on-track incidents, two drivers came close to being the first person to reach the 12 penalty points which equal an automatic race ban.

Surprisingly the first of these was championship contender Sebastian Vettel, who became the first driver ever to accumulate nine penalty points within a 12-month period following his controversial clash with Lewis Hamilton in Azerbaijan. After that he cleaned up his act, picked up no further penalty points, and by the end of the year was down to three, just one more than Hamilton.

Daniil Kvyat went one worse than Vettel, making it to 10 penalty points following a string of incidents. But before he had to worry about earning enough to be barred from a race, he lost his seat at Toro Rosso.

At the beginning of the 2018 F1 season just two drivers have accumulated enough penalty points to be halfway towards a race ban: Haas team mates Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.

Drivers’ total penalty points throughout 2017. 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 stewards becoming more lenient towards driver incidents? Which penalties issued during 2017 were too harsh or too soft?

Have your say in the comments.

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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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31 comments on “Another record-breaking year for F1’s stewards despite drop in driver penalties”

  1. ”Are stewards becoming more lenient towards driver incidents? Which penalties issued during 2017 were too harsh or too soft?” – – Yes, I think they’ve shown more leniency towards driver incidents in recent seasons than a bit further into the past, and overall I’ve been happy with that approach.
    – I’d say most of the penalties issued last season were entirely justified neither too harsh nor too soft.

    1. @jerejj Spot on. I hope they continue this. Also, I expect less driver and car penalties next season. As certain people, ahem Kvyat ahem, have left the sport I expect less penalties. Kvyat just needed to rein it in a bit. And, with Renault and Honda both having a change of environment, they too should, theoretically, have more reliable engines. Mercedes is bullet proof and Ferrari are not too bad either. I think all the teams will be doing better despite the new 3 engine rule.

    2. @jerejj true but with one notable exception for me: Vettel at Baku. He should have been black flagged IMO.

      1. @spoutnik I found the penalty he got harsh enough, not too soft.

        1. I’m loath to get into the argument again, but the fact that a driver deliberately drove his car into another car and still received 12 World Championship points frustrated me somewhat. It doesn’t matter how fast/slow they were going or what provoked it; if Maldonado or Kvyat (for example) did what Vettel did, the spectators would be baying for blood.

          I know the stewards dished out a punishment that they deemed fair and where he finished in the end is somewhat irrelevant, but there should have been a black flag for that.

          1. Michael Brown (@)
            3rd January 2018, 16:31

            Paul Gutjahr, one of the stewards at that race, said they “did not want to influence the world championship too much.”


          2. @mbr-9 – I hadn’t seen that before, but I’m pretty disgusted by it. The idea that the higher you are in the Championship, the lower your regard for the rules is allowed to fall is outrageous.

            That said, the sport thrives on controversy and always will do – Formula One needs these kinds of moments. Looking back in 10 years time, we’ll have forgotten hundred’s of DRS passes, but we’ll still remember when Vettel gave Hamilton a “friendly nudge”!

          3. @ben-n But I’m sure they do draw a line somewhere. I suspect that had SV done that to LH at speed during the race as opposed to at a crawl under a pace car setting, he might have been black flagged…Championship contender or not. Recall some of the tussles between LH and NR and how both the team and the stewards decided to let them duke it out on the track and settle the WDC between them. I’m absolutely fine with that because I know there’s a limit beyond which the FIA would have to intercede. And I agree we would rather see titles decided on the track between the drivers and not by boardroom decisions.

            Had to chuckle at your comment about having forgotten hundreds of DRS passes in 10 years time. I have forgotten them all 10 minutes after they happened.

  2. Well, well, well, ain’t that a nice picture from the US grand prix. Bottas going off track and keeping his advantage; guess he was penalized for that offence…….
    Oh wait.
    Everything that’s wrong with present day stewarding was demonstrated at that grand prix; grid penalties and inconsistency.
    Time to stop with all that nonsens, and bring back the black flag.

    1. Michael Brown (@)
      3rd January 2018, 16:34

      Clearly, you don’t understand it like the veteran Charlie Whiting does. Bottas added more distance to his lap, so he clearly lost an advantage. Wether or not his lap time was faster and wether or not he kept his position ahead of Ricciardo is entirely irrelevant to Whiting.

      I suppose you are allowed to drive completely off the track for the final two turns of COTA. Who cares if it’s faster? You’re adding more distance to the he lap.

      1. Lol, you’re logic is so flawed it hurts my eyes reading it.
        You’re actually arguing that it doesn’t matter if it’s faster as long as it’s longer? (Where is that specified in the rules?)
        But hey, tears rolling down my eyes, so funny.

        1. That was Whiting’s actual stance at the next drivers briefing (available on YouTube).

      2. Bottas added more distance to his lap, so he clearly lost an advantage

        That’s just plainly false though. Sorry @mbr-9, by this logic the quickest way around any race track is to hang to the inside of corners at all times hence minimising lap distance!

        1. Ah, I missed the sarcasm. I’m losing it!

    2. Well, well, well, ain’t that a nice picture from the US grand prix. Bottas going off track and keeping his advantage; guess he was penalized for that offence…….

      He is not off track, his left front tyre is still touching the white line. ;-)

      1. @mbr-9
        After rereading it a couple of times, I’m kinda getting the impression you’re being sarcastic. In that case, nothing responded by me. :)

        1. Michael Brown (@)
          3rd January 2018, 18:28

          @john-h @Oconomo Yes, I was being sarcastic. That was literally Charlie Whiting’s stance on track limits in the 2017 USGP. Anybody who races (wether real life on in a game) will know that you can gain an advantage in lap time by going all four wheels off the track in some corner exits. Whiting only thinks an advantage gained is when you shorten the distance of your lap.

          1. @mbr-9 Not sure about that. Are you sure Whiting wasn’t just speaking of that particular spot on that particular track? I don’t think it is his overall philosophy to let all drivers do whatever they want at all spots on all tracks because they will have not gained an advantage. As you point out, it’s at ‘some’ corner exits or what have you. I’m sure Whiting would disagree with your last sentence, and would probably school you (all of us) on the topic.

    3. @Oconomo If Bottas should’ve been penalized for technically not overtaking Ricciardo while being off the track with all four wheels then by the same token Verstappen should’ve been penalized as well for his move on Felipe Nasr during the 2015 edition of the Belgian GP. The Bottas-Ricciardo move was more or less a copycat move of the Verstappen-Nasr one at Blanchimont. Bottas didn’t gain any more advantage going into the following corner than Verstappen did going into the final chicane that follows Blanchimont.

      1. @jerejj By his detour, BOT was able to keep RIC behind. So it was not an overtaking attempt by him, but a defensive move way off the track against an overtaking attempt by RIC. To me that is also a lasting advantage by going off track.

      2. i have seen that comparison earlier.. they are not comparable. Different tracks, years, situations and even the difference between defending and attacking. So no real comparison possible.

        Bottas looked a protected driver in 2017.. there were several incidents during starts he could have collected a penalty.

    4. Lets not forget the fact that some cars were cutting corners while trying to gain on the driver ahead without being penalised!
      For example, Ricciardo chasing down Bottas at the beginning of the COTA GP before the several timed mentioned Bottas rather wide overtake. I remember Ricciardo clearly cut one of the esses on the inside while Bottas stayed on the track and Ricciardo came out of the esses a lot closer than when he went in! Surely that is a lasting advantage as it set up the chance he had to make the overtake in the first place, albeit further around the track.
      Just because you don’t overtake someone by going off the track (inside or out) doesn’t mean you can’t gain an advantage! Just like because you are in front you can’t miss a chicane to stay ahead ala Rosberg at Canada a couple of years back (sorry that is the first that sprung to mind, sure others have done it). Track limits need to be enforced!

      I know many probably won’t like the idea, but I think there should be sensors like parking sensors on all cars. When cars are close enough (clearly defined: e.g. the rear of the front wing is alongside the rear of the rear wheel) a signal is given to the drivers in battle (a constant beeping or light on the steering wheel etc.). When the signal is given the drivers must leave a cars width at the exit of a corner as well as entrance (inside or out depending on which side the attacking car is on). I don’t like the ‘I was in front so I had a right to the racing line’ spiel. None of the drivers owns any part of the track and cars can’t just disappear – if they are alongside, even a little, they should be allowed room and not forced off the track or have to back out. It takes two to have a collision, it is both responsibilities to avoid one by leaving room. If the room is left and they still collide then (most of the time) it will easy to see that the chasing driver is at fault and should be penalised accordingly. There could be a second line painted on the track (in some magic just-as-grippy-as-tarmac-paint) defining a cars width that the defending driver must adhere to when the signal is given. Then if any driver cuts the track limit white line with all four wheels then they are penalised regardless (if battling or not) unless they have done this to avoid a collision with the defending driver if they have cut the inner-leave-enough-room track limit, in which case the defender will be penalised for illegal blocking/forcing the other car off the road. This would make penalties much easier to distinguish and thus be consistent and quick enough to dish out that the offending car can be penalised (with a three second pit lane limit on the next suitable straight perhaps).

      1. @madman Sounds like that would take the racing out of the racing, and make it all a game of avoiding racing and thus penalties. With what you are suggesting they might as well make F1 a series of 1 to 1 scale slot cars with guide flags under the front axles and slots in the racetracks for the cars to remain in.

  3. What’s happening to the teams though? The ‘teams fault’ is quite high compared to other years.

    1. @flatsix I think all grid penalties due to using more engine components and replacing gearboxes to soon are counted as a “team fault”.

  4. I’m inclined to believe there were fewer penalties because the new regulations made it harder for the cars to follow each other.

    Penalties are often given out for failed or overly aggressive overtaking moves, but look at how much overtaking fell in 2017 (49.8%, according to Pirelli). You can’t make a mistake while overtaking if you can’t get close enough to even attempt a pass…

    Close racing = incidents = penalties. Take away the closeness, and the other two will fall.

    1. @neilosjames Interesting point!

  5. Happy New Year and let’s look forward to a brave new season, but I want to learn that

    the number of ‘team penalties’ – chiefly for power unit and gearbox replacements-

    last year. And that disappointing figure could going become more important in 2018 if the number of drive trains permitted in a season decreases.
    ‘Team penalties’ for power units and gearboxes etc don’t carry froward from one season to the next, do they?

    1. @nickwyatt ”‘Team penalties’ for power units and gearboxes etc don’t carry forward from one season to the next, do they?” – No, they don’t AFAIA.

  6. * don’t want, not want!

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