Start, Yas Marina, 2017

Now F1 penalties are more consistent, drivers can take advantage

2018 F1 season

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Formula One stewards are often criticised for failing to police the sport consistently, particularly when it comes to on-track incidents.

This doesn’t always hold true. In fact, not only are F1’s stewards more consistent than they are given credit for, but their consistency makes some of their rulings overly lenient. It may even encourage some drivers to break rules.

Consistent penalties

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit of the Americas, 2017
Verstappen wasn’t allowed to keep his third place
Arguably the most contentious decision last year occurred at the United States Grand Prix. Within minutes of the race ending Max Verstappen was given a five-second time penalty which relegated him from third to fourth place.

A hue and cry went up on social media. Verstappen and Red Bull laid into the stewards. This contrasted with the sentiment on F1 Fanatic, where a poll found more than two in three readers agreed the penalty was “fair”. But the tone of coverage elsewhere gave the impression fans believed Verstappen had been wronged.

His misdemeanour was straightforward: The Red Bull driver cut across the inside of a corner, all four wheels off-track, as he overtook Kimi Raikkonen. He was not the only driver to do this during 2017. Four others did exactly the same.

Each of the five received the same penalty: Verstappen at COTA, Sergio Perez at Spa, Jolyon Palmer at Monza, Romain Grosjean in Mexico City and Nico Hulkenberg at Yas Marina. All five also received a single penalty point on their licence.

Clearly the stewards treated these incidents consistently. What was inconsistent was the reaction from some fans. None of the other four incidents, which occurred earlier in the races and lower down the running order, generated as many complaints as Verstappen’s lost podium.

Arguing with the referee is often a problem in any sport where the stakes are high enough. But the standard complaint about ‘inconsistent’ stewarding overlooks the fact that even when the stewards are consistent injustices may still occur.

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Cutting corners

Based on what we saw last year drivers may reasonably conclude the going rate for cutting a corner to overtake a rival is a five-second time penalty. So are they beginning to take that into consideration when deciding whether to obey track limits or relinquish and unfairly-gained place?

If they aren’t, they should. In the case of at least two of the five drivers mentioned above, taking a five-second penalty was more advantageous than handing back a place they had gained by cutting a corner.

Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, Yas Marina, 2017
Hulkenberg cut the track to get ahead
Jolyon Palmer cut the Della Roggia chicane at Monza to overtake Fernando Alonso and received a five-second penalty. But even after serving it he remained ahead of the McLaren driver. A furious Alonso repeatedly called the penalty a “joke” on his radio during the race.

Similarly in the final race of the year Nico Hulkenberg overtook Sergio Perez by going off the track. Again he was able to keep the place he had gained even after his five-second time penalty had been applied.

It’s not hard to see why this is increasingly a problem. Changes in the aerodynamic rules last season made it harder for one car to follow another closely. Therefore a driver needs a greater performance advantage to be able to overtake a rival ahead.

This has two effects: A slower car now has a better chance of holding up a faster car for longer. And the driver of the faster car has a greater incentive to cut the track to get ahead, as they are more likely to be able to pull out the five-second gap they can expect to receive.

Another year of aerodynamic development is likely to make overtaking yet more difficult in 2018. Will we therefore see drivers exploiting the consistent enforcement of this rule by taking greater liberties with track limits?

Perhaps Lewis Hamilton could have won the last race by cutting a corner to overtake his team mate, then pulling five seconds ahead? It may take a blatant example of track-cutting to prompt the stewards into handing down a more serious penalty to ensure drivers can’t benefit from cutting the track.

The stewards could consistently impose the same time penalty. Or they could consistently impose a penalty which only deprives the culprit of the position they gained. But they can’t necessarily do both.

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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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52 comments on “Now F1 penalties are more consistent, drivers can take advantage”

  1. Max’s penalty may have been consistent but in context is disproportionate. If he hadn’t had gone 4 wheels off he’d had been into Kimi and taken both of them out. We don’t want to see drivers senselessly taking each other out.

    Also compared to the leniency given to Vettel, all the above penalties are overly harsh. The suggestion was because Vettel was in championship contention he shouldn’t be treated harshly. Does that mean positions 1,2&3 can drive as erratically as they want, & cutting corners without fear of being penalised or does that only work in a Ferrari?

    1. Max Verstappen should not have overtaken there. You can’t argue “well, if I hadn’t cut, I’d have to crash into him to get past him”.

      The big problem is how inconsistent the stewards are, and have always been, and even though they’re better in the last decade or two than they were in the previous decade or two, they’re still bullcrap, and Max’s incident is far from the most egregious example.

      The bottom line is the stewards are a sham, they damage the sport irreversibly, and any measure aimed at limiting their damage is a good measure.

    2. If you want to overtook the driver in front and there is no room inside, you have to go outside. What you cannot do, is go cut the corner and leave the track (or senselessly take the other driver out). Simply as that. The rule applies also to Max.

      1. There was room.. Kimi let the door wide open. Kimi’s sudden movement when he realized his mistake caused the off track excursion. In hindsight: If Max continued without his reaction/movement he would have succeeded without leaving the track.

        1. Kimi took the racing line which means you leave little room on the first apex to make the second apex faster. Look at vettel’s line here and compare to kimi:

          I mean come on…

        2. Kimi was taking the normal racing line, which means going wide at the first apex – which Max incorrectly took as “leaving the door wide open” – and hitting the second apex, as you do on a normal racing lap.

    3. If you think you’ll crash unless you cut the corner during an overtake then you should either back off or cut the corner and give the position back, Verstappen did neither, his penalty was deserved.

      As of the leniency towards Vettel, it’s been a precedent for as long as i can remember now to leave the championship in the hands of the drivers competing for it, rather than take it from one of them through some sort of penalty that could cause even more controversy than usual, it’s not the best thing in the world, but it’s there.

      1. @xenif1

        it’s been a precedent for as long as i can remember now to leave the championship in the hands of the drivers competing for it, rather than take it from one of them through some sort of penalty that could cause even more controversy than usual

        Well, since 2008 maybe…

        1. Sounds like you are specifically referring to one incident from 2008. May I ask which one?

          1. I am assuming Belgium 2008, between Raikkonen and Hamilton which resulted in Hamilton being disqualified after winning on the road and Massa inheriting that win.

        2. Yeah you make a good point, although in all fairness i don’t know much about how the championship contenders were treated by stewards in the years prior to that as well

    4. “If he hadn’t had gone 4 wheels off he’d had been into Kimi and taken both of them out. We don’t want to see drivers senselessly taking each other out.”

      But that accident would have been 100% max’s fault. Had that accident happened it would have been max driving into kimi. Max did not go off track to avoid an accident. He cut the track to make a pass. There is clear difference. Had the accident happened it would have been 100% max’s fault. Max just was not in position to pass. He had three options. To crash into kimi. To hold his position. Or to cut the track

      1. See above.

    5. Saying if he hadn’t cut the track limits he would’ve crashed seems like a false dilemma. It’s not one the other, he simply shouldn’t have tried a move where he couldn’t have successfully passed.

    6. Michael Brown (@)
      9th January 2018, 21:49

      @9chris9 I disagree. Just because Verstappen had to go off the track to avoid a collision doesn’t mean he can use that as an excuse to then overtake Raikkonen. Unless, of course, Raikkonen had spun or was going very slow, which he was not.

    7. Even Max himself has said it was right to have penalised him. Got to let this one go…

    8. Isn’t the ‘real’ issue not ‘inconsistency’ perceived or otherwise but the resultant effect of those penalties. Therefore isn’t the penalty not the stewards application of the penalty the ‘core’ issue.

    9. If there was a wall on the inside instead of acres of runoff, he would no doubt have had to pull out way earlier. Forcing another driver wider because of an optimistic inside dive doesn’t grant you all the rights to the ideal line.

  2. It may take a blatant example of track-cutting to prompt the stewards into handing down a more serious penalty to ensure drivers can’t benefit from cutting the track.

    Maybe it should prompt the stewards into re-thinking how track limits are designed. A physical barrier (in the form of gravel, grass, whatever works best) would be more efficient at imposing track limits.

    It would also prevent situations like Texas, where drivers have to be rushed out of the podium. They didn’t even got a new water bottle for Kimi

    1. physical impediments would be best.

      The only proper penalty a steward can give would be ‘give position back’, but they tend to be too slow.

      1. give position back

        is not a official penalty. You get the penalty for not behaving as expected.

        1. Michael Brown (@)
          9th January 2018, 21:50

          I recall the stewards ordering drivers to give back positions during races in 2013.

    2. I think it should be a strip of grass followed by asphalt. That way, the grass stops people cutting the track as it’ll be slower with the grass, but also keeps the asphalt on the other side for safety or whatever reason it’s there for now. This would lower grip when coming back onto the asphalt, but not by too much as it’s just a strip. It would be my solution to the track limits issue.

    3. @johnmilk

      They didn’t even got a new water bottle for Kimi

      I doubt Kimi really cared though :p

      1. @davidnotcoulthard he always thinks ahead, champagne on the podium!

  3. I think the stewards should apply the penalties in such way, that every incident is treated in it’s own circumstance. It’s like in a football match. A good referee feels the game, and adapts his way of penalizing.

    By doing that Palmer and Hulkenberg wouldn’t have gotten away with cutting the corner, and gaining a position..

  4. The penalties regarding off-track overtaking moves have been consistent, but still, though, in certain occasions, a better way to handle that type of incident would be to just order the driver ahead to concede the position back to the driver he overtook in an unfair manner, to avoid what happened, for example, with the Hulkenberg-Perez incident in the last race, which was that Hulk managed to stay ahead of him until the end even with the penalty as he had managed to build up a gap big enough to be able to return to the track from the pit lane ahead of Perez.

  5. The fact that there were a few other situations where the same penalty was applied doesn’t take away from the fact that there were also plenty of cases where no penalty was applied even though the overtake happened with all wheels off track.

    Technically they didn’t get the same penalty since Verstappen did lose the place while others were able to keep their “illegally” gained position.

    The offense wasn’t nearly the same either. In all other cases the driver pretty much straightlined a chicane. You cannot seriously claim that that is the same level of infraction as going 5cm over the inside of the line.

    Pretty much everybody everywhere agreed that Verstappen shouldn’t really have gone off track, but that especially during this race the stewards allowed cars to go off track consistently on other places without any penalty at all. So why allow that and not what Verstappen did?

    The shocking answer from Whiting that taking a wider line would not gain the drivers anything just further showed he has no clue about racing at all. Is he seriously implying that drivers consistently take a wider line (ramming over kerbs) when it doesn’t give them an advantage? It’s just shocking really. I had Whiting in high regards, but the driver briefings being aired on Youtube demonstrated what a shambles it really is with Whiting running that part of the show.

    Also, Verstappen won an FIA “overtake of the year” award (or something like that) for an overtake where he went fully off track at Spa. So not only was this overtake allowed by the stewards, he even got an award for it because it was such an exceptional overtake. This overtake at COTA was even more exceptional since cutting that corner wasn’t the quickest route at all, but he cleverly used the extra space to widen the racing line so he could get his car alongside. Verstappen overreacted a little when Raikkonen turned in. Had he not done that he would have even stayed on track and still made the move stick. So it was not the 5 cm he went too much to the right that gave him the place anyway.

    Plus it happened against a competitive car on the last lap for the podium. As opposed to overtaking a midfield driver who was on worn out tyres and heading into the pits anyway.

    Do I agree that Verstappen should have gotten a penalty? If you want to be a stickler then I guess so, but then the stewards should be just as strict on all other occasions of off track driving. Especially when lead cars cut the chicane to make sure they don’t get overtaken. That should also cost 5 seconds then.

    Do I feel the stewards penalized the offenses consistently. Not even close. Many similar cases were not penalized at all and Verstappen was penalized more heavily for a much smaller offence than the others.

    1. @patrickl Technically his move on Nasr wasn’t an off-track overtaking move, though. Yes, he went off the track briefly at Blanchimont but stayed behind him until the last chicane.
      ”during this race the stewards allowed cars to go off track consistently on other places without any penalty at all. So why allow that and not what Verstappen did?” – That’s because the other drivers technically didn’t’ overtake anyone while being off the track entirely. The only other driver (Bottas) who did so, conceded the position back straightaway to avoid giving the Stewards even the slightest of reason to even think of penalizing him. Furthermore, the corners where all the drivers regularly left the track briefly with all four wheels throughout the weekend were regarded as ones where a lasting advantage can’t really be gained by doing so.

      1. Drivers did defend by going over the track limits. It’s really bad when the defending driver can just break the rules, but the attacking driver has to obey them. Overtaking is hard enough as it is, due to dirty air, without the defender getting help from the stewards as well.

      2. @jerejj No he didn’t. He overtook on the first corner where they actually need to brake (going into the first part of busstop).

        The argument that they didn’t overtake people on the outside is not the point. The argument was that they don’t gain an advantage taking a wider line. Again, you have got to be kidding me that they do this consistently (pretty much every lap again!) when they don’t gain an advantage.

    2. I agree, verstappen gained much less, likely half a sec or 1 sec with going off track, others gained more than the 5 sec penalty they had, like palmer and hulkenberg.

  6. General rule for creating rules and penalties: Any penalty must be harsh enough that deliberately taking it can not lead to an advantage.

  7. 5sec Penalties for cutting corners is a joke, drivers in faster cars can simply open up the gap and drive off to score points. Hulkenberg cheated his way for Renault to overtake Haas in constructors at last race. Drive through penalty is a must for cutting corners and its a good deterrent for drivers as well.

    1. @C Renault was already ahead of Haas in the Constructors’ Championship before the last race, so it didn’t make any difference to that.

      1. You are right, it was Toro Rosso that was leapfrogged by Hulk cutting corner at last race. Still doesnt take from the fact that 5sec penalty for cutting corners is quite a useless deterrent for drivers. In many cases reward is just too high and many drivers will happily cut corners and take that 5 sec penalty which they wouldnt have if the penalty was drive through.

        1. @C It didn’t make any difference to the Toro Rosso battle for 6th in the Constructors’ either as Renault would’ve overhauled them with a 7th place for Hulkenberg as well as it was the lowest Renault needed to overhaul Toro Rosso (his most likely finishing-position without the off-track pass on Perez).

    2. every-time I read the word “joke” mentally I do it with Alonso’s accent “a yoke, 5 seconds is a yoke”


      1. @johnmilk hahah yeah me too

  8. A flat-out “give back the position” approach whould be the most relatable in my humble opinion.
    The 5 seconds rule basically means that you should just do whatever is possible (as opposed to “legally possible”) if you have the possibility to develop a 5 sec gap…
    So basically an advantage for mercedes, ferrari, red bull… in that order.

  9. Compare Verstappen’s overtake on Raikkonen with long jump in athletics. Great jump, close to the world record but unfortunately the toes touched the takeoff board. Praise and applause for the athlete but the attempt is invalid.

  10. I think, ideally, a driver that overtakes through cutting a corner should be ordered to hand the position back as soon as possible. If that is not possible immediately (The Verstappen-Raikkonen case) then a 5 second penalty should negate the overtake. The stewards should consider the fact that not every corner cut is the same and some will give you a greater advantage than some others, so they should adjust penalties accordingly imo.

  11. The problem I have with the rulings (and this article) is that corner cutting is taking too literally as finding a shorter line.

    In many many more instances drivers found a faster way through corners by lengthening it (wider arc). In some occasions they did (set up to) overtake another driver, or they simply used it to manage the gap to the car in front or behind.
    This is as ‘wrong’ the five incidents mentioned in this article, but AFAIK was never penalised.

    1. Michael Brown (@)
      9th January 2018, 22:07

      Well, the penalty is titled “leaving the track and gaining an advantage.” The issue is that through its application and Whiting’s view shows that it only applies to a corner cut.
      What about going wide because it’s faster?
      How about overtaking a car, but then going off the track? Could that overtake have been completed without leaving the track?
      How about drivers maintaining their lead by cutting corners? (Rosberg in Canada, 2014)

  12. The weak penalty for cutting corner to overtake is one thing, another is no penalty whatsoever for cutting corners to avoid being overtaken, a clear cheat.

  13. What disturbs me deeply is the lack of applying either the ‘and gaining an advantage’ clause or the exception for avoiding a dangerous situation.
    If you leave the track because your opponent forces you off, that should be allowed too; after all, you would make contact by staying on the track.

    In the case of Palmer vs Alonso, he was forced of and he did hold back a bit; but the superior Renault engine power made the overtake stick.
    As he did not leave the track by his own choice nor had a positional nor speed advantage from cutting the corner, I feel the penalty was unreasonable.

    Hülkenberg did not even try to make the chicane. Perez may have squeezed him tight, but even if not Nico would not have had a chance to make the overtake stick properly; he went in too fast. So the penalty seems lenient there (but Nico might have been able to pass Sergio later on anyway – he was faster after all.)

    The problem with Verstappens overtake is that the ‘corner’ there isn’t really a corner, not with todays cars anyway; it is a bent straight as they do not even lift. That also makes it possible to change the line inwards, as there is more grip than the lateral force requires; as Kimi did, to which Max reacted. Kimi held back, Max went inward anyway, went over the kerb, lost a fraction of speed. Before the corner Max had more speed than Kimi, after the corner Kimi was faster. So even if Max had gained an inch by clipping it at over 200 km/h, he lost several meters afterwards by being slowed down.
    He did not have an advantage, and his evasive action was to avoid Kimi. It was not necessary after all, but that was impossible to judge at that very split second.

    Then we have Charlie Whiting explaining that cutting a corner on the inside makes for a shorter route, so the driver gets an advantage, while swooping past the line on the exit makes a longer route and is not advantageous.
    Pardon me, but that shows a fundamental shortcoming of understanding racing lines unworthy of a race director.
    When a driver takes too much speed into a corner to properly make it but steps on the gas and accelerates away outside of the track he clearly does gain an advantage. Sure, the route is a few inches longer, but by maintaining a greater speed than would be possible otherwise that is more than compensated for. We saw a whole bunch of drivers do just that in Austin and it was all fine.
    It is a bloody shame.

  14. Michael Brown (@)
    9th January 2018, 22:02

    Perhaps Lewis Hamilton could have won the last race by cutting a corner to overtake his team mate, then pulling five seconds ahead? It may take a blatant example of track-cutting to prompt the stewards into handing down a more serious penalty to ensure drivers can’t benefit from cutting the track.

    I’m so glad you wrote this. It’s true that the penalty for overtaking off of the track is consistently penalized with the same penalty, which is good. That penalty is too weak.
    Back in 2010, overtaking like that was worth a drive-through penalty. Imagine if the 5-second penalty was in effect in the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Alonso could just cut a corner to pass Petrov and win the championship, as long as he built up a 5 second gap.
    I think it goes without saying that if it is the case that it is more advantageous to break a rule and take a penalty, then something about rule enforcement and/or penalties need to change.

    1. In 2010 the penalty was more something like “give the place back or take a drive through penalty”.

      It got very confusing when Alonso overtook Kubica at Silverstone, but got shoved off. They found Alonso went off track to gain the position while Alonso maintained he was shoved off. By the time the stewards decided on the incident, Kubica’s car had failed and Alonso couldn’t give the position back. So he had to take the drive-through instead and lost a massive amount of points that race. In effect that whole shambles attributed a lot to Alonso not winning the title that year.

  15. Lewisham Milton
    10th January 2018, 0:48

    If a driver cuts a corner, then his lap shouldn’t count.
    Tough, but they won’t do it again.

    For 2018, can each driver’s team radio button be connected to a smoke generator in the cockpit? It would add some drama and useful visual feedback, and maybe stop everyone taking themselves so seriously…

  16. The rule should be if driver A overtakes driver B by cutting a corner ,driver A should give back his position to driver B within the next lap completes , for that the stewards should act quickly , no need of this bs 5 sec penalty and one point in driver license, rules should be simple and effective.

  17. If a driver takes a place unfairly and doesn’t give it back, just take a place off him at the end of the race. If he does it twice disqualify him. If a driver defends unfairly take a place off of him at the end of the race. If he does it twice disqualify him. If a driver complains over the radio about another driver or the team does it on their behalf and they are not correct, take a place off the complaining driver at the end of the race. If they do it twice disqualify them. An equal punishment for all. Should keep the drivers egos in check as there’s nothing they can do apart from stop whining, drive fairly, give a place back if they have an idea they have driven unfairly. It would actually benefit all parties to be honest with themselves.

  18. A big reason for the COTA uproar is that Max fans are the evangelical Christians of the motorsport world. They only just started paying serious attention to a thing (F1/religion), but they also consider themselves the leading proponents of their newfound hobby, and unrivaled subject matter experts.

    I have nothing personal against the kid (possibly the overall fastest driver in the world), but I actively root against car 33 just because of his fans.

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