No easy alternatives to unpopular grid penalties – Todt

2018 F1 season

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FIA president Jean Todt says there is no simple alternative to F1’s unpopular grid penalties for power unit changes.

The rule giving drivers grid penalties for using too many power unit components was originally introduced to reduce costs, Todt pointed out.

“[In the past] you could change one engine from Friday, you could change the engine for the Saturday, then you have a qualifying engine, and you could do that 20 times,” said Todt at a media briefing in Abu Dhabi.

“It was decided for cost reasons to limit the number of engines. It was also to make access to engine supply to private teams at a lower cost.”

“So, what happens if you change the engine? Something has to happen. I would say it has been a consensus by everybody that it should be through a grid penalty, so that’s what it is.”

Changing the current arrangement would create new problems, Todt said.

“I don’t feel that it’s easy to find the real solution. If you don’t do anything, then what happens? It will be more expensive to buy the engines.”

“Even for the FIA to decide that you don’t have any limited amount of engines, it doesn’t make any problem, but it will make a problem for the competitors, so you have to translate that with grid penalties.”

Todt said the need to drive down costs was also behind the reduction from four power units per season to three this year.

“The idea [is] that it will be cheaper for the private teams, because the private teams don’t pay four engines, they pay three engines.”

“That was a consideration, because if you remember, [2018] will be the drop – since the implementation of the agreement, each year is a drop on the cost of the engine. To achieve that, the engine suppliers said ‘we are prepared to reduce the cost of the engine to the teams, but we need to decrease the number of engines we will supply to them, from four to three’.”

“We have the tendency to forget the origin of a decision. It’s what I was mentioning about [grid] penalties. Of course, we would prefer not to have any penalties, but there is a cost if you don’t have anymore penalties. The reason why we went on three engines was to allow to bill cheaper the engine to the private team, which for me was absolutely essential.”

Last week a proposal to raise the limit to four power units in 2019 was not agreed by teams. Fining manufacturers for using extra engines instead of issuing grid penalties would lead to accusations the FIA was taxing competitors, said Todt.

“It will be encouraging the wealthy teams,” he said. “Does Mercedes care to get [a fine of] 200,000 or 500,000?”

“Then what will people say? [That] the FIA wants to try to find any way to find more money.”

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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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41 comments on “No easy alternatives to unpopular grid penalties – Todt”

  1. Perhaps naive, but here we go: teams could be allowed to change any part of the engine if and only if they have previously failed. This way, the penalty is the failure itself, the driver is not penalized further and components would only be switched when they stopped working.

    1. Those smart guys can surely develop a ‘this PU will self-destruct in 5, 4, 3, …’- button ;)

      1. Those smart guys can’t developed PUs that DON’T self-destruct :\

      2. That’s ludicrous.

        1. Hence the ;) at the end.

    2. It already works like that for gearboxes, if I’m not mistaken. Or somewhat like that.

      1. I am not sure thtat’s the case. The rules say: “Each driver may use no more than one gearbox for six consecutive events. Every unscheduled gearbox change will require the driver to drop five places on the grid at that meeting.” (from ). So if your gearbox fails after 1 race, tough luck, here comes a grid penalty.

        1. You missed the last, important paragraph on that page, @gsagostinho:

          If a driver fails to finish a race due to reasons beyond his or his team’s control, he may start the next meeting with a different gearbox without incurring a penalty.

          So in case a gearbox failes, you can use a new one during the next “meeting”.
          I don’t know what exactly a “meeting” is, but I guess a FP-session, a qualification or a race.

          1. @deMercer you are completely right, I totally missed that. Gosh, the wording in that page is terrible. So by ‘every unscheduled gearbox’ they mean ‘every unscheduled gearbox except when the failure happens in a race.’ So @Paat is correct and what I wrote about engines would be basically to treat them in the same way as gearbox changes.

          2. @gsagostinho I think – but am not sure – that even in case of a failure during a race unrelated to the gearbox, a unscheduled change of gearbox is allowed. That explains to me why the page is written in the way it is. And if I am correct, that page is just a basic summary ;-)

          3. Yes, even if the failure is somewhere else, Whiting lets the teams change the gearbox. This happens sometimes when teams are nursing a problem with the car the whole race and then retire a couple of laps from the checkered flag, so they can run a new gearbox the next grand prix.

            I still don’t understand why Brundle is so grave when he says “that must have damaged the gearbox” when someone crashes out. It made sense when Stroll crashed against Vettel after the race had ended, because then the rule probably wouldn’t apply.

          4. @nathanbuilder Brundle might just really like gearboxes ;-)

  2. Todt talks a lot of sense here if I’m honest

    Is there a solution to this? Maybe, nut surely it won’t be as simple as grid penalties. Of course we don’t like it, but what is left to do?

    Points penalties for the championship? How good is that if fans don’t actually see the end result on track?
    It is a complicated matter.

    Maybe they should be allowed to run at least one more engine per season, but the decision to reduce the number of engines has been know for while now, it is up to the manufacturers to prepare for it.

    1. @johnmilk

      Todt talks a lot of sense here if I’m honest

      My thoughts exactly. So far, no one has come up with a better idea, one that wouldn’t result in a complete farce if taken to logical extremes (this is F1 after all, so we shouldn’t expect anything short of that). The championship points system, I’m afraid, is no exception to that. If CWC points were the price for an additional engine, they would turn into a mere currency for engine parts.

  3. OK/Okay I’ll give you a simple and fair solution:
    – excess PU changes only incur a financial penalty (which will be paid back evenly to all teams at the end of the season).
    e.g. €10k per component per change.

    Let the rich teams change their PU every race, and fund the smaller teams.

    1. Have been thinking the same a while back. Fine the team, the money gets in a pot and you distribute it back to the team at the end of the season.
      I guess you should keep the penalties but reduces the number, like one place (or two) per component change.

      This way big teams will avoid changing too often as grid position is very valuable for them and smaller team will have the money incentive to limit the number of changes. Penalties would also get reasonable and applicable…

  4. So – how about instead of grid penalties, we give them ballast for the race, everyone starts where they are meant to that way so us poor F1 fans don’t get confused, but there is a race long penalty rather than a startline penalty to be dealt with.

    I know – I’ll get my coat!

    1. All motorsport category needs victory ballast. But your ballast idea for PU changes is even worse than the grid penalties, I feel. How’s that any less confusing and infuriating?

      1. I respectfully disagree with your statement that “All Motorsport category needs victory ballast.” Punishing a team for winning is simply for the lower forms of Motorsport that like to manufacture close racing.

        I think Failure ballast (see what I did there) would be just as infuriating as grid penalties, but it is an alternative which would punish a team for the whole race (instead of the first few laps) . Hopefully this could reduce the instances of stockpiling Power Units – think how slow a car could be if they decided to try 3 complete engines in a weekend – would any team want to look that un-competitive for the race?

  5. I don’t mind the grid penalties at all, the problem was the introduction of a hopelessly complicated drivetrain. But Mercedes show you can get it right; I don’t think the other engine manufacturers should get off lightly for not doing their job well enough.

    1. petebaldwin (@)
      23rd January 2018, 12:34


      Sure but the drivers and teams get punished, not the manufacturers.

  6. I’m not the biggest fan of grid penalties but when you take Honda out of the equation it wouldn’t be that silly of a situation, what concerned me more was when they reopened inseason development to the manufacturers as that enables them to keep further clear of customer teams which doesn’t help the racing.

    If I were to think about replacing grid penalties I agree with Todt in that it’s a difficult situation so I’d have it impact other areas of the car. One thing I’ve always thought would help reduce costs and increase competitiveness is to limit the number of specs of certain aero parts, for instance teams could only race 6 front wing specs, 4 rear wing specs etc. Ensure that teams have enough specs for the extreme circuits and a couple of upgrades etc.

    If you were to have that sort of system in place and then said for every additional engine/component you use you lose an aero spec I think the teams would have some interesting compromises to make. Do you look after your engine and hope to keep all your specs or accept the risk and run higher engine modes, if you have poor reliability do you lose your Monza rear wing and have one poor race or do you accept no new front wing for the late season flyaways etc. I think I’d rather see a driver with an old spec rear wing lose 2 tenths a lap compared to his teammate than see them shunted to the back of the grid with a 63 place grid penalty.

  7. Rewind back to 2013. The rule was “One extra engine fetches you a 10 place penalty“. So a driver basically got an entire brand new unit with full power by going back 10 places.

    Now, between 2013 to 2014, this simple NA engine is replaced by the complicated behemoth called “Power unit”. If the rules were to remain the same, then the rule should be “One extra power unit fetches you a 10 place penalty“. However, the cost of getting a brand new power unit is now almost 60 places and after that 30 places for the 2nd new power unit.

    So, we have found the root cause. The rules should have been tweaked to account for the new engine formula but weren’t. We just added more penalty clauses for the new parts of the “Power unit” and did not modify the base penalty for the ICE. But we can obviously change the penalty values now:

    The power unit consists of 6 different elements – IC engine, turbocharger, MGU-H, MGU-K, ES, control electronics unit. Get an engineer to estimate the relative importance of those 6 units and divide the 10 place amongst these 6. For e.g.: IC engine – 2, turbocharger – 2, MGU-H – 2, control electronics – 1, ES – 1, MGU-K – 2.

    This way, the driver will once again get a brand new power unit with full power by going back 10 places. Same situation as before which everyone felt was fair.

    1. This is the most sensible suggestion I have heard on this topic in a long time. Gets my vote!

    2. The problem with that is that the increased ‘cost’ is not a design error, but thoroughly thought through. The PUs are so much more expensive than the ‘frozen’ V8 engines that lenient penalties for component changes would enable the wealthier teams to buy additional performance for a high monetary, but low sporting cost. This would put the less wealthy teams at a disadvantage because:
      a) the wealthier teams are still easily able to beat them even in races where they took an additional PU
      b) the less wealthy teams simply cannot afford taking on new engine components, as the main obstacle for them is not the sporting penalty, but the cost aspect. Consequently, they would be doomed to complete the season with much less power than the teams that can simply afford to turn their PUs up to 11 and replace them every 3 or 4 races.

      The penalty for PU changes needs to be as severe as it is.

      1. I don’t think customer teams pay on a per engine basis. It is a lumpsum contract decided at the start of the year. The supplier has to supply as many engines as required.

        If it was a per engine basis, will a customer pay extra because a engine blew during a practice/race session? How do you allocate blame between the supplier/user then? User will demand extra engine for free while supplier would say you did not cool my engine enough.

        1. I’m pretty sure most customer teams have to pay every single engine. In a lump sum scenario, nothing would’ve stopped Sauber from running their engines on the highest settings in the desperate hope of scoring a few points more. They definitely had no reason to fear grid penalties, yet they were one of the very few teams who used exactly 4 of each PU component. The same applies to Haas, Force India, and Williams (who explicitly stated that Stroll was disadvantaged in the last couple of races, as he had to use a very old engine) – all customer teams.
          Ferrari and Mercedes used a fifth set of components for one driver each (Hamilton and Vettel), because they absolutely had to in Vettel’s case, or because the penalty was irrelevant in Hamilton’s case. Their number 2 drivers didn’t more components, as the penalty was deemed too severe.
          Renault, being the other works team, used more, as did their customers Red Bull and Toro Rosso, because they absolutely had to.
          McLaren, having used ridiculous amounts of PU components, is different case, as their partnership with Honda meant Honda were paying them, not the other way around.

  8. I think that it would be fairer to cost the team constructors points rather than penalise the drivers. So for example rather than a 10 place grid penalty for the driver (who may have nothing to do with the fact his engine failed last race or indeed in first practice when someone else was driving the car) the team loose 10 world championship points. It is bad enough that the driver may not finish the last race (particularly if the failure occurs when he is near to finishing in first place) but then to also be penalised in the next seems very harsh.

    As another suggestion perhaps there should be an engine championship in addition to the constructors and drivers. Then you could penalise the engine manufactures points rather than the teams providing that the engine failure was not as the result of a crash.

    Just some thoughts as I do not like the current system but it is not possible to return to no penalty for using more engines.

    1. The issue with constructors penalties is that it would hit some teams worse than others.

      For example last year Red Bull were far enough behind Mercedes/Ferrari & far enough ahead of Force India that they could have easily taken a few points penalty’s before it had any impact on them. However for teams like Force India, Williams, STR etc… any points penalty would have been devastating & dropped them down the standings which given how prize money is based on constructors standings would have also cost them money.

      Also consider that customer teams are paying for there engine supply so penalizing them with points or financial penalty’s when something fails is no fairer on them than many believe the grid penalty’s penalizing drivers is.

  9. I really don’t see the issue with this…

    Each teams can use any element at any time (i.e. change at will) from within their allocation… if an element fails they can then use only those elements remaining from within their allocation. If elements in excess of the allocation are required neither constructor nor driver championship points can be won. It becomes in the interest of the teams/suppliers to ensure that the elements are designed and operated within tolerances that enable those elements to be used.

  10. If the aim of these engine rules was to reduce cost, they failed miserably.

    Furthermore, reducing the engine limit for the season to 3 will increase the cost even further. The manufacturers will spend millions making the engines tougher and more durable while not losing performance. All team will be saving engines during practice, qualifying and race, but i think none of them will escape grid penalties at the end. We will see less on track action.

    If it was up to me, i would set a horsepower limit, like 1000bhp or something, and let the teams use whatever engine they want. All teams would have the same power but completely different engines. If you want all electric go ahead. Or a v12. or a combination. It would be amazing to see the variety. Imagine what new technology we dont even know about would develop as a result. And i think it could be done cheaper than the current rules, and would attract more people (fans and manufacturers).

  11. What would happen if the penalty was modified to XX% constructor points OR XX grid spots.

    Just running a couple of quick numbers (but of course proper scaling would be required) you could penalize 5% points or 10 grid spots. The percentage based point deduction would hurt the leading teams more than the teams in the back, especially towards the end of the season. For example, a team with 200 points would result in a 10 point loss while a team with 30 points would only lose 1.5, or 2 if rounding is necessary.

    Then by also allowing an alternative grid spot penalty in place of a point penalty, that would allow backmarkers to fall towards the end of the grid, probably not too far from where they qualified, but keep their points. For front runners, they would start behind their rivals which would compromise their races.

    It’s just a rough idea but could it work?

    1. I appreciate the sentiment, but after reading the first few sentences, i’m already turned off with the prospect of percentages. Plus, giving teams choices further muddies waters.

      I’m a die-hard, and even I would prefer black and white rules which are clear and concise.

      Saying that, I agree that Constructor points would actually be better. As a fan, I feel the race and/or race weekend would feel less tampered with if Constructor points were deducted, as oppose to the driver’s grid position. The Constructor’s title means an awful lot more to the Constructors than it does to the fans, generally speaking.

  12. Instead of points give the driver a time penalty to be served at the first pit stop.
    Simple 5 seconds for 5 grid place and 10 etc.

    1. asfdgsfgs

      We already had such a system, but it was perceived as ridiculous (especially by McLaren fans), and eventually dropped.
      It wasn’t exactly the same as the system you proposed: First, they applied grid penalties. Then, if the calculated starting position exceeded the number of cars on the grid, time penalties were added, proportional to the remaining grid drop the driver was unable to serve, the maximum penalty being a 10-second stop-and-go penalty to be served in the first few laps of the race.

      1. asfdgsfgs

        Please ignore that bit. It’s there for a reason, but has absolutely nothing to do with your comment.

        1. Still like the idea as it would force drivers to push like crazy to try and build up a gap. Also it wouldn’t punish the driver to the extent a 15 place grid penalty does . Interesting concept.

  13. Not an easy alternative, but I think there could be an ‘easier to understand’ alternative.

    Instead of grid penalties, change it to a qualifying time penalty. Instead of a 10-place penalty for the first new component over the allocation, give a driver a 2 second penalty on every qualifying lap they complete. Add another second for each new component taken.

    This eliminates any confusion over the order in which penalties are applied. This would also mean that at the end of the qualifying hour, the drivers would start in the order they qualified in; any drivers with heavy engine penalties would almost certainly drop out in Q1. We wouldn’t see any of those top 10 shoutouts where a number of the drivers have penalties looming over them.

    This won’t be perfectly easy to understand but as it’s unlikely anyone with penalties will get to the final part of qualifying, so at least any complications would be limited to early qualifying.

    Not a perfect solution, and it won’t really work for any penalties applied after qualifying, but would it be an improvement? I think so. It’s been done before (I think ALO and MSC suffered these penalties in Hungary ’06?), I say F1 would do well to revisit it.

    Just a thought…

  14. This may seem unpopular but I do agree with grid penalties. It is realistically the only way that teams can be punished for changing PU components. You can argue that it ruins races, which it does, but it also makes races better with a front runner coming through the pack. I get that this isn’t exactly the racing we want to see but its often better than the race out front. There isn’t another viable alternative that isn’t going to get too complex both for teams and the average fan.

    For me to improve the grid penalty situation then it should be up to the team (manufacturers) to improve the reliability. It seems simplistic but if the teams didn’t have a complex PU formula (this isn’t a cry-baby response to bring back V-8s) then they wouldn’t have to replace bits every race or so. The problem being is that with the formula in use at the moment is every component is linked to one another. So to improve reliability either separate these elements or the formula needs changing (perhaps a V6/8 with KERS that is ‘unlimited’). Teams will soon learn to improve reliability if they understand that they cannot just change the rules when they want.

  15. Just penalise the teams, ie dock points from the constructors title. Simples.

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