Lewis Hamilton, Alexander Albon, Red Bull Ring, 2020

Despite F1 drivers’ concerns, stewards don’t give penalty points for “minor infringements”

2020 F1 season

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For a few hours after the last round of the championship in Sochi, Lewis Hamilton had moved within two penalty points of collecting an automatic one-race ban.

Luckily for the Mercedes driver, after he and his team made a post-race visit to the stewards, the penalty points were dropped. He therefore goes into this weekend’s race on eight points, four away from a ban.

Before the two points were rescinded, he and his rivals expressed surprise at how quickly he had accumulated them. At the end of the 2018 season Hamilton had no points on his licence, yet now has the most of any driver on the grid.

“It’s ridiculous the points that have been given people this year in general,” said Hamilton before he was bumped back down to eight. “Penalty points usually are for – I don’t want to speak on my behalf – from a drivers’ point of view, if you put someone else in danger, you crash into somebody, of course, you should be getting penalty points.”

Sebastian Vettel echoed Hamilton’s comments. “If you really do some crazy moves on the track and dangerous driving then they’re justified,” he said. “But if you are speeding in the pit lane or minor infringements it’s probably not the point to apply penalty points.”

The view that “minor infringements” should not attract penalties is widely held – Daniel Ricciardo used the exact same wording to put across much the same view as Hamilton and Vettel.

“It’s like football, as you call it in Europe, you get a yellow card for a dangerous tackle and you get a red card for a very dangerous tackle,” said Ricciardo. “So I think normally, correct me if I’m wrong on the rules, but I think penalty point, if you are to miss a race for a few of these, let’s say, minor infringements, it’s a little extreme.”

The penalty points system was introduced in 2014 partly in response to one notorious incident: the first-lap crash triggered by Romain Grosjean at Spa in 2012. The Lotus driver was held responsible for eliminating Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi from the race and given a one-race ban. Later in the season, Grosjean caused another first-lap collision, with Mark Webber at Suzuka.

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The penalty points system followed soon afterwards. As the late Charlie Whiting, who was the F1 race director at the time, pointed out, penalty points were never intended to be penalties by themselves. “They are just there to track a driver’s record,” he said. “They’re completely separate.”

“Some people are a bit confused [but] applying points is not a penalty as such,” he added.

Romain Grosjean, Fernando Alonso, Start, 2012 Belgian Grand Prix
Grosjean’s 2012 Spa crash led to penalty points scheme
Penalty points are not always issued along with a penalty, but often are. The mildest form of sanction – the five-second time penalty Hamilton received in Sochi – has been accompanied by penalty points around two-thirds of the time.

The most minor infringements don’t tend to attract penalty points. Among the incidents for which no points were issued include minor pit lane speeding – the very example Vettel picked on – being out of position on the grid or leaving the track without gaining an advantage.

More serious infractions such as speeding under Safety Car conditions, colliding with rivals or gaining an advantage by leaving the track are the ones which generally attract penalty points. These are surely exactly the kind of offences the penalty points system was intended to reduce.

How many of the eight points Hamilton has collected were for minor infringements? He received two pairs of points for collisions – both with Alexander Albon, both of which ruined his rival’s race – two for failing to slow for yellow flags and two for entering a closed pit lane.

Out of those, only the latter could reasonably be called into question on these grounds, as it involves a little-used rule which the stewards decided to police more aggressively after it was broken by Daniel Ricciardo four years ago.

Hamilton was originally given one penalty point for each of his practice start infringements in Sochi. This was the first time anyone had committed this infraction, and the points he was given were later taken away.

But while that incident prompted concern from Hamilton and his rivals that penalty points shouldn’t be issued for “minor infringements”, from inspecting at the available data it seems that for the most part they are already getting their wish.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Keith Collantine
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31 comments on “Despite F1 drivers’ concerns, stewards don’t give penalty points for “minor infringements””

  1. Lewis shouldn’t have received penalty points for the second Albon incident but should have for his two practice starts: 8 – 2 + 1 + 1 = 8. The amount he’s got currently is pretty fair IMHO.

    1. Id agree with you about the second Albon incident, but not the practice starts. I personally think Albon shouldn’t have been sanctioned for punting Magnussen in Silverstone either but there you go.

      The time penalties and points for minor infractions of the sporting regs in formation or installation laps prior to the race sets a fairly dangerous precedent IMO. This is yet another tactic employed by the FIA to artificially affect the outcome of a race to add ‘Spice’. Last year, the full safety car periods at Interlagos were a direct intervention where they would have previously had VSC’s, along with some other minor instances at other tracks which irked. This year they have got a lot more broad in their attempts to mix things up but the language and methods they employ are easy to spot and easy to demonstrate when they cant even get their decisions the same from one race to the next, or in this specific case, Spa to Russia, Leclerc to Hamilton. If Leclerc had received a 5s penalty and a point, the precedent would have been set, but now, it is way more contentious especially as Michael Masi is writes such poorly crafted notes on where the practice start box is from one race to the next.

      All I want is consistency in decision making and equity in sanction. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if Hamilton missed a race if he deserved to, same with Grosjean, especially after all those moves under braking! Points in 2020 – 0. What’s worse, a point for doing a practice start out of position with the possibility of ‘gaining an advantage’ or swerving all over the place under braking whilst being overtaken necessitating other drivers to take avoiding action?

      1. Exactly @marvinthemartian, they ignore all kinds of late blocks which really are dangerous and penalise to spice up the show. In Monza a car stopped alongside the pitlane entry – what was the worst possible thing they could do?

        That’s right, throw a safety car so everyone instantly thinks about storming into the pits!!

        But it’s become policy and routine to throw a safety car on any pretext, even when a VSC would do perfectly well, or a yellow. And how they expected a car that was already entering Parabolica to notice an extra X on a sign on the outside of the bend… it was irresponsible. Then they covered themselves by blaming the drivers, just as they did in Mugello when that spicing up went a bit farther than they had in mind.

        1. I think the FIA should be penalised for race fixing.

  2. Its not the first time

    anyone had committed this infraction

    Dieter, Charles Leclerc did so in Spa and no one seems to know if it happened at any other time as no one cared up until Russia. The differences are as per your own article insofar that Lewis could have argued that his starts were in line with the extremely ambiguous race directors notes about being after the pit exit lights and on the right hand side, and Charles’ actions were contrary to some very specific race directors notes on the location of the practice start box. That point is moot.

    It is the first time anyone has been so sanctioned for it but that’s what you get for a discontinuity of stewardship from race to race. Some people are on it, some aren’t. They weren’t on the ball in Spa, the other ‘they’ stomped on the ball and took it home in Russia.

    1. It is the first time anyone has been so sanctioned for it

      There is always a first for everything. That does not make the rule bad!

      1. Indeed.

        They just haven’t done it across the board. If they were the same people from race to race, they’d be a lot more consistent and be looking for the same things.

        Id prefer it if they didn’t do practice starts. They do enough of them in practice pit stops

      2. No, but the Ferrari being immune from the same penalty that Hamilton received, should raise eyebrows at the very least.

        Since Masi has taken over, Ferrari has been given every consideration– and Mercedes has been given none, including the fiasco that apparently the stewards handed down two penalty points without being aware that the team had OK’d Hamilton’s practice starts.

        For that matter, the pitlane exit at Sochi means that Hamilton technically complied with the director’s notes, and made his start in one of the exactly two locations it was safe to do so– whereas at Spa, LaClerc did a practice start in a space explicitly defined by the director’s notes as not suitable for practice starts– a fact which came to the steward’s attention when he was investigated for completing his out lap too slowly. He wasn’t penalized for either infraction.

    2. That was only a couple of meters or so which happens more often as the designated spot takes on more rubber. Hardly comparable to the distance Lewis took to make his practice start, which Mercedes already expected to get a penalty when they saw where Hamilton made his practice start.

  3. Every penalty untill this date is deserved. So no problem there.
    Its a bit strange to state:

    “They are just there to track a driver’s record,”

    so a track record is something you keep and build on..
    but then the oposite

    “They’re completely separate.”

    so, obvious not!
    You collect pen points ans when reached a certain level you are out for one race.. good system.
    Most of the times Hamilton is one of the “neat drivers” out there. But when put under pressure he too makes mistakes and collects PenPoints..

  4. “But if you are speeding in the pit lane or minor infringements it’s probably not the point to apply penalty points.”

    So I guess he feels that speeding in a confined area, with dozens of people working around other moving vehicles isn’t dangerous. Probably a bit easier to feel that way while strapped into one of those vehicles. Something tells me that the folks working in pit lane might feel a bit differently. C’mon Seb.

    1. I think that statement would depend on the manner of the driver ‘speeding in the pit Lane’. Most pit Lane speeding infringements nowadays are a result of the driver failing to brake sufficiently before the pit Lane entry line, after which they reduce their speed once they are in the pit Lane proper where all the personnel are. So in that case, no one is put at risk even if the driver technically broke the regulations and should correctly be penalised in terms of a time penalty. However if a driver was driving too fast throughout the pit Lane for any reason then I’m sure the penalty point situation would be different.

  5. I disagree with the conclusion of the article. I think many of the penalty points issued at the moment are for what many (including many drivers) consider minor infractions.

    As for

    These are surely exactly the kind of offences the penalty points system was intended to reduce.

    I also disagree. I think these offences are already discouraged by the fact that you get a regular penalty for it, like adding five seconds to a pit stop. I feel the penalty points – which can only culminate in a race ban – should be reserved for dangerous or erratic driving.

    Looking at Hamilton’s points, in my opinion the only ones that were deserved are from the first collision with Albon. That was a clumsy, unnecessary move. The second collision was too much a racing incident to warrant penalty points (or even a penalty for that matter – also Albon was involved in exactly the same incident one week later with Perez!). All of Hamilton’s other offences were penalized enough by the penalties handed out in the races themselves.

    1. @adrianmorse It is dangerous to speed under yellow flags. It is dangerous to enter a closed pit lane, especially when it has been closed specifically to protect marshals. It is also dangerous to punt a driver off the track because you were too late in trying to squeeze him out wide. So if ‘dangerous or erratic driving’ is your standard for awarding penalty points, then Hamilton deserves all of his.

    2. Tommytintop (@)
      7th October 2020, 22:23

      The stewards should either issue time penalties during the race or give points on licences. you shouldn’t get both for the same incident.

  6. What defines “minor”?
    Who decides that ?

    1. The stewards

  7. The rules didn’t say he couldn’t do a practice start where he did, so Lewis didn’t break the rules!
    The rule 19.1 from The Race Directors Notes for Practice Starts at Sochi stated: “Practice starts may only be carried out on the right-hand side after the pit exit lights and, for the avoidance of doubt, this includes any time the pit exit is open for the race. Drivers must leave adequate room on their left for another driver to pass. ”
    Being an amateur, I just can’t see anything in that rule that justified Lewis’s race being ruined or Mercedes being fined.

  8. HAM’s points were only rescinded because the team told him he could practice starts at that location and not because the stewards thought it was a minor infraction. So this article is bunk at the stewards do penalize points for minor infractions as HAM’s actions did not put anyone in danger even though they could of. This also happens during the race where a move that pushes a driver off the course isn’t penalized but the same exact move is penalized when it causes a crash. Somehow the stewards want to give HAM points even though his action didn’t put anyone in danger. I can see points if someone was affected. HAM was given 5 second penalties for each infraction which was enough punishment for an act that did not cause a problem.

  9. @keithcollantine

    Hamilton was originally given one penalty point for each of his practice start infringements in Sochi. This was the first time anyone had committed this infraction

    Apart from Leclerc at Spa a few races earlier? And probably countless other times where nobody cared.

    I guess you mean the first time someone actually got a penalty for it?

    Indeed Leclerc wasn’t penalized for it. In fact he was a acquitted of a “slow lap penalty” because he started out of the highly specifically described (with photo) practice start box and did the start before doing his lap.

  10. I would like the stewards to revisit the “racing incident” rules– my understanding is that you only apply a penalty for a collision if one driver was primarily to blame. In that case, the Brazil collision with Albon/Hamilton would be a penalty for Hamilton– by his own admission, he did the wrong thing.

    But Austria, Hamilton stayed on his line from corner entry to exit, and Albon was trying an ambitious outside pass. Hamilton would have had to leave the racing line to avoid a collision. While it’s true that on the exit, Albon had the advantage, on the entrance (which, remember, this is a fairly long “corner”) Hamilton was ahead.

    Personally, I would have called it a racing incident– but Hamilton was on his line, and Albon was attempting the overtake, so there’s an argument to be made that Albon ruined his own race.

    1. This is how I saw Austria too @grat. Alex was well behind at the point Lewis was choosing his entry speed, and after that Lewis couldn’t tighten his line even though he was obviously trying. Alex had space on his left, even if it wasn’t the fastest. Plus it was the first lap after the SC.

    2. And in another case of one rule for LEC, one rule for HAM, Leclerc had an identical collision with Stroll in Sochi and not a sausage. Penalise it or don’t, just be consistent, is that too much to ask?

  11. Ricciardo’s ran a little wide when being let past by his team-mate, and didn’t take the silly run-off chicane. He got a five-second penalty, fair enough… but he also got a penalty point for it. Surely that’s a painfully minor infringement.

    1. Tommytintop (@)
      7th October 2020, 22:30

      As I said earlier in the post. You should not be punished twice for the same incident.

  12. Fundamentally the stewarding and race direction since Masi inherited the job has been below par, with consistently inconsistent and highly-questionable decision-making. Not to get too rose-tinted but it feels like the progress made towards the end of Charlie’s tenure has been wiped away. Yes there were missteps but certainly my impression was that both the stewarding and race direction decision-making was on an upward trend. Since his passing though, it’s been a case of inconsequential black and white flags and arbitrary penalties, exacerbated by poor communication from those making the decisions and their extremely defensive responses towards criticism. When arguably the biggest talking points from the last two GPs are related to the officiating, then surely something is amiss?

    1. Masi is the race director, not a steward, so he doesn’t dish out the penalties. Consistency of penalties across races or across seasons isn’t his area of responsibility. From what I know he can refer incidents to the stewards, but the adjudication of the incident is up to them.

      That said, I think the sentiment in your point is right. What Charlie did particularly well was to work with the drivers, get them to understand what was acceptable or unacceptable, and to set some standards that weren’t explicitly covered in the rule book. When the standards were called into question he would have a dialogue with drivers and come to an understanding with them.

    2. 100% Correct.
      Either Massi isn’t up to the job?
      Or current owners are deliberately upping the hoopla?
      USA influence is not suited to F1.
      USA premier motorsports are all a circus “show”.
      The breathless commenators hyping anything & everything up.
      F1 isn’t & never has been any sort of circus show.

    3. Add to that the point that the driver at risk of being banned is arguably the cleanest racer on the grid it really calls into question if the system is working. There are several drivers on the grid that have multiple accidents with other drivers but not received points. That being said they may as well leave it in place until Verstappen is banned in the future then we will see a uproar about it.

  13. Nothing is what it seems. FIA are being duplicitous.
    “Before the two points were rescinded, he and his rivals expressed surprise at how quickly he had accumulated them. At the end of the 2018 season Hamilton had no points on his licence, yet now has the most of any driver on the grid.”
    Zero real explanation for LH’s current accumulation of points.
    There are more than one of the race stewards who publicly dislike LH.

  14. The last three things for which Lewis has received penalty points for were events that, arguably, should not have received any penalty at all (since all of them involved the FIA breaking the rules first, and then pretending to be surprised when there were consequences for the drivers). That’s the real problem here – if the FIA was accumulating penalty points, it would most likely have received a ban by this point. When the worst discipline on track is exhibited by the people who have power of punishment, things are bound to go wrong.

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