Why no one received a Grosjean-style race ban for the Hungarian GP pile-up

2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Posted on

| Written by

The first-corner pile-up at the start of last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix eliminated one-quarter of the field and left two drivers struggling to the finish in damaged cars.

There was no doubt over who was responsible. The stewards made it clear that two drivers were considered “fully to blame”: Valtteri Bottas, who hit Lando Norris and wiped out the two Red Bulls, and Lance Stroll, who launched into Charles Leclerc from a considerable distance, taking Daniel Ricciardo with them.

“Both of those drivers were wholly to blame,” confirmed FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi. This was in contrast to, for example, Lewis Hamilton’s collision with Max Verstappen at Silverstone, where the Mercedes driver was “judged predominantly at fault”.

“There was no ‘predominantly’ [to blame] or anything else,” Masi continued. “It was point-blank their mistake.”

This was one of the most destructive crashes Formula 1 has seen for some time. Yet the penalties handed down to the pair seemed somewhat lenient. Bottas and Stroll each copped five-place grid drops for the coming race.

Start crash, Hungaroring, 2021
Bottas hit Norris and Stroll punted Leclerc on Sunday
Considering two of the drivers they took out – Leclerc and Sergio Perez – will require power unit replacements as a result of the crash, therefore dooming them to associated penalties later in the year which could force a back-of-the-grid start, the culprits seemed to have got off lightly.

Even more so considering the last time we saw this much carnage the driver responsible, Romain Grosjean, was given an immediate ban for the next race. But there are differences between the incidents which show why they were treated differently, not least that responsibility for last weekend’s crash was shared by two people.

The Lotus driver wiped out three of his rivals on the first lap of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix. In pre-Halo days, his Lotus passed terrifying close to Fernando Alonso’s head as he flew over the Ferrari. Perez was no luckier that day – his Sauber was taken out in the melee – as was Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren.

Grosjean’s ban was highly unusual. It was the first handed to a driver since Michael Schumacher had to sit out two races in 1994, for ignoring black flags during the British Grand Prix.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

The crash which triggered it and Sunday’s pile-up differed in key respects, which goes some way to explaining why they didn’t attract the same responses.

Grosjean was penalised for eliminating title contenders
The Spa 2012 crash occured on a dry track and began well before the braking zone for the first corner. Grosjean moved across from his starting position on the left, squeezed Hamilton on the right and made contact with the McLaren. Now out of control, the pair were unable to avoid hitting the cars ahead of them.

In Hungary last weekend rain fell immediately before the start of the race, presenting drivers with significantly different conditions to what they had experienced previously. On a longer run down to a similarly tight first corner, Bottas lost places to several rivals and tucked in behind one of them, Norris. At that point, deprived of downforce and on a slippery track, Bottas lost control of his car and wiped out three others.

Further back Stroll braked far too late for the first corner, took to the grass in the hope of avoiding his rivals, but was unable to avoid Leclerc.

Significantly, race director Michael Masi noted that the change in conditions on Sunday was taken as a mitigating factor by the stewards in deciding the penalties. “Allowing for the rain and so forth, you could say possibly if it was dry conditions and the same incident happened, it may have been a stronger penalty,” he said.

But there is another significant reason why the Grosjean was dealt with more severely. His ban and the €50,000 which accompanied it was in one respect controversial, and not because any doubted his guilt, including the driver and his team who offered no defence for the error.

Besides noting the crash “had the potential to cause injury to others”, which it undoubtedly did, the stewards also pointed out one consequence was that it had “eliminated leading championship contenders from the race”. The implication was Grosjean would have received a softer penalty had he not hit the championship leader (Alonso) and driver 47 points behind him (Hamilton).

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

No penalty for Bottas or Stroll could ever restore the disadvantage Verstappen suffered on Sunday. In the same way, no sanction for Grosjean could have done the same for Alonso or Hamilton. In between the two crashes this has been recognised: In 2013 the FIA and representatives of teams and drivers agreed the consequences of penalties that are handed down should not be taken into consideration when determining sanctions. This was also a consideration in Hamilton’s penalty for his collision with Verstappen at Silverstone.

Hulkenberg caused another huge crash at Spa in 2018
“It’s not the outcome, it’s the incident itself,” said Masi of the Hungary crashes. “[The stewards] can issue three grid spots, five grid spots, 10 grid spots, pit lane start, whatever, depending upon what they judge the incident. So it was judged on the basis of the incident, not the outcome.”

Following the Grosjean crash, and partly in response to it, the FIA introduced its penalty points system. While it has many critics, it at least provides a structure through which the threat of a race ban can be used as a disciplinary tool to discourage reckless moves, rather than to arbitrarily punish a driver more severely because they happened to hit a title contender instead of a rival who is, by implication, of less consequence.

Four years ago Nico Hulkenberg caused a comparable crash to Grosjean’s at Spa and the stewards’ response to it further illuminates how their approach has changed since his ban. Hulkenberg was given a 10-place grid penalty and three points on his licence.

“Since 2014 the FIA has introduced the penalty points system which takes into account previous offences by a driver and can lead to a race suspension if 12 points are accumulated within a 12 month period,” the stewards noted at the time. “This system was not in force when an incident not dissimilar to this occurred in 2012.”

It remains to be seen whether a driver could commit a significant enough error to go from no penalty points to an immediate ban. No driver has received more than three points for an individual incident in F1, though Nikita Mazepin collected four for causing a crash in a Formula 2 race in Sochi two years ago.

2021 F1 season

Browse all 2021 F1 season articles

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

48 comments on “Why no one received a Grosjean-style race ban for the Hungarian GP pile-up”

  1. I think the penalty points system, in theory, is a good one, but clearly needs some drastic improvements. The fact that Hulkenberg only got three points for that huge Spa crash, while drivers usually get two points for incidents like impeding in qualifying is quite simply ridiculous. Six points would be a fairer punishment for that accident, while Bottas and Stroll’s errors should be at least four. Incidents like ignoring blue flags should not result in penalty points at all.

    1. On the Marbles
      5th August 2021, 13:56

      If you have a rule like blue flags there has to be some way of enforcing it otherwise it will be readily ignored where it is advantageous to do so (in this case most likely by an associated ‘B team’ driver to benefit the ‘A team’.

      If as an alternative issuing time penalties or even drive through’s may be little deterrent if it’s lap 50 of a 60 lap race and the driver ignoring the blue flag is running 16th with minimal chance of points.

      Of course one may argue that there shouldn’t be blue flags, but then that’s an entirely different argument to what the penalty should be if we do have them

      Reply moderated
      1. What paneity was given to Ocon for making Verstappen lose his victory at Sao Paulo ?

  2. So we do take into account the weather but not “other” outside influences or consequences.
    But shouldn’t drivers be way more careful when the situation changes. So, even a harsher penalty would sound logical.
    Starting like a madman in wet weather still is a choice.

    1. The problem is that it can be a very slight error that causes a big crash in the wet. If you look at Bottas, his car was affected by suddenly being behind Norris. The downforce was suddenly removed and he braked but with zero effect. It was entirely his fault, but I don’t think he was driving in a dangerous manner. The crash was also not a huge one really when compared to Grojeans.

      1. Mercedes got off light 2 weeks in a row for accidents they were at fault of…… F1 wants them to win another championship….
        If i were Red Bull, id be “encouraging” the B team to ignore blue flags for mecedes next week. Aparrently you are allowed to gain an advantage by breaking the rules on a weekly basis…..

        Reply moderated
  3. Another key difference in Grosjean’s accident was prior precedence. He had already had a number of first lap incidents that year. And it seemed even other drivers were getting fed up with how aggressive he was on the first lap. Mark Webber even called him the “first lap nutcase”. Bottas by contrast has never been out on the first lap before, and had relatively few “wholly to blame” incidents like this, and none this year.
    Having said that, I agree with Binotto that in crashes like this, the offending team should pay the other team for damages. On top of the points, and penalty that would seem to be the most fair to both parties.

    1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
      5th August 2021, 15:18

      Do Ferrari still get their 100 million just for being Ferrari?

    2. He had already had a number of first lap incidents that year.

      Off the top of my head I think he’d had one, in Monaco. The Webber one was after Spa, at Suzuka.

        1. Well I should have remembered more of those!

          Interesting, though, that he didn’t have any penalties for first-lap collisions before Spa. Not even the one in Monaco, which was very similar.

          1. someone or something
            5th August 2021, 23:00

            Not even the one in Monaco, which was very similar.

            Do you really think he came close to a penalty in Monaco?
            In my opinion, your own words in that article jff linked to sum up why there was no reason to penalise him:

            if you are between two cars and the one on the right moves towards you, it leaves you the choice of waiting to be hit or moving left and hoping the other driver gets out of the way.

            Grosjean and Hamilton had slow starts, Alonso and Schumacher’s were fast, they ended up occupying more or less the same spot, so the crash was more or less inevitable.

    3. He had a few incidents, but interestingly that ban was Grosjean’s first penalty of the 2012 season. And he only got one other, which was for hitting Webber in Suzuka. There were multiple other incidents, although most were not on lap one. In Australia he was hit by Maldonado, in Malaysia he spun out on his own, Monaco was deemed a racing incident, as was Silverstone, and after the ban Grosjean had two more incidents; the aforementioned Suzuka and the four-way collision at Abu Dhabi for which Perez was blamed. He then crashed on his own in Brazil. An incident-packed season, but one in which Grosjean only picked up two penalties (one of which was the ban), so I am sure the stewards did not consider those incidents in their judgement.

  4. I think getting a penalty for a crash should be simple and shouldn’t take into account who you crashed into or whether it put them out of the race etc.

    Having said that, if it’s established that an engine or gearbox (or any other parts where you attract a penalty if you use too many) was irreparably damaged in a crash caused by another driver deemed “wholly to blame” for it – they should be allowed to replace that part without penalty.

    1. On the Marbles
      5th August 2021, 14:06

      What if they aren’t ‘wholly to blame’? and how much blame, who would decide if it was 60/40 or 80/20 etc much of that sort of allocation is extremely subjective.

      Is there scope for some drivers even to let themselves be knocked out in some situations in order that the team can then for example replace an engine that they were going to anyway.

      Could teams use even minor shunts to claim it’s necessary to replace parts that would otherwise incur penalties? “Oh that small nudge we got from driver x as caused some sort of problem with the MGU, we’ll have to replace it, ‘wink, wink’, oh and can they write us a check for $600,000 too? “.

      Having said such a process makes all team hostage to fortune, generally teams only think this is a good idea when they have recently lost a car in an accident caused by someone else. Next time, when their driver causes it , suddenly not so much in favour.

      Reply moderated
    2. I think that would be going down a dead-end full of clever engineers devising ways to eak out an advantage @petebaldwin.

    3. I don’t know how that would work in a fair way. For instance you may have an engine or gearbox that was racing its last race and be scrapped. Suddenly you get a new Engine! How is that fair? Especially as another competitor equally damaged in the collision might have just had a new engine put in and effectively just gets a replacement. That means one team effectively got an extra engine for the season while the other didn’t.

  5. someone or something
    5th August 2021, 13:34

    The short answer is: Because Grosjean’s ban was a farcical miscarriage of justice (and measures have been taken to make sure that such decisions remain a thing of the past).

  6. I remember watching that Spa 2012 race start live, was really scary. Alonso definitely dodged a bullet that day.

  7. If Verstappen hadn’t made the restart, Bottas would have been clobbered with a ban. That’s if, using the title-contender reason, FIA applied a penalty consistently. But what are the chances of that?

    At least these memories of first-corner smashes at Spa, and the prospect of Bottas and Stroll starting further back (with more cars to hit) will create excitement for the next race among younger, casual, imaginary fans.

    1. Did you see/read this bit?

      In between the two crashes this has been recognised: In 2013 the FIA and representatives of teams and drivers agreed the consequences of penalties that are handed down should not be taken into consideration when determining sanctions.

    2. No as per the article, in 2013 they year after the Grosjean incident it was decided that the consquences should not be taken into consideration, only the incident itself. It is irrelevant whether Verstappen made the restart or not

      Basically Grosjean would have got a penalty like Hulkenberg did more recently (10 second grid penalty + points not a race ban) under curent rules. But he had commited previous infractions earlier in the season which would also have received points if the system has been in place so the ban may still have happened.

      Bottas and Stroll only got 5 places rather than 10 due to the changing track conditions which made it more difficult for drivers. Gasly and Alonso similarly locked brakes at Turn 1 but were on the outside and didn’t collect anyone and just ran off track. Hulkenberg and Grosjean’s incidents happened in the dry with no mitigating circumstances.

  8. The real question is what happened to Bottas’ downforce.
    If he didn’t forget to turn it on or mistakenly left it behind at the grid, then it can not entirely be his fault if something else caused the loss of his downforce.
    If you understand what happened to Bottas you will realise it was more a racing accident that a deliberate mistake.

    Yes Bottas had a poor start and got overtaken and that is where the challenge began.
    As Bottas was now a few car lengths behind the other cars in front and about, or yet to overtake him, he was travelling slower relative to the other cars ahead of him. As such, his braking reference had moved foward and much closer to the corner.
    Norris who had just overtaken Bottas, was travelling much faster, as such his braking reference was now further back meaning he had to brake at least 5 – 8 meters before Bottas.
    At the moment Bottas was looking ahead and setting his reference point, Norris overtook him and drifted right in front of him.
    Now because Norris had more speed, he had to start braking earlier this caused Bottas to lose downforce and in the wet conditions it made things worse. He didn’t have too much time to react.
    It is for this same reason drivers are advised to not overtake and block immediately unless there is sufficient allowance. So it was his mistake, but mistake induced by circumstance rather than intention.

  9. Bottas has accepted that he was at fault. Good to see. Can we please drop the lack of down force excuse. Bottas saw that Lando had moved in front of him. He knew that he would have less down force, as all drivers know what happens when you get directly behind another car, yet he still held on too long before breaking. He was under immense pressure, after a terrible start, and did not want to lose any more places as his seat is under threat. No excuse. Just cause and effect. He knows this and so does everyone else. Or do they Keith?

  10. Grosjean was not driving a Mercedes was he?

    He also got in many incidents back then..

    Furthermore Bottas took out mostly Red Bulls.

    1. That’s what I was thinking too

    2. @jureo Yeah let’s keep pretending it was only Bottas who locked up. How about Stroll? Or Gasly who only missed Perez by millimeters and sheer luck. Or Alonso. The only difference really is that Stroll and Bottas were on the inside.

      20 cars going into a corner with no idea where to brake on the first time they take it in the wet. It’s unfortunate that 4 of them got it slightly wrong, but by only take away is that there were two Red Bull cars and one Mercedes involved.

  11. I certainly agree that these accidents in Hungary can’t be likened to Grosjean’s crash in Spa which received a ban. This was prior to penalty points, on a dry track and the driver had previous and something needed to be done.

    I do, however, agree with postings above questioning the penalty points awarded and the structure behind them. If both Bottas and Stroll were “awarded” 4-6 points for this weekend, I’d have no issue with it. It was poor driving which cost teams a lot of money and could have been far more dangerous than it ended up being. A 5-place grid penalty is nothing compared to the destruction of the races of Verstappen, Norris, Perez, Leclerc and Ricciardo; some of whom will have further races ruined due to forced engine changes from accident damage. I’d far rather see drivers accrue major penalty points for accidents like this than for impeding a qualifying lap or lining up in the wrong grid slot.

    1. @ben-n I agree, and would say the same for LH in Silverstone. He was officially deemed predominantly at fault and so if that meant a menial 10 second time penalty, surely it was at least worth more than 2 penalty points if one is to consider similarly as you have to Hungary, that at Silverstone Max had destruction to his car and race, and may have a further race ruined. Not looking to keep revisiting the debate over LH’s penalty for it is a plain and simple fact he was the penalized one and predominantly at fault no matter how much those inside and outside F1 disagree. The task to deal with it was in the hands of those they entrust on these matters, the stewards, and they made their ruling, end of. If LH were “awarded” 4-6 points for Silverstone, I’d have no issue with it.

    2. @ben-n

      Indeed. The entire penalty system is a joke, with minor incidents getting the same penalty points as causing a huge crash. For example, crossing the white line at pit entry twice is apparently just as bad as what Bottas did. And accidentally overtaking under the safety car, which doesn’t seem at that dangerous and normally just gets resolved by swapping the cars back, also is deemed just as bad.

  12. Well, Mercedes set a record.
    Never before, to my knowledge, have cars of one team inflicted so much material and pointwise damage on the cars of another team within just 2 races. Which just happens to be the team they are fighting in both championships to boot.

    Oh, and all is well. Nothing to see.
    Just the death of F1 as a sport.

    1. “Never before, to my knowledge, have cars of one team inflicted so much material and pointwise damage on the cars of another team within just 2 races. Which just happens to be the team they are fighting in both championships to boot”

      You must be new to F1, in 2010 Mark Webber who was driving for RedBull crashed into Lewis Hamilton twice costing him points.

      1. Based on the positions the driver occupied in the crashes, Webber made Hamilton lose at least 15 points in Singapore and at least 6 points in Australia, since Hamilton lost only two positions from that.

        A bit different from the approx 25 + 18 + 15 that the mercs made lose to rb

        1. Correct, Redbull probably lost more points. But also Lewis finished 4th that year and without the crashes he would finish 2nd in the WDC. and the penalties Webber got was a reprimand and a no further action, laughable by todays standard, I imagine Horner’s reaction was much different back then to those incidents.

  13. This is obviously like the rest of the world about the class of the parties involved. Not much else.

  14. I think no race ban will ever be issued again until the penalty points system gets scrapped.

  15. I think Grosjeans race ban for the Spa-crash was too harsh. He slightly misjudged his position relative to Hamilton while aiming for an open space of track in front, wheels where rubbed and after that both he and Hamilton skidded along the track unable to slow down sufficiently before they piled into the cars ahead. Small split-second mistake with huge consequences. Was Grosjean to blame? Absolutely, he was a bit too aggressive in a race start situation where you always have to be extra careful and caused a collision. But there was also some room for Hamilton to move a bit further to the right. He didn’t so they touched. It wasn’t Hamiltons fault, but he was definitely racing aggressive too after having just done a quite bad get-away. The race ban penalty was more of a political statement at the time I think, with Grosjean being disliked by many on the grid and the stewards felt they had to show that they listened.
    I think Grosjean deserved a penalty somewhere along the lines of a race ban for another incident, though. The 2018 Spain smokescreen that he laid across the track on the first lap there. That is way more severe in my mind. Because he had so much time to do things differently, five or six full seconds to think about what he was doing as it unfolded. But he actively chose to floor the throttle spinning across the track right in front of a tightly packed field of cars that he knew he had right behind him, just a couple of corners after the start. I’m glad he didn’t collect even more cars than he did in that one, and that everyone was ok.
    The most recent (double) incident with Bottas and Stroll I think was judged quite fair. A harder penalty would have been un-proportional to the crime (braking a few tenths of a second too late in slippery conditions). If anything they could have been given slightly more lenient penalties, but then too many people would probably have complained about it. It was again a tiny mistake (from two drivers) with big consequences.
    I agree the action should be penalized, not the actual outcome of it. Sometimes people should even have been penalized even though nobody crashed, simply because of the huge risks they put others in. Braking too late and hitting another car from behind is the same regardless of who is being hit. What could make a situation worse is for example higher speeds and if there are more cars close on track, because that puts more people at higher risk and so a more severe penalty could be justified. At the start there are many cars nearby but the speeds are relatively low, so not too high risk but involving many people. A medium penalty is sufficient then, unless the driver at fault clearly had a lot of time and opportunity to not do what they did.

  16. If not for this change of approach that doesn’t take into account the consequences of a crash for imposing penalties happening before Merecedes dominated hybrid-era, it wouldn’t look like the usually absurd luck that they seem to enjoy but instead an action of MIA. Both Mercedes drivers cause collisions in a streak, both came out lightly punished as a result. Bad for the fairness but good for the competitiveness in the teams and drivers championships, unless the Mercs upgrade is more than we think it is.

    1. @rodewulf That’s not a change of approach

      1. Four years ago Nico Hulkenberg caused a comparable crash to Grosjean’s at Spa and the stewards’ response to it further illuminates how their approach has changed since his ban. Hulkenberg was given a 10-place grid penalty and three points on his licence.

        Do you disagree with the article’s author? Then explain why.

      2. @f1osaurus It does seem a change of approach because you no longer can get a ban depending on the consequences of the crash you caused. Why isn’t that the case?

        1. @rodewulf They introduced a penalty system to be more transparent than the hidden blacklist of repeat offenders they used before.

          Grosjean was a repeat offender and had already received a warning after a previous set of incidents. He was not banned just for that one incident.

          1. @f1osaurus

            They introduced a penalty system to be more transparent than the hidden blacklist of repeat offenders they used before.

            Not impressed by your convenient choice of ignoring parts of comments for a reply as always, in spite of it being truly relevant for the question. Even when not involving LH44 indulging topics your selective concern is annoying.

            Grosjean was a repeat offender and had already received a warning after a previous set of incidents. He was not banned just for that one incident.

            But the consequences also played a part on the decision. It indicates a change of approach and not merely the introduction of a penalty system with all the same punishments for the same offences just like it had been done previously. If you didn’t even bother to fully read the article before asserting things, here it is about the outcome impacting in the punishment applied:

            Besides noting the crash “had the potential to cause injury to others”, which it undoubtedly did, the stewards also pointed out one consequence was that it had “eliminated leading championship contenders from the race”. The implication was Grosjean would have received a softer penalty had he not hit the championship leader (Alonso) and driver 47 points behind him (Hamilton).

  17. A 5 grid place penalty is VERY lenient, no matter how you try to explain it away (oh it was wet, oh we don’t care if it’s a championship contender anymore).

  18. They called Vettel the crash kid after a string of crashes. And Verstappen had quite a few run-in’s in his first couple years. But that was crashing at some point during the race. Grosj had high odds that he would crash on starts. That scared the hell outta outta the drivers. The drivers got Grosj banned.

    1. Exactly this. We old heads remember that Grosjean had a reputation for being wild. And when he was seen to have not learned from mistakes and almost killed a couple people, the other drivers wanted the hammer dropped on him.

      This is a just one reason or example, why looking back at something form 10 years ago and saying, why not the same thing now, is probably a fool’s errand. F1 penalty adjudication is not the ECJ. There is no “jurisprudence” of F1. There are fans on keyboards trying to align and distinguish “facts” over decades.

      Just like any sport, you have a rule book and officials. In a basketball you may have officials who call a “two-hand check” by a defender when he just brushes the offensive player while others never call them or who seem to be calling blocking fouls with abandon. In soccer do people say, well, look, this foul earned a PK in a game in 2012 so why didn’t it earn one yesterday?

  19. Grojean needed a harsher penalty, because he kept on making mistakes again and again. You can be more lenient to towards drivers that are usually safe.

  20. It should also be noted that Grosjean was on a streak of very poor decisions and crashes when this one happened. He therefore got a race ban as well as Lotus ordering a sports psychologist to work with him, if I recall correctly. Wasn’t he even dropped for a season or something to screw his head back on properly?

    Reply moderated

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.
If the person you're replying to is a registered user you can notify them of your reply using '@username'.