Explained: The Italian GP grid puzzle which left drivers wondering where they’d start

2022 Italian Grand Prix

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With no fewer than nine drivers awarded a variety of different penalties for the Italian Grand Prix grid, working out who was going to start where was always going to present some complications.

Even the drivers themselves were confused. While Fernando Alonso was telling one group of journalists in the media pen he expected to start “P7”, Max Verstappen was in FIA press conference insisting that was the same position where he would line up.

Meanwhile Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly took to social media to ask their followers what position they would be starting from. “I have no idea,” the Alpine driver admitted.

The process by which F1’s grids are decided when multiple penalties are involved has changed many times in recent years. This is often been because the penalties themselves have changed.

In today’s case, five drivers were given penalties of varying degrees. These included combinations of both regular ‘grid drops’ as well as the ‘start at the back of the grid’ penalty which was introduced in 2018 in order to simplify the system. The drivers’ penalties were as follows:

When it comes to applying their penalties, the first thing to understand is that a ‘start at the back of the grid’ penalty takes precedence. Even a driver with a 100-place grid penalty will line up in front of a driver who has been ordered to start at the back. Furthermore, any additional penalties on top of that count for nothing, so it makes no difference that Sainz incurred the ‘start at the back of the grid’ penalty twice, nor that Tsunoda had additional grid drops on top of it.

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Under the F1 sporting regulations, grid drops are applied before any ‘start at the back of the grid penalties’. Given their qualifying positions, the six drivers who only had grid drops were to be relegated to the following places:

  • Verstappen: Qualified second, relegated to seventh
  • Perez: Qualified fourth, relegated to 14th
  • Ocon: Qualified 11th, relegated to 16th
  • Bottas: Qualified 12th, relegated to 27th
  • Magnussen: Qualified 19th, relegated to 34th
  • Schumacher: Qualified 20th, relegated to 35th

Of course, this left the last three drivers with impossible starting positions on a 20-car grid. They would initially move up to the last places.

However there were three drivers with ‘start at the back of the grid’ penalties. These were always going to occupy the bottom three places in the grid, arranged in the order in which they qualified, as per the rules. As a result their positions are:

18Carlos Sainz Jnr
19Lewis Hamilton
20Yuki Tsunoda

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Almost all of the other drivers with grid drops had to move up the order because of this. There were so many drivers at the back of the grid with penalties, it cancelled out much of their penalties. The next five places on the grid therefore became:

13Sergio Perez
14Esteban Ocon
15Valtteri Bottas
16Kevin Magnussen
17Mick Schumacher

Alonso will start one place higher than he expected
These drivers penalties were therefore lessened: Perez dropped back nine places instead of 10, Ocon three instead of five all the way back to the Haas pair who, instead of each moving back 15 places, gained three.

The only driver who served his full grid drop was Verstappen, dropping from second to seventh. In line with recent practice, he does not gain back places from drivers who are moved further back on the grid because there are sufficient un-penalised drivers to move ahead of him.

Therefore when Sainz and Hamilton moved to the back of the grid Verstappen stayed where he was. Pierre Gasly benefitted and so did Alonso – confounding his expectation he would start seventh:

1Charles Leclerc
2George Russell
3Lando Norris
4Daniel Ricciardo
5Pierre Gasly
6Fernando Alonso
7Max Verstappen
8Nyck de Vries
9Zhou Guanyu
10Nicholas Latifi
11Sebastian Vettel
12Lance Stroll

Several years back, the FIA applied penalties like these differently. Each penalty was applied in turn, and the grid re-ordered each time. This meant in situations where multiple drivers received penalties they were more likely to cancel each other out.

However, the current practice is to ensure drivers serve the entirety of their penalties where possible. A clear precedent can be seen at last year’s Qatar Grand Prix where Verstappen’s situation was identical: He qualified second, had a five-place grid penalty and started seventh, notwithstanding the fact a penalty dropped another driver from third to sixth, neither sanction affecting the other.

That may explain why Verstappen felt so confident in asserting what his starting position would be. “It’s P7, unless I’m stupid, I think it’s P7. You need to read the rules.”

He was certainly right – at least assuming no more penalties are announced before the race tomorrow.

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2022 Italian Grand Prix

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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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22 comments on “Explained: The Italian GP grid puzzle which left drivers wondering where they’d start”

  1. Thanks for clearing this up, especially since the F1TV crew got it wrong and calculated the penalties as you mentioned was done a few years back and expected Verstappen to start in 4th. That is a big difference from 7th (a lot less chance to get into p2-3 during the first lap and far more chance at getting in the middle of a tangle through the first few corners.

    1. Indeed @bascb, and I saw a lot of people doing similar on twitter and other places too, so this concise and clear article is a great resource for the future too I’d say! Well done @keithcollantine, shows once again why we gladly pay for this site to do its work :)

  2. Max is out front in the drivers championship run. I think the others will try to avoid him out of common courtesy .

    1. And Ocon is far enough back ;)

    2. Not sure about that, he’s so far ahead even a DNF only improves mathematical chances but not the realistic ones for Leclerc

  3. So what happens if the quy in 1st gets a 10 space penalty and the guy in 6th gets a five spot penalty

    1. exactly the same as with the ‘back of the grid’ penalty’s. They also all end up on place 20, but there actual qually order moves the better one forwards.

      So, the 1st with 10 place penalty will start 10th and the 6th with 5 place penalty 11th.

    2. In the past it was whoever received their penalty first would start in front. Not sure if that’s still the case.

  4. Very interesting article and situation, complicated, I agree, and so the haas drivers are actually gaining places despite taking penalties, and obviously when so many drivers take penalties, if you’re in doubt, it makes sense to also take a penalty cause the effect can be reduced, example verstappen, who had a back of the grid drop and started 13th in spa, so this can cause a “chain reaction” where people decide to take penalties cause already a lot are penalised, maybe not the right expression but can’t remember atm.

  5. I don’t think its anywhere near as confusing as many of the broadcasters made it seem.

    When you know how penalties are applied (which became more clear after we saw many penalties at Spa) it’s fairly easy to figure out who will start where.

  6. How do they start at the back penalties get ordered when there are multiple drivers? Is it just down to qualifying?

    1. How about you just read the article fully? It explains everything perfectly Lucas.

  7. The race at Monaco is boring so to spice things up they should go to the casino and draw the starting positions.

  8. Good post that perfectly explains anything & removes all confusion.

    1. @jerejj yeah, this article was very needed. I’ve long since given up trying to figure it out for myself.

  9. Jonathan Parkin
    11th September 2022, 5:51

    Remind me, why don’t we have corrected time for GP’s after a red flag anymore?

  10. I heard about penalties before spa and before monza

    So guess what I did not bother watching qually. Congrats f1. Alienated a fan since 1988

    1. Oh well, your loss.

      Serious question – do you really only watch qualifying for the result?
      That kind of defeats the purpose of watching, doesn’t it?

    2. Ok right. Get over yourself, you’re like a stick in the mud.

  11. So Ferrari will get a win on home soil then….

    1. I hope so…

  12. I can see Lewis starting from the pits so the team can do more adjustments to the car and avoid the 1st lap carnage

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