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Red Mist: Grid penalties confuse and spoil F1 show

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Formula 1 is coming under universal criticism as it continues to shoot itself in the foot with baffling power unit grid penalties, this time at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix.

It took five hours for the FIA to publish today’s Italian Grand Prix grid after qualifying last night. That as it tried to figure out its own rules and regulations on where to place the nine cars it penalised for different power unit element changes on the Monza start line today.

Only pole man Leclerc will set off from his original position of the top three interviewed on the grid. Max Verstappen drops from second to seventh. It’s his second drop in three races. Carols Sainz goes to the back. Among nine cars to take a drop. That’s basically half the field.

There’s good reason why so many teams are taking penalties at Monza. Like it was at Spa two weeks back, it’s supposed to be easy to make up places there. Unlike Zandvoort in Holland last week. And Suzuka’s next round, in Japan.

Formula 1 Engine Penalties even baffle the FIA!

Everyone from die hard Grand Prix pundits to millions of casual new fans are not alone in their confusion. F1 is clearly just as baffled how to implement its own regulations. Little wonder the sport is taking such flak on this astounding grid drop fiasco. It’s earning it.

World Champion a quarter-century ago, Jacques Villeneuve is among the biggest grid penalty drop critics. “We already have a cost cap, so what’s the point of grid penalties? JV asked.

“The cost cap is doing the job the penalties were designed to do anyway, so why bother?” Villeneuve went on to propose a Manufacturers’ points, or even a financial penalty, in place of grid drops that confuse fans and mar the Grand Prix weekend show.

2022 italian grand prix f1 grid

Penalties arrived to cut costs, up reliability in 2005

Engine change grid penalties arrived when F1 changed from V10 to V8 engines in 2005. Until then, drivers went through several engines every race weekend. 1980s turbo era teams even swapped engines every session. Built to last two laps, potent quali units were very different to race engines.

Reliability was putrid, costs sky high. The V10s that followed improved, but the teams still pushed the limits. So, Mosely and Ecclestone decreed that the new V8s would do two races per engine. On the pain of grid penalties for engines replaced before then.

The idea was twofold – to slash limitless budgets that bigger teams were blowing on new engines. And to also encourage F1 engine reliability that would soon also improve the lot of production cars. The change also levelled the F1 playing field for smaller teams.

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Engine change rules were further clamped in 2009

In 2009, the FIA clamped further down on engine change. It ruled that each driver should be allowed to use no more than eight engines through a season. Reliability improved, costs were cut, the playing field flattened. Penalties were rare.

Then F1 moved on to the modern turbo hybrid V6 era and the FIA turned the penalty screws tighter. Now called the power unit, five of them were allowed through a season. These draconian rules and penalties became more difficult to follow and interpret too.

A modern F1 power unit comprises the internal combustion engine, its turbocharger, two energy harvesting devices, electronics, and energy store. Each component is subject to a different replacement grid penalty. That varies according to what is all changed, too.

The FIA turned the penalty screws even tighter in 2018

And just in case all that wasn’t enough, the FIA tightened it all up even more in 2018. It ruled a maximum of three engines would be allowed per car through a season. Energy store and control electronics are limited to two per season and exhaust systems to eight.

So, if a driver uses a fourth power unit element in a season, they face a 10-place grid penalty at the following race. An additional component change in the same race weekend earns an extra five-place grid penalty. Swapping three components cops a back of the grid penalty.

Confused yet? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It only took five hours after qualifying ended last night for the FIA to figure its own penalty rules before it could publish today’s grid!

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE - JULY 24: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari F1-75 leads Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 and the rest of the field into turn one at the start during the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on July 24, 2022 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) innovation

Are draconian power unit penalties spoiling the F1 show?

The point is that it has become impossible for Formula 1 teams to get halfway through the season before being penalised by these draconian and impossible to meet power unit change penalties.

As Jacques Villeneuve suggests, what is the actual point of power unit grid penalties? Especially when the job those penalties were designed to do, is now being done by F1’s new budget cap this year, anyway?

Nine cars not starting where they qualified, and the grid confirmed five hours after the qualifying show ended, is not quite the full spectacle all those thousands of people at Monza paid for yesterday. Never mind the many millions watching on F1’s beloved television show.

It’s time for a grid penalty rethink, Formula 1!

Were we cheated out of a real show yesterday? Absolutely, we were. There surely has to be a better way? Be that penalty budget cap cuts, manufacturer’s points deductions. Or something even cleverer.

Whatever it is, it’s high time for a power unit grid rethink, Formula 1!