Should drivers get grid drops for gearbox changes?

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Start, Hungaroring, 2011The 2012 season has seen a spate of penalties for gearbox changes.

Over the first 13 races drivers have been handed gearbox change penalties on 16 separate occasions – as many as there was throughout the whole of the 2010 season.

The standard penalty for a gearbox change is a five-place grid drop. But should drivers be punished in this way for failures which are outside of their control?

Gearbox changes in 2012

Under the current rules each driver has to use the same gearbox for five races in a row before changing it:

Each driver may use no more than one gearbox for five consecutive events in which his team competes. Should a driver use a replacement gearbox he will drop five places on the starting grid at that event and an additional five places each time a further gearbox is used.
FIA 2012 Formula One Sporting Regulations article 28.6 (a)

Gearbox Engine
2010 16 1
2011 2 1
2012 16 0

Requiring teams to use the same gearbox for consecutive races forces them to build more durable units to reduce costs.

So far this year 16 gearbox change penalties have been issued – an average of more than one per race. Pastor Maldonado has the most with three and Sergio Perez, Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg have had two each.

The table on the right shows the number of gearbox penalties handed down over the last three seasons so far, and for comparison the corresponding figures for engine change penalties.

Five-place grid drop

Is a five-place grid drop a suitable penalty for an unauthorised gearbox change? It’s not hard to see why there have been objections (such as here and here) to punishing a driver for a fault that is not their responsibility.

Grid drops are more appropriately used as punishments for driving infringements such as impeding other drivers or causing collisions.

Another shortcoming of using grid drops in this way is it allows teams to make ‘tactical’ gearbox changes if their driver has qualified poorly, offering an undue benefit as rewards for a poor performance.

Alternatives to the grid drop

What sort of penalty would work better than a grid drop for an unauthorised gearbox change?

Ideally it would be one that gave teams a strong incentive to design gearboxes that are less likely to fail, but did not compromise a driver for a fault that is out of their hands.

One idea might be to dock a team points for each unauthorised gearbox change. This would be a tangible disincentive, as it could compromise their position in the constructors’ championship and the financial reward that comes with it.

But the problem here is how many points to dock? Such a penalty would affect teams to differing degrees based on how competitive they are.

For example, a one-point penalty would make little difference to Red Bull’s championship lead at the moment, but it would drop Caterham from tenth to last – a swing which could have serious implications for their bank balance.

Taking the idea a step further, why not exclude the car’s finishing position from counting towards the constructors’ championship? This would satisfy all the requirements: it would be a severe enough punishment to encourage teams to avoid it, it would not penalise a driver for a problem they could not have avoided and it would affect all teams equally when applied.

There is precedent for such a penalty. It was applied to both McLarens in the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix, and to Michael Schumacher’s Benetton and David Coulthard’s Williams in the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Over to you

Should drivers get five-place grid penalties for unauthorised gearbox changes? Cast your vote below, and have your say on what kind of penalty you think would be appropriate in the comments.

Should drivers receive grid drops for gearbox changes?

  • Yes (29%)
  • No (67%)
  • No opinion (4%)

Total Voters: 377

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131 comments on Should drivers get grid drops for gearbox changes?

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  1. the_sigman (@sigman1998) said on 18th September 2012, 16:40

    I agree with your opinion about the constructors’s points Keith but I selected ‘yes’ because it’s right to have penalties for gearbox changes.

  2. matthewf1 (@) said on 18th September 2012, 16:40

    No there shouldn’t be a penalty for this in my opinion. It’s a load of nonsense that teams are penalised, and that they are so because it is apparently in the interests of costs, when most teams have a new front wing every other race, as well as endless exhaust modifications and DRS innovations which they can spend as much money on as they like without getting penalised.

    • B.I.N.G.O.
      What he said.

    • ScuderiaVincero (@scuderiavincero) said on 19th September 2012, 0:04

      @matthewf1 Yes! Yes! That is exactly right!

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 19th September 2012, 7:28

      But if there are no penalties for gerbox changes, teams will happily go through a new gearbox every race. They’d probably go through two; one for qualifying and one for the race. And that will drive costs up even further.

      • Bobby Balboa (@bobby-balboa) said on 19th September 2012, 11:23

        This is true so hit the team where it hurts & take away the constructors points they would have won in the race. You may say that the 3 teams at the back have not much chance of scoring points so they can take a new gear box when they want but can they really afford that & if there is a big crash at the start they would risk any potential points.

        Even 1 point for the 3 back teams would pretty much guarantee them to finish ahead of the other 2 teams.

        I like the idea

    • Kiril Varbanov (@kiril-varbanov) said on 19th September 2012, 13:07

      No penalties for gearbox change.
      1. Because there’s no need to ruin the efforts of entire team just because of one component.
      2. Because if there’s a general problem with the gearboxes it should be fixed from the core (i.e. different design)
      3. If there’s a penalty for the gearboxes, why not having a penalty for worn disk brakes or broken steering wheel?

    • Look gear box and engin changes should be penalized. F1 is the experimentation ground for tomorrows technology for commercial cars. Therefore durability is not something that can take a back seat. The question here is —> should the driver get penalized for a mistake he didn’t do? Answer—> NO! I would like to see a percentage of constructor points taken away for gearbox change. Say 10% then as of today’s standings the top team…RB would lose 36.7 (37) and the lowest scoring team toro roso will lose only 2.1 (2) points. Now the new question is, by this logic the teams that have zero points stand to lose nothing.

  3. Dan_the_McLaren_fan (@dan_the_mclaren_fan) said on 18th September 2012, 16:46

    I voted no, because I agree with what is written in the article : drivers shouldn’t be punished for something beyond their control.

    The best alternative would be to do the same thing done for the engines : a limited number of gearboxes for the hole season, and a total flexibility about how and when they are used. That way, we can really hope the reliability will improve, we won’t see too much shcuffle grids, and it could really help average drivers to improve (it’s quite frustrating to have a penalty after a strong qualifying for a driver who isn’t used to high grid positions).

    • xjr15jaaag (@xjr15jaaag) said on 18th September 2012, 17:23

      But if you extend that, then you should reinstate a driver into his previous position, should his engine fail.

    • Jeanrien (@jeanrien) said on 18th September 2012, 19:13

      The idea was proposed several times already and I was surprised to see no apparence of that in Keith article about matching the rule for engines.

      I had to vote no because I’m not happy with the current rule, but of course teams shouldn’t be allowed to use as many gearbox as they want. Thus best way is still to have a allocated number of gearbox for the year and do with those.

      Like the comparaison of penalties handed for gearbox and engine is showing such difference between gearbox and engine, but with that system, it’s more likely to lead to penalties at the end of the champ, at more crucial times.

      Handing teams points not counting toward WCC isn’t a solution as some teams doesn’t care as much as other about it. If you are sure of your position, it’s even a beter way to pay less (as team pay per point earned) and still having a driver fighting for WDC

    • vho (@) said on 19th September 2012, 8:24

      Agree with that comment. Sometimes you just can’t help that a freak incident happens and causes the gearbox to fail. However, unlike engines, their performance don’t degrade as much as an engine that has run more than 2-3 races. So I think it might also be sensible to allocate each team one (or two) free gearbox change without penalty to be used throughout the year at the team’s descretion.

  4. Why not have the driver unpunished BUT the team cannot score WCC points from that car at that race?

    • so if, say, Webber has a gearbox drop, he starts where he qualifies but RB can only score WCC points from Vettel at that race.

      • That wouldn’t work…If Webber’s normally seen as a No 2 for Vettel imagine how he’d be treated if at a weekend where he can’t score WCC points and WDC points could be useless if he’s not allowed to race Vettel..

        • @dd42
          Its not illegal to have a clear number two driver, nor are team orders.
          Yeah they might use Webber as a road block, but that is the team’s descision. The rules will allow him to score points, but only for him self.
          The rule will still make the teams want better gearboxes like the current regulations as the WCC is where the real money is.

      • Commendatore (@commendatore) said on 18th September 2012, 22:37

        I like your idea, but I’d modify it a bit: Let the driver start the race from his originaly qualified position, let him score WDC pts, but when calculating the WCC pts, first “demote” the driver’s final post-race position 5 places and then calculate his WCC pts.

        So: Webber gets on pole and should drop five grid places for unscheduled gearbox change. He still starts from pole, wins the race and gets 25 WDC pts, but brings home to RBR only 10 WCC pts.

        • No. If, say Webber wins and Vettel is 2nd, but Webber had to change a gearbox. Rather than Webber starting 5 places down, he starts normal (and wins the race)
          However, Webber can only score 25 WDC points for himself, NOT 25 WCC points for Red Bull. Vettel scores 18 points for his WDC and 18pts for Red Bull in the WCC.
          Result: Webber 25, Vettel 18. Red Bull 18 (instead of 43)

          and Commendore, Webbers WCC score would go down 5 places from 1st to 6th (not 5th), therefore in your model, RB gets 8 (not 10)pts from Webbers car.
          It’s a reasonable idea there, though it does give them no chance of achieving full points, whereas todays system still does.

          • Commendatore (@commendatore) said on 19th September 2012, 8:29

            why would you give a full-points-scoring chance to someone who has broken the rules? wan’t the idea to punish the constructor only, but not the driver? :)

          • you got me there. quite a glaring error. so it then boils down to, do you half penalise the team by taking that car’s score down 5 places, or do you penalise them fully by having that car score zero?

          • Commendatore (@commendatore) said on 19th September 2012, 12:54

            @91jb12 only 5 places and only from the WCC points. not giving them WCC pts at all would be quite unfair.

  5. zippyone (@zippyone) said on 18th September 2012, 16:57

    No it penalises the driver and ruins their race for something he has no control over – there must be a better way

  6. McGregski (@mcgregski) said on 18th September 2012, 16:57

    I think there should be a penalty at the point in which they use more than x number of gearboxes in a season. If a small repairable part was to go wrong on a Saturday morning then they should be allowed to take the unit out to repair it and put a spare in without receiving a penalty.

    If the gearbox should last for 5 races each then using this season with 20 races – each team should be allowed 4 gearboxes for the whole season. The punishment should come when and only when they move onto a 5th gearbox.

    The penalty should be financial and not something that affects the driver (it is after all the team/suppliers that build the gearboxes and not the drivers)

    They get 8 Engines per season, why not couple that with 4 Gearboxes and say that anything over and above that results in a choice between a substantial fine or a 5 place grid penalty?

    • +1
      It seems strange that it’s one rule for engines and a different rule for gearboxes.

    • andae23 (@andae23) said on 18th September 2012, 17:21

      I partly agree with you: it do seems kind of silly not to have similar rules for engines and gearboxes. I do disagree with the penalty: something financial is not sufficient I think. Again Keith’s suggestion of punishing the team in the constructor’s championship could be an outcome.

      • Jeanrien (@jeanrien) said on 18th September 2012, 21:52

        Financial, definitly not, it would go against the limited amount of gearbox and would be like buying a right for one more gearbox than others and not very legitimate …

        Keith suggestion about WCC, still not great (in the context of an allocated amount of gearbox per season) because as for engine, the problems will come by the end of the season when teams have use the previous units. Then both championship are quite clear and some team could afford not to score any point in constructor but need a lot in driver so that could play a strategic role and it’s not the point either … I believe that if they have a certain amount for the whole season, you could still have the penalty applied to the car when the driver uses the supplement gearbox as it is for engine (and you wouldn’t see case as Webber being penalised twice like this year)

    • Exactly that @mcgregski, I voted yes to the penalty but as you propose it should be done in the same way the engines are, giving a penalty when more than the allowed amount of GBs are used during the season (I think I would allow one extra GB, having 5 instead of 4, because a GB gets damaged more often in a crash or someting like that than an engine).

    • Tifoso1989 (@tifoso1989) said on 18th September 2012, 19:21

      The penalty should be financial and not something that affects the driver

      I agree with the most of what you said but except this point , if the penalty was financial then top teams with the highest budget like Ferrari & Red Bull they will be bringing a new gearbox every race
      I think a grid drop is the only way to prevent teams from doing such thing

      it is after all the team/suppliers that build the gearboxes and not the drivers

      i don’t either agree with this, F1 drivers are racing for teams not for their selves if a driver get a penalty that would affect automatically his team in the constructors
      Penalties are not made to punish the drivers but it’s the only way to ensure that everybody will respect the regulation in a fair way

    • marcusbreese (@marcusbreese) said on 18th September 2012, 20:12

      I think with this system (four of five gearboxes a year, use as and when you wish) and 5 place grid penalties for going over the limit, it would be fine.

    • I think there should be a penalty at the point in which they use more than x number of gearboxes in a season.


      If they really try to cut costs, why they allow the strategic gearbox changes? If top driver fails qualifying by what-ever-reason, they will change gearbox just because they can. Its ridiculous.. And after all, it would be less about luck, if there is change to use some of gearboxes more if you have bad luck with one unit.

      • vho (@) said on 19th September 2012, 8:36

        Not sure that you can change a gear box between quali and the race without incurring a penalty as the cars go into parc ferme after quali, but for sure you can do it between practice and quali without penalty. It wouldn’t be unusual for a team to use a previous gear box during practise so that if it does fail they won’t get penalised.

    • artificial racer said on 20th September 2012, 0:32

      Could combine this with the other solution. Have an overall gearbox allocation, and if they exceed it, give a penalty to WCC points.

      A penalty to overall WCC points can make sense because a gearbox is supposed to last over several races. A grid penalty at one race does not really address the reliability issue across the entire season.

      You could dock their WCC points according to some formula. Example: dock a % of WCC according to how badly the allocation is exceeded.

      Example: Red Bull earns 100 WCC points in a season. They use 7 gearboxes out of an allocation of 5. Therefore, they are penalized 40% of the max gearbox penalty of 50% (say). So they end up with a 20% penalty, leaving 80 WCC points.

  7. MazdaChris (@mazdachris) said on 18th September 2012, 16:59

    I voted yes. You can’t see the team as separate from the driver. The driver is a member of the team. Drivers often suffer as a result of things outside of their control, it’s just that in this instance the result of mechanical unreliability is a grid penalty rather than a race retirement. At the end of the day there is no reason why teams can’t build gearboxes that’ll last the whole season if they wanted to. The problem is that they compete to build in the minimum required mechanical strength in order to minimise weight and size. This is why they fail to last, and this is a decision the team themselves take when designing the gearbox. If the rule were unfair, and it was impossible to build a gearbox which did what they are asking, then I would say that the rule is unfair. But it’s not, and so the drivers must bear the consequences really.

    I do think that we’re seeing far too many of these penalties, but I think the responsibility lies with the teams for building unreliable gearboxes, rather than with the rules.

    • Thank God, there’s someone who actually understands how the sport works!

    • I agree with all of this.

    • Agreed, a driver gains from the plus points of a car, and loses from the cars negatives. I don’t see why a driver should have the negative nullified in the case of reliability.

    • MuzzleFlash (@muzzleflash) said on 18th September 2012, 19:17

      “You can’t see the team as separate from the driver.”

      But the sport itself does so, by having two separate championships for teams and drivers.

      I agree in principle though, the drivers are just another two employees, and who is to say that a gearbox failure wasn’t caused by rough driving?

      • MazdaChris (@mazdachris) said on 19th September 2012, 9:38

        I don’t think that the drivers’ and constructors’ championships are making this distinction in quite the way you’re suggesting. The drivers’ championship measures the total points scored by a single car and driver combination, whereas the constructors’ measures the combined points of both cars and drivers in a team. The drivers’ championship points are awarded solely for the finishing place in the race, and most would acknowledge that the finishing position of a car is as much (if not more) a result of the efforts of the team’s effort than the driver himself. The car’s relative performance is determined by its design; a driver by himself can’t score points in the drivers’ championship without having a good car under him and a good team behind him. Heikki Kovalainen may drive better than any other driver on the track in a race, but because the machinery doesn’t allow him to compete at the front, he won’t score points in the drivers’ championship. For this reason, you have to see that the drivers’ championship is certainly not simply measuring individual performance for the drivers.

        Teams design gearboxes which are marginal on weight and reliability because it gives a performance advantage. The drivers themselves enjoy this advantage while the gearbox is working, so it makes no sense that they wouldn’t then suffer the consequences of unreliability.

        My only concern is that it seems to be happening too much at the moment, and as a fan what I don’t enjoy seeing is the ‘provisional’ grid from qualifying then being mixed up after umpteen penalties are applied. It would be interesting to get some feedback from the teams to see what they think of the rules; that is to say, I’d like to know if they feel that the FIA has set them a target which is almost impossible to attain, or if they feel that the unreliability of their gearboxes is something they’re responsible for and they could, as I say above, conceivably build a gearbox which would meet the requirements while probably taking a bit of a hit in terms of competitiveness.

    • I voted the other way, because the 5 place penalty seems rather arbitrary, and is illogically treated differently to the engine rules. But your argument is something I thought of too, and it certainly made me hesitate. For one thing, if the gearboxes weren’t so thoroughly analysed, the teams would just run the gearbox for one race longer than it could handle and it would fail, and nobody would bat an eyelid due to it happening during a race. i think the rule, if it is to affect the driver, needs to do so better.

    • I agree and I voted Yes on these grounds. I hate seeing drivers get penalties for grid drops I understand that it’s a team sport.
      Teams can make reliable gearboxes. It’s not beyond their capability or should it cost them too much to do so. It’s up to each team on how they want to push the limits of their engineering with their design.

    • @mazdachris
      While I did vote no, because I think a similar system to the engines will make more sense, but I do agree that a the team and driver is one unit. They win together, they loose together therefore they should be penalized together.

    • Amen to that.

      I think the problem with the current penalty system is that driving standards penalties have been far too lenient recently. A 5 place grid penalty is not huge, and is proportionate for minor violations such as unscheduled gearbox changes. It is not proportionate for Maldonando deliberately ramming someone…

  8. andae23 (@andae23) said on 18th September 2012, 17:00

    I believe in 2011 a driver could take one ‘dummy': change the gearbox without receiving a penalty.
    In 2012, any gearbox change (except when a driver crashes) is punished with a grid drop. (Can anyone confirm this?)

    If this is true, than the number of multiple gearbox changes has risen from two in 2011 to four in 2012. If I’m mistaken and the 2011 gearbox rules haven’t changed for the 2012 season, then the number of gearbox changes has risen from two in 2011 to sixteen in 2012 (that would be a bit exagerated, so I assume my statement in paragraph one is right).

    Still: the number of gearbox failures has increased dramatically this year. Is there an explanation for this?

    • andae23 (@andae23) said on 18th September 2012, 17:11

      Returning to the actual point of this article: I can see why the current set of rules might look unfair to the driver, but in F1 history drivers have always been punished for car failure. For instance: if Jim Clark’s clutch, suspension, engine and gearbox would not have failed during the entire 1962 season (just like his teammate’s car), he would have easily won the championship (instead he finished runner-up).

      Nevertheless I voted ‘no’, because I think this gearbox penalties are ‘artificial’ car failures. The FIA are sending the penalties to the wrong receiver. I think your suggestion of punishing the team in the constructor’s championship is a very good alternative to the current regulation.

  9. GeordiePorker (@geordieporker) said on 18th September 2012, 17:03

    This is a tough one – it’s a team sport. The driver wouldn’t be where he is on the grid without the team, and vice-versa. So a 5-place grid drop for a driver infraction could be argued to hurt the team as much as a 5-place grid drop for a team error (gearbox) hurts the driver.

    But personally, I think that the approach is flawed, and the correct approach should be that a driver has 4 gearboxes per season, with penalties applied after that. Then if a gearbox failed, the team could change it without penalty and stand a chance of re-building it.

    (incidentally, the number 4 is chosen because it roughly equals the 5-races per gearbox rule, I’m not sure what the right number really is)

  10. michaeldobson13 (@michaeldobson13) said on 18th September 2012, 17:06

    Why not have a system similar to that of the engines; you are allowed to use (e.g.) 5, and can use them whenever. This would also give teams an opportunity to repair only certain parts in the gearbox, rather than using a whole new unit, which would cut costs further.
    Or the system that was in place last year, where you are allowed 1 change without penalty.

    Penalising the team probably wouldn’t work, as the loss in prize money would eventually filter down to effect the driver, plus I doubt the FIA would go for such a scheme as it would mean altering several other rules, such as team personnel on the grid, which is also not the drivers fault.
    Giving the teams a fine wouldn’t work either, as some larger teams would be able pay easily, but smaller teams might struggle.

  11. I think issuing a different penalty would also have its problems; the most credible would be to exclude the constuctor’s championship points for that team, but with a championship so close that could have adverse affects. However that may just be extra encouragement to build them to last!

  12. xjr15jaaag (@xjr15jaaag) said on 18th September 2012, 17:08

    I think that a hefty fine would suffice; maybe $250,000

    • $250.000 would be a lot of money for HRT, but for McLaren, and the other big guns, it’s a fraction of what their motorhomes have in electricity bills over a race weekend…..;)

      • xjr15jaaag (@xjr15jaaag) said on 18th September 2012, 21:11

        How about on a sliding scale, so the teams higher up the manufacturers championship have to pay up $1,500,000 per gearbox.
        The teams lower down, like HRT or Marussia have to pay something like $200,000 per gearbox.

        Then, for a final twist, half of the money given to the FiA gets given to GOSH

  13. Hotbottoms (@hotbottoms) said on 18th September 2012, 17:12

    I find it hard to vote either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

    I do think that drivers should receive a penalty, when their team decides to change gearbox against the rules. Performance of the car has and will always be a big factor in Formula1. It’s possible that a gearbox change isn’t driver’s fault, but neither is running a slow car or engine failure.

    I don’t like the idea of giving separate points for drivers and teams. Gearbox rule alone isn’t a big deal, but changing it and other reliability rules such as the engine rule, could lead to driver’s, whose teams are seeking speed with the cost of reliability, have advantage over others. There are of course some cases in which points have been awarded separately or taken away from teams, but those are exceptions given in rare situations. This would be a rule that would be used quite often.

    But no, I don’t think the current system is good enough. I have nothing against the grid penalties, but I think engine rule is better, since it lets teams decide when to change their engine thus eliminating some randomness. Similar rule for gearboxes would be fine. Either that or giving teams a ‘wild car’, letting them change gearbox prematurely once without a penalty.

  14. iAbuser (@iabuser) said on 18th September 2012, 17:13

    They should get drops, build a better gearbox if it cant hold up. Its a team effort.

  15. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 18th September 2012, 17:16

    I voted no, for a number of reasons. First of all, I think cost-cutting regulations should interfere with the sporting side of things as little as possible, and 16 penalties so far is way too many.

    Copying the engine regulation, with a penalty as soon as the 6th unit (9th for engines), would be a big improvement, as it should result in fewer penalties and allow teams to employ some discretion in when to take the penalty. On the one hand, you may feel this is unfair as you take your penalty when you’re already behind, but I think more important is that good qualifying results (like diResta in Monza) aren’t spoiled by the regulations.

    A second reason I voted no is that, although cost-cutting is important, how expensive are a couple of extra gearboxes anyway? I don’t have any insight into teams’ expenditures, but I suspect manufacturing a few extra gearboxes is a minor part of a team’s budget.

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