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?

  1. They should at least remove advantage of a tactical gearbox change after a poor quali as mentioned above.
    Why not insist that they start on the tyres they qualified with even if they are outside the top 10 after the 5 place drop? That would cut out a large proportion of the penalties we see.

    • AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 18th September 2012, 19:47

      @mv, I don’t agree there’s any advantage to a tactical gearbox change. In Bahrain, for instance, Mercedes opted to change Schumacher’s gearbox moving him from 17th to 22nd. The reason I think this is a bad idea, is that starting from 17th he has a reasonable chance of passing a number of fast(ish) cars at the start and on the first lap, whereas from 22nd, there’s a good chance you still have to make your way past all of the cars that do not belong to the ‘three new’ teams.

      Obviously, a penalty from 17 to 22 is less harmful than a penalty from 1 to 6, but it’s still a penalty, and I feel some teams are accepting them too lightly.

  2. Hotbottoms (@hotbottoms) said on 18th September 2012, 17:23

    Taking away constructor points could also lead to favoritism and peculiar strategies. For instance, would Ferrari change Alonso’s gearbox, if they suspected it to be flawed? Possibly. What about Massa’s? No, why would they give a damn about how Massa finishes in championship standings, yet he might be able to finish the race with some luck.

  3. rdpunk (@) said on 18th September 2012, 17:25

    Although I agree with teams being penalised for changing gear boxes I don’t feel a grid drop is fair. It’s a tricky thing really to decided as you said Keith, point deduction is out of the question whilst I feel that dropping a driver five places for changing a gear box is too harsh considering that worse on track violations have just received that and a drive through. I honestly feel financial implications would be better off, I mean Red Bull and Williams seem to always be changing gear boxes whilst HRT and Marussia never seem too have many or at least I don’t think see (Lazy couldn’t luck up the facts I’m sorry).

  4. Swe F1 Fan said on 18th September 2012, 17:36

    Wouldn’t it be five gazillion times better if it was the same with the gearboxes as it is with the engines?!
    If the teams were allowed to allocate the gearboxes to different races which are more/less demanding and have a restricted number of them to use… this change in every five races is ridiculous and seems a bit wastefull even…
    If a gearbox would fail then they have to use the other ones more sparcly, I fail to see the negatives of this approach since it works really well for the engines

  5. Mike the bike Schumacher (@mike-the-bike-schumacher) said on 18th September 2012, 17:40

    Why should a driver suffer a penalty for a car fault? Because he is only one member of a team. If the driver gets a drive through, then the team suffers along with the driver. The blame for a gearbox failure most likely can’t be blamed on one person, but probably could be ultimately blamed on a handful of designers/engineers/technicians i.e. Team members! So maybe these guys should get the penalty rather than the whole team, but of course that’s not possible. In the other team sports I can think of football, rugby, etc. if a team member gets penalised it effects the whole team, you generally can’t substitute a player whose been sent off.
    So why should a team sport like F1 be any different? Well I guess it’s glaringly obvious since there is a diver’s championship, but then again maybe there shouldn’t be. I mean it’s obvious a driver will only win the championship if his team is good enough to do it. So it’s not really an individual championship.
    Maybe a driver should be seen as the striker, or the flyhalf? The key team member.
    Anyway the way I see it the driver is just the final link in the chain to get a car around a track as quickly as possible, so penalties should not be separated between the team/driver.

  6. I voted yes. The only real reason I can see to remove this rule is to improve ‘the show’, so I feel morally obligated to disagree.

    Drivers have to put up with what they’re given, it’s always been a part of motor racing that the car counts for more than the driver and this goes for reliability as much as speed. Docking constructors points after a race on a regular basis would be very confusing, and might lead teams to issue orders if one driver is locked into not scoring constructors’ points.

  7. James (@jamesf1) said on 18th September 2012, 17:56

    I voted yes. I see the penalty as a punishment for the team rather than the driver. For many teams on the grid it is somewhat out of their hands as they are supplied gearboxes as part of their engine package from whichever manufacturer, however, the teams decided to go with said suppliers.

    It also helps to keep the sport relevant and current.

    Also, I dont think the idea of excluding the finishing position of the car from the constructors points is a good idea. There are many, including on this website, which criticise the sport for being too confusing to the casual fan, this would only complicate things further. A grid place drop is far more understandable, and easier to explain to the average fan.

  8. The problem with docking the team points or any of the other suggestions is that those are penalties which cannot be overcome.

    F1 is a team sport and the driver is totally dependent on the team, so to serve a penalty to the driver and the team is really the same thing.

    The great thing about the gearbox penalties is that they allow the best drivers to shine and overcome the setback. They also mix up the grid rather nicely and allow other drivers to creep a bit closer to the front from time to time!

  9. squaregoldfish (@squaregoldfish) said on 18th September 2012, 18:11

    The assumption is that the team changes the gearbox because it would fail in the race. If it fails in the race, more often than not the driver will be eliminated from the race, and neither they nor the team score points. The driver loses his chance for points through no fault of his own.

    Following that logic, if a team changes a gearbox when they shouldn’t, they should be thrown out of the race altogether to get the same effect as the failed gearbox. That’s obviously a dumb idea, so the compromise is to push the car further back down the grid to reduce their chances of scoring points. The team and driver are punished equally, just as they would be for a failure during the race. Therefore the grid drop is a reasonable penalty to impose.

    Whether five places is enough is a matter of opinion. You could argue that the car should be sent to the back of the grid to maximise the ‘simulated’ effect of the ‘broken’ gearbox. I’m undecided on that score.

  10. necrodethmortem (@necrodethmortem) said on 18th September 2012, 18:14

    I voted no opinion, because there are two things I’d like to know before making a decision:

    1) How big a percentage of a team’s budget goes into gearboxes?
    2) Has this percentage dropped since the introduction of this rule, or has it increased?

    If it is like I think it is, that a gearbox is a marginal expense for a team and that there hasn’t been any change in the development cost since this rule, then I would vote to just drop the rule. If the cost of a gearbox is significant to a team and this rule has managed to decrease that cost, I would vote to keep the rule. If it’s a combination, well… we’ll see then.

  11. maxthecat said on 18th September 2012, 18:31

    NO, i’ve always thought a 1 constructors point deduction the better option. Or if the FIA wish to be harsh, half the points won in the race at which the gearbox was changed.

  12. Shane (@shane-pinnell) said on 18th September 2012, 18:44

    Transmissions should be treated like engines. Limit the number per season, but let the teams swap them as they see fit throughout the season. Anything above 4 engines should result in a penalty and I am fine with a grid drop. While not “directly” the driver’s fault, who’s to say that a driver’s overly aggressive abuse of the curbs 2 races ago didn’t impact the longevity of the transmission?

    As the rules stand, with 5 consecutive races, then “no”, the driver should not be penalized.

  13. MahavirShah (@mahavirshah) said on 18th September 2012, 18:52

    Definately NO! I think drivers should only be responsible for how they drive on the track. To this end even unsafe release, if it is the teams fault, should hold the team responsible and not the driver. Ultimately, the driver is going to have is performance measured and while a team may say that “Oh we understand he has a gearbox penalty” and so on, it is particularly frustrating for a driver as well. It is particularly harsh for a midfield or backmarker team who would not have much of a chance to gain places without a decent qualifying performance. Also consider that the title depended on it. Would the championship leader be 1) responsible for his gearbox failing 2) have to incur a penalty and then make up places to win the WDC?

    I agree that teams should be docked points from their total however drivers should not. This way a driver is unaffected by something that is not really in his control.

  14. I think the drivers should get the penalty, They are a part of the team afterall.
    If your going to start seperating team/driver from penaltys do you start saying that if a driver suffers a time penalty post race for causing an accident or something that the team should get to keep the constructors points from the original finishing position because it wasn’t there problem?

    Also what if the gearbox failure came about as a result of something the driver had done?
    For example we saw in 2009 Rubens Barrichello over-torque a gearbox at the start of a race which damaged it.

  15. They should allocate a certain amount of engines and gearboxes that they can use whenever they want. It doesn’t have to last an x amount of races before they can change it. If they have 5 engines (or gearboxes), then they could run engine no.1 for FP1, engine no.2 for FP2, 3 for FP3, 4 for QP and 5 for the race (of course using it like this is stupid, but this is only an extreme example of what should be allowed).

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