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. To those voting no – do you think a car’s finishing position should be excluded from the driver’s championship if the driver is adjudged to have caused a collision during the race? If not, why should the team be punished on account of the driver?

  2. verstappen (@verstappen) said on 18th September 2012, 19:35

    I voted no opinion. It seems very clear cut, but why are there some drivers within a team who get all the gearbox problems? Maybe they pay a price for their driving style or (gearbox) set up preferences?

    Back in the day people did blame Kimi for all those blow ups at McLaren… And seeing Maldonado heading up the list doesn’t help me to think that the driver really has no influence at all.

    Since a large part of me thinks otherwise, I used the schyzo-option…

  3. Imre (@f1mre) said on 18th September 2012, 19:43

    As I wrote it before gearboxes should be handled just like engines. X gearboxes a year. When the driver uses the X+1st, he gets a penalty. Or a better version. One gearbox/weekend. Are gearboxes really THAT expensive?

  4. i thought they had this rule because they didn’t want teams to have gearboxes just for qualifying like in the old days they used gearboxes and engines just for qualifying and they would destroy these during the session.

  5. But should drivers be punished in this way for failures which are outside of their control?

    Well, reliability always penalizes you, but I don’t think that they should penalize drivers and maybe ruin their weekends if the gearbox happens to fail… I mean, F1 is about reaching the limit of what’s technically possible, and it’s obvious some of the gearboxes will fail.

    I think they should do like the engines, maybe 10 gearboxes per season and if one fails, you can always use another one. But you limit the amount of components you have to build per year, bringing down costs and everything. And if the team needs another gearbox (or if they chose to get a new one), then 10 place grid penalty.

  6. The penalty is harsh on the driver if the fault is an internal component in the gearbox. But haven’t some gearboxes been changed due to damage to the casing, ripped out drive shafts or rear supension mounting points due to crash damage. And in that case was the crash the drivers fault or was the car crashed into by another driver. Also punishing the driver for causing gearbox damage due to a crash when he is testing the limits in practice sessions would also seem harsh.

    Difficult one but 5 place drop is definitely too much.

  7. I voted – ‘ yes’. For a very simple fact that there is no other penalty that is best suited for the team other than 5 place grid penalty (currently). The other way round is to amend the rules in the first place…allow 2 gear boxes in 7 consecutive races instead of the current one. According to me it should solve the issue!

  8. Yes..they score points and win races with those gearbox’s regardless of who built the gearbox. They win as a team they lose as a team..impossible for a driver to race without a gearbox. So yes grid drops that affect the driver and team is perfectly reasonable. I have yet to see a driver win a gp in a fred flinstone way.

  9. OOliver said on 18th September 2012, 20:39

    Why can’t they just have the penalty when they have used up their allocation of gearboxes, which should be about 5 or 6 a season.
    The gearbox is a significant part of the drivetrain, but if the FIA is concerned that team would have an advantage from mixing and matching gearboxes, then the teams could just submit the approved number of gearboxes to be sealed at the start of a season, and we have a similar situation as we now have with the engines.
    currently, a lot of time is spent mating gearboxes to engines to meet the regulations.
    It has cost many a driver grid penalties and has cost some other drivers practice times.

  10. As long as the gear ratios originally submitted for the race are used, then I don’t feel a penalty for replacing the gearbox is necessary. If the gear ratios are changed, then yes. Teams could claim a failure, swap the gearbox and ratios, and gain an unfair advantage where the compliant teams are “locked” into the ratios they submitted.

  11. No driver penalty. Dock the constructor points. Make it a percentage based on current position in championship. 1st = 10%, 2nd = 8%, 3rd = 6%, 4th = 4%, 5th = 2%. Anyone else no penalty. The big guns should have their gearbox technology sorted with all their riches. Don’t be so hard as we move towards the bottom of the table and the lower budgets.

  12. david d.m. said on 18th September 2012, 21:48

    I say take 5-10% points off from the Constructors championship and hand a fine to the manufacturer of that gearbox.

  13. Despite being in the minority, I picked “yes”, and here’s the reason: although I am not happy with drivers being penalised for an infringement committed by the team, and not on purpose as well. However the alternatives are worse in my opinion. When a driver who should be left without gearbox replaces it he gains a benefit in a way, avoiding to be penalised for it. That would be unfair for the others, therefore that driver starts 5 places behind, which is not enough for his race to be completely destroyed but it makes life harder for him. After all it’s the driver who gains benefit from a new gearbox, so he should pay for the substitution. It’s unfair when the gearbox brakes because of bad luck, but bad luck can’t be avoided. It would strike the driver in a way or another.

  14. Conor Sheehan said on 18th September 2012, 21:57

    I agree with the grid place penalty. To look at the argument from a technical point of view, if a team would value the imposed penalty as to light to have an effect on positioning. They may choose to gear the cars to work to higher torque values and more extreme gear ratios to gain the benefit from doing so. With no intention of making the gearbox last five races, rather making it last three and taking the penalty every third/fourth race.

  15. Cornflakes (@cornflakes) said on 18th September 2012, 22:08

    Wow, 2011 was a good year for gearboxes.

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