Start, Hungaroring, 2011

Should drivers get grid drops for gearbox changes?

Debates and pollsPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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. 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.

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

  3. 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.

    1. @fixy Agreed. F1 is a team sport. It isn’t just about the driver, it’s about the car and its reliability as well.

      1. Precisely. I didn’t think about adding that line to my comment, which sums it up well. Thanks @enigma!

        1. @Fixy We should be comment teammates :)

          1. @enigma hahaha I like the idea! :D

  4. 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.

  5. Wow, 2011 was a good year for gearboxes.

  6. Why not line the driver up on the grid in the position they qualified in,
    with the car receiving the 5-place grid penalty ?

    A Le Mans start would seem to satisfy all the criteria !

  7. If we allow gearbox changes, there must be a punishment to prevent changes at every race, but personally I would prefer to see gearboxes blow up on track, it’s alot more dramatic and the high mechanical attrition rate we once had in F1 used to be something that really appealed to me, something about drivers and engineers pushing things past the absolute limit!

  8. I’m leaning towards Constructor Points penalty, but it must not be fixed, maybe some kind of percentage as fixed point penalty will be much more severe for mid table teams compare to front runners.

    But then teams like Ferrari couldn’t give a **** about constructors, they will be bringing new gearbox to every race if it help their main driver to get an advantage. It’s very tricky.

    Maybe it’s good as it is now and maybe after teams/driver loose enough grid positions they will consider a more reliable gearboxes.

  9. Chris (@tophercheese21)
    19th September 2012, 6:31

    I dont think they should get a penalty if their gearbox box doesnt last 5 races.
    However, i think perhaps it should be reduced, so that they only get a penalty if their gearbox doesnt last for say 2 or 3 races, then they should get a penalty.

    But its tough because its not always that the gearbox fails.

    Im undecided.

    1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
      19th September 2012, 6:33

      edit: *But its tough because its not always the drivers fault that the gearbox fails. **

  10. Why dont teams just build stronger gearboxes. I bet if the rule got changed to DSQ rather than -5 grid slots we’d never see a gearbox go again. Teams are playing a percentage game with reliability (chance of failure) against lap time. When you play a game, sometimes you lose.

    1. Umm, that’s the very nature of F1…

      1. That’s my point exactly. It doesn’t matter what the rules are, F1 teams are going to push the limits.

  11. Yes there should be a penalty but maybe one like the engine penalty system. A set of gearboxes for the year and they need to look after them but only after a using all of their allowance is a penalty needed.

  12. Of course the bloody should… its a team sport after all!
    Fans love it when drivers and managers say “we win as team, and lose as team”… yet whinge when penalties are applied to the driver for a teams mistake….
    Isnt the driver a part of the team, and by penalising the driver, you penalise the team anyway?

    So a team screws up a pitstop, or calls the driver in when the pitlane is closed… should the driver then be given a drive through penalty but his finishing position (and points) be calculated forwards to his effective position on the track?
    Similarly, a driver speeds in the pitlane… should he be penalised with a drive through only for his points to be calculated forwards while the teams stay as they are?

    Bloody ridiculous argument if you ask me….

  13. The driver is part of the team so yes, they should be penalised.

  14. Yes! The best way to discourage the teams from going through gearboxes without a second thought is to penalize the drivers which, in turn affects the team. As, though the fault isn’t the driver’s, he definitely benefits by using a newer gearbox!

    If the penalty is to be changed, an alternative (off the top of my head) would be to combine the number of engines and gearboxes per season and to fix a certain number of gearbox changes allowed per season and if the limit is exceeded, there should be some sort of penalty where the team is then made to use one less engine through the course of the season.

    This, in my mind, would be a strict enough punishment and would discourage the teams.

  15. Yes, they should. It’s a team effort and the win/lose philosophy has to resonate throughout the entire team. If a player is sent off in football then his teammates have to make up the shortfall. F1 admittedly is not quite as clear as that as it makes a clear distinction between rewarding drivers and rewarding teams, which is unique to motorsport, but nevertheless rules are rules and the drivers are aware of them. If a driver believes his position in the WDC is compromised because of starting the race lower than planned then perhaps he should take up his issue with the team. They’re the ones providing him with insufficient equipment for the job and you wouldn’t catch them leaving the pits with less fuel than required or damaged tyres without complaining about it.

  16. I see I’m in the minority here, but I voted “Yes”.

    My reasoning is that F1 is a team sport. The Team is dependant on the driver’s performance, and the driver is dependant on the team’s performance. Saying that the driver shouldn’t be punished for the team’s mistake is incorrect in so many ways.

    If you take this argument further, ignoring the obviously absurd argument given about failures during the race, what about when a team has mis-interpretted the rules? They turn up to the track with a slightly out of spec rear wing. Should the driver still be allowed to race that car “because it was the team’s fault”? No!

    There should be no way of separating the team’s performance from the driver’s. Simple. They are a team(well, 2 teams really, one per driver), they should be dealt with as such. When Grosjean faced a one race ban, IMHO the team should not have been allowed to race another driver.

    In addition, I don’t believe the McLaren precedent for removal of WCC points is not appropriate. That was an exceptional set of circumstances, and was only used in order to allow LH & FA to testify with imunity. The option should be there for such exceptional circumstances, but should not be a general rule.

    There is already too much focus on the individual sport side of F1, and many forget that it is a team sport. They focus on the driver, and the team is seen as of secondary importance (if that) to most people I speak to. They talk of drivers being hard done by and teams messing up. They praise the drivers’ skills, and ignore how much the hard work of the team puts them in their respective positions. Swap the order of drivers/teams (i.e. put the best* driver in the worst car and the worst* driver in the best car) and I think we would see a much different outcome. People would be praising the performance of Charles Pic and calling Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso shite.

    So let’s stop this separation of team and driver. The driver is part of the team, it is the team who win races.


    *Best and worst drivers are in terms of how they are perceived in current conditions. I.e. the best driver is the one who comes first in the championship, the worst the one who comes last.

    1. The top teams try their best not to gamble on driver choice. They pick what is perceived to them to be the best drivers. The best drivers attract the top teams. The top teams attract all drivers. Drivers are picked after a shed load of analysis, quite a bit more involved than watching races on TV. A driver is picked that meets as much of the criteria that they are looking for.
      I don’t subscribe to the simple rule that all drivers are equally good, just in different performing cars. Some are just better than others – just like in all walks of life.

      1. I don’t subscribe to the simple rule that all drivers are equally good, just in different performing cars.

        Nor do I. Not all drivers are equal, but nor are all cars or all teams.

        All I was saying is that without a good team behind them, even the best driver will struggle, and the worst driver in F1 would do significantly better in the best team. Conversely, the best team would struggle without a good driver, and the worst team would do significantly better with a top driver.

        Which brings me back to my original point: F1 is a team sport.

  17. Sean N (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
    19th September 2012, 13:52

    The penalty should apply to the team only. The driver should start in the grid position he has earned and score points normally for his finishing position. However the team should only score points based on a five place drop in finishing position. I think this is the fairest and neatest way to separate the rule requirements for economy and durability versus the performance of the driver.

  18. i voted no, but only because keith has provided the perfect solution – car excluded from manufacturer’s championship, which also means the ‘lower’ teams stand a better chance of a points finish even if they are outside the first 10 over the line.

    1. that said, it could get messy towards the end of the season if one team is so far ahead in the CC, that they can afford to not score points and thus give driver xyz a new box / preferential ratios for the latter races in order to secure the WDC

  19. davidnotcoulthard
    19th September 2012, 14:13

    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.

    How about making it a few percent of the points (i.e. 10%) , instead of a few points, which differ in value for each team (Which Keith pointed out). As for teams with zero points, what about excluding their highest race finish from the Constructors, but not Drivers, Championship?

    As for teams that have never finished a race, exclude their first finish from the Constructors Championship (again, not the Drivers).

  20. A driver can be responsible for damaging the gear box through improper use. And they are limited to a certain amount. I would say view gear box’s like engines and after they’ve used their allocated amount and need extra, then penalize them.

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