Analysis: Did F1 drivers really get more penalties last year?

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Teams and drivers push the limits of the rules in every respect. So it’s no surprise that, as in all sports, controversy abounds when someone is judged to have broken a rule.

That was no more obvious than in Canada last year, when a five-second time penalty for Sebastian Vettel denied Ferrari their first win of the year, and handed victory to Lewis Hamilton. The debate over whether stewards should “let them race”, or rigidly apply the rules at every round, rumbled on throughout the season.

The 2019 season also saw a significant and largely unanticipated change on the FIA’s regulatory side. The sudden death of race director Charlie Whiting after he arrived in Melbourne for the first weekend of the year led the FIA to promote Michael Masi in his place.

Like Whiting before him, the role Masi plays in the stewarding process is often misunderstood. Although he has the power to refer incidents to the stewards, it is the stewards who decide what gets a penalty and what doesn’t, not Masi himself.

Many of the stewards have been in place for several years, and last season was the 10th since the FIA began using ex-drivers to advise their decisions. This means we should expect to see continuity and consistency in the decision-making process, despite the change at the top.

Number of incidents investigated

Sergio Perez, Racing Point, Circuit of the Americas, 2019
Many track limits penalties were issued at COTA
The raw numbers make it clear. Far more incidents were investigated last year Formula 1 drivers received more penalties as a result.

But does that mean the stewards are taking a tougher line on driving standards? Look a little closer and it’s clear this is another case of the statistics not quite bearing out reality.

The majority of the increase occurred because of a change in the way track limits were policed at the German and United States Grands Prix. Electronic loops were used to detect if a driver had run wide, and their lap times deleted if they did. This alone caused an extra 46 investigations and penalties.

If we exclude those we can see there was still a rise in the number of investigations and penalties, but a much more modest one.

Does this mean drivers were indeed committing more infractions which the stewards decided should be penalised? Again, this is not quite the case, as the data reveals.

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Penalties due to drivers and teams

Once more, on the face of it, the data looks clear: There was a large increase in the number of penalties caused by drivers (e.g. collisions, track limits) than teams (e.g. engine and gearbox changes).

But again, we know 46 of those penalties were routine lap time deletions. The electronic loops at two races account for more than half of all driver penalties issued during 2019.

Factor those out and the number of penalties given for driving infringements per race falls from a real value of 4.1 to just 2.0. That compares to 2.3 for 2018 when, as the next graph shows, the number of lap time deletion penalties was far lower.

2019 penalties versus 2018

Lap time deletion penalties aside, there was little change from 2018 to 2019 in terms of how many penalties were handed down.

There was an increase in the number of occasions drivers were order to start from the back of the grid or in the pits. This follows changes to the rules limiting how many times drivers may change their power unit components. Drivers who exceed the allocation by a significant amount now have to start from the pits instead of being given grid penalties of 20 places or more.

Penalty points

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Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat, Baku City Circuit, 2019
Dodgy reversing got Ricciardo in trouble
While Romain Grosjean made it as far as 10 penalty points in 2018, no one in 2019 got that close to the 12 required for a one-race ban. Sebastian Vettel hit the season’s peak of nine point at the Italian Grand Prix.

This also made him the driver who has scored the most penalty points since the system was introduced five years ago. He now has a total of 24. Incredibly, Formula 2 driver Mahaveer Raghunathan scored that many in a single season, earning himself a one-event ban, and only avoiding a second on a technicality.

Heading into the 2020 F1 season, Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo have the highest number of penalty points at the moment, on seven.

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Notes on the data

The figures above exclude fines for minor infractions e.g. pit lane speeding during practice. All penalties due to component changes have been considered the responsibility of teams.

2019 F1 season

Browse all 2019 F1 season articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 28 comments on “Analysis: Did F1 drivers really get more penalties last year?”

    1. Very nice analysis, and it just goes to show how the topline numbers are much more nuanced once we start drilling down into the detail.

      I would like to see stricter track limits rolled out to more circuits, and I hope the FIA have this under consideration, or are already working on it.

      1. The electronic loops at two races account for more than half of all driver penalties issued during 2019.

        Factor those out and the number of penalties given for driving infringements per race falls from a real value of 4.1 to just 2.0.

        Bit of a nitpick, but would it be clearer to phrase that as “race weekend” and not just “race”, seeing as lap-time deletions would apply to quali (and FP?).

      2. I would like to see stricter track limits rolled out to more circuits

        Amen to that!

        As I’ve said before, I would favour a reversal of current rules: Rather than getting a penalty if it results in an advantage, give a penalty unless it results in a clear disadvantage. This should be automatic, but able to be overruled by the stewards. All four wheels off the road, penalty unless the stewards say otherwise.

        These are the best drivers in the world. They can drive within the limits if they want. If they go off track, one of there things has occurred:
        – They purposely left, which they would only do to gain an advantage and deserves a penalty
        – They were forced off, which doesn’t deserve a penalty so the stewards could overrule
        – They made a mistake, which deserves a disadvantage – this could be a penalty, or it could be a natural disadvantage which would allow the stewards to overrule the penalty

        1. Yes, exactly. Any driver who goes all 4 off track (no part of the car touching the white line) should be required to come to a complete stop before safely rejoining. Have the teams report on each other, it will never be missed. Ignored if forced off, penalize the pusher offer.

          As you said, these are supposed to be the best closed circuit drivers IN THE WORLD, hold them to that. Every other major sport has out if bounds rules and strictly enforces them, F1 is extremely unprofessional in this aspect.

          1. @megatron ”Any driver who goes all 4 off track (no part of the car touching the white line) should be required to come to a complete stop before safely rejoining.”
            – That would be an unnecessary safety risk, though especially at blind-ish corners.

            1. They don’t have to srop immediately, it could be further off the line, maybe in a safely placed penalty box. Going around cones isn’t safe or penalizing enough, remember Perez in France. Going off track to avoid an accident should be given leeway, but they shouldn’t have to run over huge kers to avoid an incident.

              Everything on track should be for racing, everything off track should be for safety.
              @jerejj

        2. @drmouse

          Also, they need to get rid of the large bumps off track, they are a hugesafety liability.

          1. Has Brawn ever mentioned how the 2021 cars will behave if they bounce off the ground and the floor loses its sealing action? It feels like your concern is going to become an even bigger risk once the cars start using ground effects.

            1. Indycars attack kerbs liberally, I guess it also depends on the speed.

            2. Thank you.

      3. @phylyp, in terms of raw numbers, the 2019 season would also be more likely to generate more penalties in total simply because the season itself was longer – more races would add in the likelihood of more penalties, from driver errors to penalties for premature parts changes. In that sense, the penalties per race stat is more instructive, as is filtering out those penalties which were for the team and which went to drivers.

        I would also be interested to see if there was a change in the penalty rate over the course of the season – given the attacks the FIA faced for penalising popular drivers, I would be interested to see whether the stewards possibly took a more lenient approach later in the season so as to avoid such public criticism.

        1. They stewards were clearly far too lenient on VER in Austria, he plowed into LEC forcing him off track, when they very easily went thru the same corner side by side the lap before. And that lax officiating led to LEC being emboldened to push HAM off in Monza. The stewards are killing the racing by allowing contact as a form of defense. Side by side racing can not occur when drivers are allowed to force their competitors off track as a for of defense.

          The stewards were lenient after Canada and it had a negative effect on the rest of the season and continues to going forward.

        2. penalties per race stat

          True, and Keith has provided that in his article, which proves that after factoring out the track limits, the penalties per race in 2019 is lower than 2018:

          Factor [lap time deletions] out and the number of penalties given for driving infringements per race falls from a real value of 4.1 to just 2.0 [in 2019]. That compares to 2.3 for 2018

          I would also be interested to see if there was a change in the penalty rate over the course of the season – given the attacks the FIA faced for penalising popular drivers

          Ooh, that’s a very interesting question, although I suspect it’ll be near impossible to draw any conclusions given the paucity of data points (firstly, just 21 races, and different circuits lend themselves to driver penalties differently).

    2. While electronic track limit monitoring did play a role, it only registered infractions that were real.
      If the track limits had been observed and dealt with by the stewards, many of them would have resulted in an investigation and a penalty as well. At least that should be so.
      So I think the trend really goes up.

      That said, if the track limits could not have been monitored like that other measures would have been taken, like more kerbs or astroturf. Those would not have resulted in penalties but just cause time loss or damage.
      There simply is more opportunity to catch a penalty than before.
      That does not mean stewarding got harsher, just that there are more situations to which it applies.

    3. For some reason, I ended up agreeing with most of the penalties due to race incidents. Not at first, but got convinced after watching onboards and replays.

      But Vettel rejoining the track in front of Hamilton was not one of them. Even if you count that Vettel saw him and moved to block Hamilton. They’re racing.

      But I guess after that the stewards started looking differently to incidents like that, which is a good thing.

      1. But Vettel rejoining the track in front of Hamilton was not one of them. Even if you count that Vettel saw him and moved to block Hamilton.

        RIP, comments section.

      2. He was rightfully penalised and you just need to move on…

      3. after that the stewards started looking differently to incidents like that

        No, there was precedent for it, such as the one involving Raikkonen and Verstappen in Japan the year before:

        https://www.racefans.net/2018/10/07/verstappen-alonso-and-stroll-given-penalty-points-for-incidents/

        Same infringement (impeding another driver by rejoining), same penalty.

        1. @keithcollantine

          The penalty seemed to larger in Monza, at least for Stroll who got a drive thru even with no contact to Gasly.

      4. There is no more racing once you are off track, which vettel was. Once you are off track it is the driver’s responsibility to rejoin safely without effecting other drivers. We can not have incidents like Vettel coming back on track and hitting Stroll like he did in Monza. Vettel was rightly penalized in canada, 5s was lenient.

        1. @phylyp A good comment is not the one you agree with, but the one that gets people commenting over it. I like yours by the way, even when I don’t agree with it.
          @slowmo I am no Vettel fan. The opposite, actually. But I’ve seen many drivers trying to keep their position after missing a turn. He didn’t gain a time advantage, he didn’t hit Hamilton.
          @keithcollantine Thanks for the link. But my point is that after that incident the stewards started to consider questionable moves as racing incidents more often. Leclerc squeezing Hamilton onto the grass is one example.

    4. The lap time-deletion approach due to slightly leaving the track has gone a bit overboard in my view. That should only be done if going off leads to a direct improvement in lap time and or sector time precisely through that mini-sector, but it has more often seemed to be done just for the sake of it. I especially don’t understand the change of approach at COTA towards the penultimate corner, where as recently as in 2017, drivers were allowed to leave it very wide there as long as doing so didn’t have a direct impact on the overall lap time or sector time, and going wide there didn’t. How could it have been different twelve months later? How could leaving the track there be more advantageous with the 2018 and ’19 cars than the ’17 cars?

      ”There was an increase in the number of occasions drivers were order to start from the back of the grid or in the pits. This follows changes to the rules limiting how many times drivers may change their power unit components. Drivers who exceed the allocation by a significant amount now have to start from the pits instead of being given grid penalties of 20 places or more.”
      – This must be a change for the upcoming season because I haven’t been aware of the above before. The ”Drivers who exceed the allocation by a significant amount now have to start from the pits instead of being given grid penalties of 20 places or more” part I mean.

      1. It is almost impossible to determine if crossing a line gives an improvement of the lap time, which makes it way too inconsistent. Much better to just make it black and white. Then it’s up to the driver to decide if going close is worth the risk.

      2. That should only be done if going off leads to a direct improvement in lap time and or sector time precisely through that mini-sector

        @jerejj – I would suggest you look at it this way – the driver didn’t drive on the prescribed route for that circuit, so a lap didn’t happen.

        Similar to someone shortcutting a chicane, say skipping T6 at Yas Marina.

        1. @phylyp Cutting a chicane isn’t 100% the same as going wide at the exit of a high or medium-speed corner, but I get your point anyway.

          1. It should absolutely be a black and white penalty, go off track in qually, lap time deleted, go off track in the race, must come to a complete stop (in a safe penalty box zone if necessary) before SAFELY rejoining. Drivers should not be able to miss turn 2 apex at Monza and retain their position to a car a second or 2 behind. F1 needs black and white clearly delineated rules.

    5. Two days of public service = Best penalty ever! (for stupid reasons)

    6. Would it help if there was a secondary set of stewards that dealt with the simple “break the rules” infringements, such as, pit lane speeding, track limits, not slowing for yellows etc. and allow the main group of stewards to concentrate on the more difficult racing incidents?

    Comments are closed.