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How well would a penalty-point system work in Formula 1?

A meeting with the teams was scheduled ahead of this week's Spanish GP to discuss the measure in order to prevent repeat offenders and make drivers think hard about their actions.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013

May 8th, 2013 (F1plus/R. Baillie).- When Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean joined the sport we saw a number of reckless incidents which they continued to make, despite being given penalties.

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Last year, Romain Grosjean caused seven first lap incidents and after causing a serious incident in Belgium the stewards decided enough was enough and gave him a one race ban, making him the first driver to receive one in 18 years.

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The proposed penalty system would see drivers receive penalty points for offences which eventually would see a repeat offender receive race bans.
It will be a while yet before we see any system like this implemented into the sport as Whiting commented said that ‘we will be monitoring offences and running a (hypothetical) system in the background to see how it would all work if put into practice.’

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If this system was deemed appropriate by the FIA and the teams and would put into practice, would it work?

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Receiving points which drivers knew would eventually end in race bans and perhaps in extreme circumstances see a driver banned from the sport for a year, would probably make drivers think more about their actions than they do when they receive a grid penalty.
In some cases, especially for the bigger teams, a five place grid penalty isn’t all that damaging to their race as drivers like Alonso can work their way through traffic quite easily so they don’t suffer for their actions as much as drivers further down the grid.

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The major issue we are faced with is that stewards don’t always dole penalties out fairly, for example; Michael Schumacher was given a 10 place grid penalty in Singapore in 2012 for running into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne, ending his race. After a number of repeat incidents Romain Grosjean was given five place grid penalties, of course until the Belgian Grand Prix.

If the penalty points system was to work properly, the FIA would need to seriously think about every possible incident or infringement of rules under a number of circumstances and what the outcome would be in terms of penalty points for the driver at fault.

The stewards would also seriously need to think about what the punishments would be for repeat offenders, perhaps race bans to begin with or suspending their super license for a season in serious cases.

The system would also need to take into account existing penalties; would they exist alongside penalty points or would they be scrapped with penalty points being considered enough of a punishment?
While it’s highly unlikely that the FIA would ever agree to remove the grid and drive-through penalties from the sport, it could be very dangerous if they did.
Imagine that drivers are given a maximum of 40 points before receiving a one race ban and going into the last few races of the year, a driver has 20 points. Their team may decide it’s worth them breaking the rules and overtaking under a yellow flag if it helps them gain vital points and means they still won’t reach 40 points.

We don’t like to think of teams and drivers as exploiting the rules like this, but we all know they will do whatever it takes to win the World Championship. Think back to the American Grand Prix last year where Ferrari intentionally broke Felipe Massa’s gearbox seal to promote Fernando Alonso to the clean side of the grid.

If, and only if, the stewards could ensure that all of the drivers will be treated fairly, the penalty point system could work quite effectively. However if it there was any kind of unfairness in the way that points were handed out the sport would look ridiculous.

If a driver categorically knew that they were at serious risk of a race ban for repeatedly making serious mistakes it may well make them think and could have helped Grosjean and Maldonado stop and think relatively early on and sort their behaviour out. However, the system could quite easily be abused if drivers and teams think it’s worth picking penalty points up if it benefits their bid for the World Championship.

An image of the big crash at the 2012 Belgian GP, which was started by Romain Grosjean. (Steve Etherington/LAT Photographic)

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