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Insider's guide: What F1 penalties are there and how are they applied?

Dec 22, 2021

Do you know which drivers have been banned from F1, what the biggest ever fine was and what crimes get what penalties? Find out this and more here…

F1 takes no prisoners when it comes to dangerous and unfair driving or breaking the rules. There is a hefty set of penalties for anyone who steps out of line, and at races the buck stops with the stewards.

This system encourages teams to stick to the regulations and also discourages drivers from misdemeanours that could include blocking, pushing track limits, ignoring flags, speeding in the pits or driving dangerously.


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What penalties are there in F1?

The stewards have a range of punishments in their arsenal to use throughout a race weekend.

If a team replaces certain car parts outside permitted limits, they are punished with grid position penalties. Other ‘non-standard’ breaches of the regulations can result in a wide range of consequences – including fines of up to $100 million!

Driver can be reprimanded twice for minor misdemeanours without any penalty, but get a third and if two were due to driving infringements it’s an immediate ten place grid penalty.

Clear rule infringements in any session are typically investigated at the end of running, with exceeding track limits a regular occurrence this season. Anyone that does it gets the offending lap deleted.

In the race itself, depending on the severity of the incident, the stewards have a set of four main increasingly harsh penalties:

Five-second or ten-second time penalties

These must be carried out when the driver next makes a planned stop or pits under a safety car. The car must sit stationary for the penalty time before any tyre changes or other work is done. If the planned stops are completed before the penalty is given, or it comes in the last three laps, they can choose not to pit and have the penalty time added to their final race time instead.

Drive-through penalty

In this case, the driver must go into the pits and drive straight through at limited speed without stopping. This one must be served quickly – within two laps of receiving notice – and it can’t be taken under a safety car. If it’s given out in the last three laps, 20 seconds are added to the driver’s finishing time instead.

Ten-second stop-and-go penalty

This follows the same serving conditions as a drive-through but the driver must stop in the team’s pit for at least ten seconds and then immediately re-join the race without any work being done to the car. If the penalty comes in the last three laps, 30 seconds are added to the driver’s finishing time. There have been 38 of these penalties since 2000, but only eight in the last six seasons.

In all these cases, if the driver doesn’t respond in time or a team works on the car when they are not supposed to, they could be disqualified. If the driver retires before serving the penalty, it turns into a grid place penalty at the next race.

As well as these, the stewards can actually choose to hand out any punishment they deem suitable. This ranges from a simple reprimand for a wrongdoing to a disqualification or suspension in extreme circumstances.

It’s pretty rare for a driver to be banned, though. In the last 40 years there have only been six:

- Nigel Mansell, for ignoring a blag flag – Portugal, 1989

- Mika Hakkinen, for colliding with Rubens Barrichello – Britain, 1994

- Michael Schumacher, given a two-race ban for ignoring penalties during the race – Britain, 1994

- Eddie Irvine, given a three-race ban for causing a four-car crash – Brazil, 1994

- Jacques Villeneuve, excluded mid-event after triggering a suspended ban for ignoring waved yellow flags in multiple races, but competed under appeal only to have his result scratched from record – Japan, 1997

- Romain Grosjean, for causing a four-car accident – Belgium, 2012

Romain Grosjean, Lotus E20 Renault, Sergio Perez, Sauber C31 Ferrari, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F2012, and Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-27 Mercedes crashed at the start

Romain Grosjean, Lotus E20 Renault, Sergio Perez, Sauber C31 Ferrari, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F2012, and Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-27 Mercedes crashed at the start

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

How are penalties decided?

The scrutineering procedure includes monitoring the use of specific car parts and any team that changes these beyond a permitted number must tell the stewards and suffer the associated penalties.

On track, the action comes under constant scrutiny from the race director and stewards in race control. In every session, their eyes are glued to panels of screens showing all the different camera angles as well as official data feeds, trying to spot any incidents that may breach the rules.

Any potential infringement is referred to the race director and the stewards for review. If they decide to investigate, the teams involved are notified immediately, the stewards discuss the situation and a decision is made as quickly as possible. Drivers are only punished if they are wholly or predominantly to blame.

What penalties do teams get for using new parts?

To keep costs down, the number of gearboxes and power units that can be used in a season is restricted – but in 2021 every driver was forced to take grid penalties at some point to replace one or more parts beyond those limits.

Drivers must use the same gearbox for final practice, qualifying and the race in six consecutive events. If they change that at any point in that time, they get a five-place grid penalty.

Power units are more complicated, with each driver allowed no more than three engines, three turbochargers, three motor generator units-heat (MGU-H), three motor generator units-kinetic (MGU-K), two energy stores, two control electronics and eight sets of engine exhaust systems in the season.

If any more than the stipulated number of a particular part is used, it’s a ten-place grid penalty for the first replacement, another five for the next and any more will put a driver to the back of the grid.

If a driver changes chassis any time after third practice they must start from the pit lane. This has happened to Lewis Hamilton after a qualifying fire in Hungary in 2014 and Max Verstappen after a qualifying crash in Monaco in 2016.

How is the grid ordered when there are multiple penalties?

Penalties are applied in the order offences were committed – and if more than one driver is penalised for changing a part, preference will be given to the team that informed the technical delegate first.

Any driver that has to start from the back of the grid will line up behind the previously penalised drivers and if there is more than one sent to the back they will be arranged in qualifying order.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16 Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes F1 W11 and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11 at the start of the race

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16 Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes F1 W11 and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11 at the start of the race

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

What about tyre penalties?

Every tyre used at an event is marked with a unique ID that defines them and assigns them to a particular set. Using tyres without the right ID can result in a grid position penalty or even disqualification.

All drivers that qualify in the top 10 must start the race with the tyres they used to set their fastest time in Q2 – unless they choose to start from the pit lane, their tyres were damaged and replaced, or it is wet. If they fail to do this, they get a ten second stop-and-go penalty straight away.

In the race, any driver that uses a set of tyres with different specs or a set that was not originally allocated to them will get a ten second stop-and-go penalty if the issue is not rectified within three laps.

That actually happened to Mercedes in Sakhir in 2020, when substitute driver George Russell was given Valtteri Bottas’ front tyres. Instead of a penalty, however, the stewards opted to give the team a €20,000 fine.

What grid penalties are there?

Any driver whose car doesn’t have all its wheels on and/or its tyre blankets disconnected at the five-minute signal will get a ten-second stop-and-go.

When the grid starts to clear, the team and equipment must be off the grid by the 15-second signal. If not, the driver has to start the race from the pit lane and if they don’t, it’s a drive-through penalty.

On the formation lap, any driver that has a slow getaway can overtake to regain their original position but if they don’t make it they have to go into the pit lane and start from there. If they don’t, it’s a ten second stop-and-go.

Likewise, if a driver causes the start to be aborted but then takes the formation lap, they also have to start from the pit lane or serve a ten second stop-and-go.

How are false starts penalised?

Cars are fitted with transponders that detect any movement before the lights go out – and any false start is penalised with a five or ten second penalty or a drive-through, depending on the advantage gained.

The same happens if a car lines up in a position where the transponder can’t detect the car’s getaway – and if the transponder doesn’t trigger but a visually clear false start has occurred, the stewards can overrule the system.

What penalties are there during a safety car period?

Unless drivers are waved past so or are recovering from being lapped, they are punished for overtaking during a safety car period – Sergio Perez, for example, got a 10-second penalty at Imola in 2021 for doing just that.

In a safety car re-start, drivers that drop places can take them back but if they fail to before the safety car comes in they have to pit and start from the end of the pit lane. Kimi Raikkonen got a 30-second penalty for that in the same Imola race.

Under a ‘virtual’ safety car, if drivers don’t stay above the minimum lap time set by the stewards, they get one of the four standard penalties, depending on the advantages they gained.

And if a race is suspended, all cars must line up in the fast lane at the end of the pits until the restart. If a car is moved from its position or doesn’t have all its wheels by the five-minute signal the driver gets a penalty.

Pit lane penalties

The pit lane is the only place on the racetrack where there is a speed limit! It’s set at 80km/h and despite having a special electronic limiter button in the car drivers often accidentally go beyond it.

In practice, they are fined €100 for each km/h above the limit up to €1,000, with an additional penalty if it was done deliberately. In the race, it’s a 10-second time penalty, a drive-through or a 10-second stop-and-go, depending on the severity.

Pastor Maldonado had one of the most bizarre speeding violations when, driving for Lotus in Hungary, he was caught over the limit in the pit lane…while serving a drive-through penalty for another offence!

Sending a car out into oncoming traffic in the pit lane after a stop is a big no-no and used to be given a hefty fine – Ferrari had to hand over €50,000 when they dangerously released Kimi Raikkonen in Bahrain in 2018. Since 2019 it has been a ten-second stop-and-go, or a fine if the incident causes the driver to retire.

If the pit lane is closed for safety reasons, any driver that pits during that time – other than for obvious essential repairs – gets a ten-second stop-and-go. That happened to both Hamilton and Antonio Giovanazzi at Monza in 2020.

Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C39 stops for his penalty

Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C39 stops for his penalty

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Driver penalty points

Since 2014, drivers have been given penalty points to stop repeat offenders. Just like a road license, it’s usually three points for each incident, with a total of 12 resulting in suspension for the next event.

Most penalties, whatever the level of severity, come with licence points attached and they last for 12 months before being removed, although after a suspension a driver gets a clean slate.

So far, no driver has collected enough to trigger a ban – although Sebastian Vettel and Grosjean came close. Many feel the system is flawed, however, as points given for minor offences can quickly wrack up and change their driving style.

Appeals

Teams can protest and appeal against certain penalties, disqualifications and suspensions – but it comes at a price, with protests costing €2,000 each and appeals €6,000.

As mentioned before, appeals cannot be made against the main penalties nor any part changes. Teams also can’t appeal against practice session penalties, any five-minute signal penalties or any suspension from driver penalty points.

Extreme punishments

Sometimes the standard punishments are simply not strong enough fit the crimes – and some teams have been slapped with huge fines or season-long disqualifications for technical infringements.

In 2020, Racing Point was docked 15 points and fined €400,000 for using brake ducts designed by Mercedes, which is not allowed. They appeal, but they had no ground to stand on.

That was not F1’s biggest fine, though. That was $100 million, and was handed out to McLaren, along with disqualification from the constructors’ championship, after chief designer Mike Coughlan accepted confidential information from Ferrari chief mechanic Nigel Stepney in 2007.

In 2004, BAR was disqualified from two races, in Spain and Monaco, and given a suspended six-month ban when it was discovered their car had a secret fuel tank, enabling it to run underweight.

Twenty years earlier, Tyrrell was disqualified for a season for a similar thing, this time using an extra water tank. They said it was to cool the brakes, but instead it was emptied early in the race to reduce weight and filled back up at the end.

Once, a $1 million fine was handed out to Ferrari even though they didn’t actually break the rules – but it was for something so blatantly and obviously unsporting it could not go unpunished.

It happened when they called team orders on Rubens Barrichello in 2002, in just the sixth race of the 17-race season and he made it obvious by braking hard just metres from the line to let team-mate Michael Schumacher through.

Team orders were banned from then on – but six years later in the Singapore Grand Prix Renault ordered Nelson Piquet Jr to crash deliberately, causing a safety car period that enabled team-mate Fernando Alonso to win the race.

The team was charged with ‘conspiracy’ but was only given a suspended disqualification – although engineering chief Pat Symonds was banned for five years and team boss Flavio Briatore was kicked out of management for life.

Drivers can get bigger punishments too, and one of the most famous was in 1997, when Schumacher’s entire season of points was wiped out for deliberately crashing into title rival Jacques Villeneuve at the final race. He also had to do a year’s ‘community service’ for the FIA!

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