Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Absurdity of F1 Grid Penalties

Formula 1 has always been known as being somewhat of a circus. From the wild days of the 1970's, where spectacle, guts and determination ruled the day to the halcyon days of the present, Formula 1 has always prided itself on being the pinnacle of motorsport.

The world-famous Eau Rouge of the Belgian Grand Prix
at Spa-Francorchamps.
While the definition of pinnacle may state that it's the highest point of development or achievement, the absurdity of handing McLaren Honda drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button a combined 55-place grid penalty has many wondering if the powers that be have finally gone off the deep end.

Both drivers have a new, upgraded Honda power unit residing in their chassis. They both are on their seventh power units this season, two more than the regulations allow for new engine manufacturers. 

Both drivers have also replaced other components on their cars, all beyond the maximum number allowed per regulations. Alonso has a 30-place grid penalty, while Button has a 25-place penalty. Both drivers will obviously be starting from the tail-end of the grid.

And this is precisely why it is so absurd. With only ten race teams participating in the 2015 Formula 1 season, there are but 20 cars on the grid. Instead of the race stewards simply stating that Alonso and Button, due to the engine changes and such, need to start at the back of the grid, they have their tables that tell them what the penalty is for this and that. They followed their tables and assessed the combined 55-place grid penalty for McLaren Honda.

With the test calendar severely limited, ostensibly to reduce cost, the teams hope and pray their cars are perfect when the first two test take place ahead of the season. More often than not, the cars need work. This lack of testing translates to lackluster racing, where there may be a team or two that have a decent car. More often than not throughout the season, the result of each race is bandied about among two or three teams that may have a realistic shot at winning a Grand Prix on any race weekend.

After being assessed a combined 55-place grid penalty,
both McLaren Honda's will be starting the race from
somewhere west of Spa-Francorchamps.
Well, not really. But you do see the irony, no?
(image courtesy of @GrandPrixDiary)
McLaren Group CEO Ron Dennis told earlier this month that the testing ban being touted as a cost-saving measure is "false economy".

"It actually doesn't save any money, as we have to bring developments to the cars in quantities without proving it out. We don't always get it right, and when we don't get it right, we waste money. So, it is a false economy.

"It is more about hampering the performance of the larger teams than it is about really saving money. It doesn't save anybody money but the smaller teams.

"That isn't what F1 is about. F1 is about competition, not about handicapping. And perversely, the biggest handicap in F1 is no testing."

Formula 1 is getting bogged down in the minutiae, having lost sight of what F1 has always been about. Set the parameters of the formula and let the teams have at it. There have always been wealthy teams that can afford to play at the pinnacle. The strong will survive. The smaller teams will fall by the wayside from time to time, only to be replaced by another team that thinks they can have a go. 

As for McLaren Honda, at this point they should just use every Grand Prix remaining on the calendar as a testing session. If they are going to start from the back of the grid, use the rules to their advantage. Bring the upgrades that will give them a more competitive car in 2016. Get ahead of the curve. And at the end of the day? Enjoy the ride.

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