Teams support ‘confusing’ engine penalty system

Teams are in favour of the current engine penalty system

Leading players in the Formula 1 paddock have voiced their support of the complicated engine penalty system currently in place in the sport.

Grid penalties have become commonplace in the second half of this year’s season as teams struggle to make the 22-event championship on just the three power units they’re permitted.

Of particular note are the Mercedes runners as the German marque openly grapples with an issue within its internal combustion engine (ICE).

That has seen Valtteri Bottas take grid penalties in Italy, Russia, and the United States for a total of six ICE elements.

Formula 1 power units are comprised of four major elements: ICE, turbocharger, MGU-H, and MGU-K.

The first change of any of those results in a 10-place grid drop, with each subsequent element earning a five-place demotion.

That is why Bottas, who received his sixth ICE ahead of the US Grand Prix, fell only to ninth on the grid while others dropped to the back.

But while the system is confusing for fans, it has support from the likes of Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, Red Bull’s Christian Horner, and Andreas Seidl of McLaren.

“I obviously get the point that it is not ideal having all these penalties,” Seidl admitted.

“But to be honest, I do not really see a straightforward solution to that because for example if you will decide let’s go to four engines instead of three, we will end up all with five engines, because we would just crank up the engines.”

McLaren has a customer supply of Mercedes engines, though has typically enjoyed a better rub of the green when it comes to reliability this year.

Having had a poor qualifying in Turkey, McLaren elected to take a new power unit for Daniel Ricciardo that weekend.

In that instance it was a strategic decision, introducing a new power unit which brings with it a mild performance gain (purely by being a fresher unit) that will be carried through the final races of the year.

The strategic element of the regulations is a by-product of F1’s win-at-all-costs mentality, where teams will exploit any and every loophole if they perceive an advantage to be had.

In some instances, that means sacrificing a single race for improved performance down the track, as Ferrari has done with the introduction of its new hybrid system.

However, that does not mean the current system is wrong, argues Wolff.

“I think the penalty system on power units is pretty robust,” he said.

“What we need to avoid is that we are building power units in a way that they perform at peak performance for only a few races.”

Arguments have been made for penalties to apply to constructors rather than drivers, given the impact it could have on the championship.

However, Wolff dismissed that notion, noting it would likely be abused by teams in some situations.

“If you change regulations, and you say ‘okay, there is no grid penalty for the driver, but just constructor points’, it will still mean that teams, if you’re in a fight for a driver championship, will just throw engines at that car.

“If we come up with good solutions definitely it is worth looking at,” he added.

“It’s confusing for the new fans why, out of the driver’s responsibility, an engine penalty puts him at the back of the grid, or 10- or five-places away, and that’s clearly not great, but I haven’t got the solutions.”

He also ruled out flattening out the penalties to a standard five- or 10-place drop regardless of the number of elements used.

The current system, he argued, came about when Honda was struggling to get on top of power unit reliability when it returned to F1.

“When you are in a situation that it’s just going terribly wrong and you need to change engine parts or complete power units, you shouldn’t be penalised every single race to go [to the] back of the grid or lose 10 places,” he said when asked of the concept by Speedcafe.com.

“It’s almost an anti-embarrassment regulation and I think that’s okay, but obviously we need to look at that, how we do it in the future.”

Horner meanwhile argued that there’s little point adding further restrictions amid suggestions the power unit limit could be reduced from three to two in coming years.

“I’ve never been a fan of two engines or three engines,” Horner said.

“For me, you end up using four pretty much in a season anyway, so it’s something we need to look at for the future.”

From next season, power unit development will be frozen until the introduction of new regulations.

Officially those are earmarked for 2025, though in reality will slip to a year later.

It places additional emphasis on the power units ahead of the 2022 season, as a poor performing unit will then be carried forward for the next four seasons.

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