The other side of the grid penalty argument

Otmar Szafnauer (USA) Sahara Force India F1 Chief Operating Officer. Malaysian Grand Prix, Friday 22nd March 2013. Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Force India chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer has an opinion that could represent the other side of the grid penalty argument.

The much-maligned grid penalty discussion and the elimination of the current system by F1 technical boos, Ross Brawn, there are some who feel the grid penalty is working to maintain costs. Otmar said:

“If we had an unlimited amount of money, I’d agree with Ross,” said Szafnauer.

“Let everyone spend what they want. Then it’s a whole different formula.

“But you can’t say we have to control costs but not have this kind of stuff because they are incongruent, those two statements.

“We have to remember why they are there and one of the reasons was cost saving.

“In the old days, before we had a set number of engines per driver you can use, you could use one engine per race and that cost a lot of money.

“Next year we go to three engines per driver. How do you remove the incentive to say ‘well I don’t care if it’s three, I have the money to spend so I’ll do six?’

I spoke about the concern over a 4-engine limit and the impact that would have on the 2017 championship and I would double down on the 2018 concept of a 3-engine limit and suggest this would really impact the F1 season in a negative way.

I can say that all I want and this year has proved the impact of an engine limit has on the sport but is Otmar correct in that it may be one of the few ways to prevent smaller teams from being left in the dust?

Hat Tip: Autosport

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It’s a similar argument to removing the development tokens. Yes in theory it allowed the other manufacturers to develop their power units to close on Mercedes, but it also allowed Mercedes to develop during the season as well. We haven’t seen a significant closing of the gap to Mercedes since the removal of tokens, but I’m sure costs have increased. While Ferrari may be closer in outright performance, their reliability hasn’t improved. As a result they will need to take grid penalties before the end of the year. Teams have to comply with all the regulations in force, not pick… Read more »


I think there’s a simple solution. Every violation is fined. The money goes into a pool that is distributed evenly to all teams. Though a team cannot get a share of it’s own fine.

1st new engine = $500,000
2nd = $1m
3rd = $3m
4th = $8m, etc.

The rich teams can take advantage, but not without benefiting their competitors.

The FIA can make the penalties as complicated as they like, without boring all the fans to death and without affecting the show in a negative way.


Almost all scenarios have a substantial downside. So McLaren aren’t the poorest of teams but non-the less they have replaced up to 9 PU elements so far this season (on both cars). So that is 10 ‘new-engines’. For the teams with 100M USD budgets they would be quickly over-budget just on the engine penalty with this formula which would eventually drive them out of F1. If you pass it to the engine builder same scenario -> their gone in a few years. How can we do it without penalizing those that are not up to speed yet and punish the… Read more »


If you want to make it really interesting, do it this way. Qualifying = start position Drivers points based on finishing order Constructors points based on Finish (minus) engine penalty. So if you finish first but have a 10 place penalty drop -> no points. Now, having said that a revamp of the number of points for each over allocation would need to be adjusted, say 1 or 2 points per infraction with a cap if all PU elements are replaced. This still does not get around the problem that the teams who are struggling, like McLaren, will loose even… Read more »


Perhaps just make the teams take their penalties in Q1. So at Monza, RB would have been eliminated in Q1 and maybe that wouldn’t have been as disappointing for fans in Q3 as those results would have (mostly) stood.

Not perfect but …


It wouldn’t be a problem if the PU’s were much much cheaper than they are now. If Brawn does in fact go with a low cost option for 2020 then I say do away with the PU limit but until then I agree with Otmar.


The top teams can start at the back of the grid and still podium/finish near the front. These grid spot penalties effect the bottom 2/3rds of the runners a lot more than the teams with deep pockets. I see Otmar point, but that doesn’t make them any more fair. To paraphrase one of my favorite movies: “Life isn’t fair. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”


We have two different championships. If the machine fails, it’s (generally), the constructor’s fault. What about penalizing points based on position in reverse order. So the team in first place of the constructors championship gets penalized the most points. Last place get the least or maybe even none. This works if the constructors championship *really* means something. It’s a motivator for the top teams to be reliable, yet doesn’t penalize those in the back (like Honda this year) for pretty much doing PU development during the year. I think you’d have to rework the current points system for the contructors… Read more »


Nobody is saving any money by not replacing failed components. When is the last time a team had a power unit component fail and skipped the race because they couldn’t afford to replace it?

At a minimum, replacement of demonstrably failed components shouldn’t be penalized as harshly (if at all) as those replaced for performance or reliability improvements. There is already a procedure in place for replacing damaged or failed components under parque firmé conditions.