Drivers sceptical over penalty points proposals

By Jerome Pugmire, AP, 16 May 2013
© AP Photo/Luca Bruno

Formula 1 is still in preliminary discussions over whether to implement a new penalty system that would in essence punish drivers for each infringement until they total too many points and get hit with a race ban.

Motorsport's governing body, FIA, has not presented an official format describing how the system would work. Drivers, however, already have some opinions on the issue.

"I don't like it. I don't know, maybe I'm a little bit too old fashioned," three-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel said during the Spanish Grand Prix recently. "I think from a driver's point of view, we've been pushing for penalties and right now we are probably in a situation where we have more penalties than we would like, so it's a little bit of a vicious circle."

Last season, French driver Romain Grosjean was given a one-race ban for causing a crash at the Spa GP that sent Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez off the track at the first corner. The Lotus driver was involved in several crashes by driving too aggressively into the first corner, earning him a reputation as a reckless driver.

Grosjean, who has contained his aggression this season, is wary about the plan coming into fruition.

"For the time being it's only been a supposition. We'll have to see how it's put into place and what the possibilities are," Grosjean said. "You can't lose points for driving too fast in the pit lane or things like that. So the catalogue (of rules), if it were to happen, would need to be properly established."

Drivers remain somewhat in the dark about the proposals. A race ban could happen, for example, if a driver accumulated 12 penalty points.

"Until they come up with a proper system and we understand how it's going to work, it's hard to really know if it's going to be a good or bad thing," Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo said. "In some respects it would be nice to know what a penalty is. Instead of: 'Will I get a drive-through? Will I get a ten-place grid penalty for doing something wrong?'"

There were other incidents of dangerous driving last season with Hamilton and Felipe Massa right on the limit when they drove against each other. But defining what is punishable confuses drivers.

"I think you have the potential of (penalty) points for some things that are not entirely in our hands and at the end of the day the consequence could be very big," Vettel said. "I don't know if that's the idea. If you want to adapt a system that everybody uses on the road, there might be some logic behind it, but at the end of the day we are not driving on the road, we are racing."

At this season's Bahrain Grand Prix, McLaren driver Sergio Perez twice bumped into teammate Jenson Button as they scrapped for points. In theory, Perez would have received a penalty point under the proposed new rules.

Three-time former champion Niki Lauda agrees with Vettel and is aghast at the idea of the system.

"There has to be some kind of penalties for mistakes but I think it's completely wrong for Formula 1 (to) use the same kind of penalties we have on the road, which I think is ridiculous," Lauda told The Associated Press at the Spanish GP.

Penalising drivers too much will lessen the thrill of the sport which is naturally shrouded in danger.

"It's sort of like giving the guys -- whoever's controlling it -- an excuse to hand out more penalties," Ricciardo said. "I think we've got to be careful not to... you know, we still want to see racing. We still want to see cars get close and race hard. We don't want to see old ladies driving, we still want to see young, aggressive kids."

Ricciardo said he fears the system could lead to excessive scrutiny.

"Sometimes you have to say: 'It's a pure racing incident' and not investigate all the time," Ricciardo said. "It's going to be very complex because then you've got things like an unsafe pit release (which has) got nothing to do with the driver."

Dishing out penalty points could decide races and even championships, opening the door to endless sanctions and appeals.

"I don't know whose idea it was. It's ridiculous, I think," Lauda said. "Racing is racing."


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