Austria, F1, Saturday

Ps & Qs – Saturday in Spielberg

Saturday saw F1 fans and experts alike scratching their heads over a slew of penalties handed to drivers, and not for the first time this season. Thanks to the poor reliability of the Renault and Honda power units, several drivers have fallen prey to grid drops. While their validity as an appropriate punishment is debatable, the actual application of the penalties themselves have left many people confused.

The first differentiator is application of penalties in case of an incident (like Verstappen for Monaco) and car component changes (gearbox and power unit parts). In case of an incident penalty of grid drops, a driver must take the punishment only in the form of grid drops, regardless of how many races it may require.

Car component change penalties, however, are a different kettle of fish. On the surface it seems fairly clear – use more than mandated and a driver gets a grid drop. Unfortunately, this year it has been complicated by the FIA in order to minimize drivers being affected for several races.

From Article 28.4 of the 2015 F1 Sporting Regulations, for power unit component types (ICE, TC, MGU-H, MGU-K, ES, CE) that exceed the 4 unit/year limit, a grid drop penalty gets applied. So a 5th unit (and upward) of a single type will cost a 10 place grid drop. This however gets complicated by a 5th unit of a second (additional) type, which incurs only a 5 place grid drop. Then there’s out of cycle gearbox changes, which costs drivers a 5 place grid drop.

Let’s look at Jenson Button: He took on a 5th unit of the TC and MGU-H each in Canada. Thus he incurred a 10 place grid drop for the TC and a 5 place grid drop for using a second 5th component i.e. the MGU-H. Now in Austria, he took on a 5th ICE and MGU-K, each costing him a 5 place grid drop. He also took on a 6th TC, which cost him a 10 place grid drop, and an additional 6th MGU-H which, again, costs him only a 5 place grid drop. So a 5+5+10+5 sees him suffer a 25 place grid drop.

Now obviously with a field of 20 drivers, even a 25 place grid drop from pole looks odd. And so the FIA decided to use time penalties as a substitute for component related penalties that go beyond the number of occupied grid slots. Article 16.3 of the Sporting Regulations details this as well:

1 to 5 grid places untaken A 5 second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop in his pit stop position for at least 5 seconds and then rejoin the race.
6 to 10 grid places untaken A 10 second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop in his pit stop position for at least 10 seconds and then rejoin the race.
11 to 20 grid places untaken A drive-through penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane and re-join the race without stopping.
More than 20 grid places untaken A 10 second stop-and-go time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop in his pit stop position for at least 10 seconds and then re-join the race.

So poor Button (and team mate Alonso) who have will have more than 20 grid places untaken in their penalty will both serve 10 second stop-go penalties within 3 laps of the race start.

Now on to qualifying…

Grid for the Austrian GP (Penalties Accounted)

Qualifying surprised for a while before order was restored and the Mercedes team delivered a Hamilton-Rosberg 1-2. Both set their best on their first runs in Q3 before some synchronized spinning saw them ruining their final runs. This was tougher on Rosberg as the German had been 2 tenths up on his team mate’s time before pushing too hard into T8-9. Hamilton recovered some form, aided by his team’s suggestions of differential tweaks in the 2nd sector of the track.

Behind them Ferrari took the best of the rest with Vettel, who has been on strong form the whole weekend, minus a few mechanical niggles. Team mate Raikkonen wasn’t as lucky as miscommunication with the team resulted in the Finn being booted out in Q1. It’s looking harder for the Finn to keep up with his team mate, largely due to his awful qualifying performances.

At Williams, Massa outdid his much vaunted team mate to take P4, lapping 0.127s faster than Bottas to relegate the Finn to P6. The latter was unfortunate in starting his lap as Hamilton’s spin brought out the yellow flags. With upgrades Williams have this weekend, and their race pace, it is highly likely they could challenge Ferrari’s claim to P3 on Sunday.

Hulkenberg took a shock P5 for the Force India narrowly beating out Bottas by 0.41s. There’s something to be said for the Mercedes engines: with the Force India cars now running the same spec as the others, the gap between P5-6  was only 0.127s. Perez wasn’t one of those who fully utilized the engine (or the car) and will start 8 place behind his team mate.

Verstappen placed his car in P7 after mastering the changing conditions to usurp his team mate. The Dutch driver has been running a higher downforce car all weekend, while Sainz was forced to move from a low to high downforce setup thanks to the rain in Q3, a likely reason for his P12 starting slot.

Nasr had a strong performance qualifying only 0.019s slower than Kvyat and putting his car in P8 for the race while Ericsson could do no better than P11 starting spot. It was a surprisingly slim gap behind Massa’s Williams, with the bottom 6 being covered by 0.52s. A similarly close gap covered P11-15 with lap times covered by 0.36s.

Grosjean sat out Q3 with a hydraulics issue and will start P9, while team mate Maldonado lines up behind him in P10. Red Bull Racing continued their struggle at their home track with Kvyat and Ricciardo taking 10 place grid penalties to start P15 and P18, with the Australian due a time penalty in the race. They will be joined by the Mclaren drivers who will line up last after Alonso made it into Q2 with a new aero upgrade on the car. The Manors will have their best grid slots of the season, with Merhi in P16 and Stevens in P17.

(The penalties were applied in the order they were awarded to the drivers. Ricciardo and Alonso received their penalties on June 19, Kvyat, Button and Alonso – for a second time – on June 20)

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