The FIA is considering a change to the engine penalty grid system following the controversial Russian Grand Prix qualifying in which only 10 cars ran in Q2. At the moment drivers who change enough power unit elements to earn a back of the grid penalty start the race in the order that those elements were first used, which is based on who left the pitlane first in practice one. That means the drivers concerned do not have any incentive to run in qualifying, other than making a token effort in Q1 for the sake of fans and sponsors.
At Sochi three of the five penalised drivers were quick enough to progress to Q2, but none of them ran in that session because there was no point in wasting tyres or engine mileage. As a direct result Renault also chose not to run its drivers in Q2 because it felt a guaranteed sixth row start with free tyre choice was advantageous. The FIA is considering making penalised drivers line up in order of qualifying time, encouraging them to participate.
The change would also put a stop to the bizarre sight of penalised drivers lining up early at the pit exit at the start of first practice for grid position reasons: “I don’t think anyone could have foreseen what happened here,” said FIA race director Charlie Whiting – “The idea was that cars that started from the back of the grid rather than have massive penalties imposed on them. Before even though the penalties were large, you never had two drivers in the same spot. You would drop a driver 40 grid places, leave the spaces in between, drop another one down, and when you’ve done all that you shuffle them up so they form 20 places. When you’ve got five drivers with exactly the same penalty, you then have to establish in what order they are supposed to be. The stewards felt that back of the grid should mean the back of the grid, so whatever else happens those five cars should occupy the last five grid spots. I think there is another way, I’ve been talking about it to a few teams. Instead of having cars line up at the pit exit in a rather farcical way, and that sort of thing will only ever get worse, if you have five drivers you will arrange them at the back in the order in which they qualified. That would provide some incentive for drivers to actually go and qualify, and try to qualify as high as they could at least.” – he added.
Charlie Whiting believes the chance of that plan being voted are “quite high”, though he added “there may be some drawbacks that we haven’t thought of yet, it’s a relatively new idea”.