Just like in any other sport, in Formula 1 if drivers don’t follow the rules set out by the FIA, then they can be penalised for it.
However, it isn’t rare for drivers to find themselves victims of bizarrely harsh penalties which sometimes don’t even seem to make sense - like the infamous 65-grid penalty Stoffel Vandoorne suffered in Spa in 2017.
F1 can be a complicated form of motorsport and sometimes penalties confuse viewers because of their technicality. What is the reason behind a penalty? Why are there different types of penalties?
Here's what penalties occur in F1, what different punishments drivers are given, how teams may also be penalised and how it can lead to a race ban.
The FIA stewards dish out the penalties
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
There are a range of F1 penalties, depending on the severity of the driver’s or team’s action.
Starting with warnings, which are the least harsh penalties a driver can get. For example, if a driver exceeds track limits during a race, they are given a warning. Once they earn a number of warnings, they are faced with a time penalty.
Meanwhile, drivers are allowed four reprimands in a season, and with the fifth one, they face a 10-place grid penalty. A reprimand is similar to a warning, for example, Sebastian Vettel received one for a non-sporting offence when he wore a ‘Same Love’ shirt at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix. Meanwhile, Yuki Tsunoda received a fifth reprimand of the season for a sporting offence when he drove to the pits with loose seatbelts in Zandvoort, causing a severe safety hazard, meaning he was given a 10-place grid drop for the next race in Italy.
Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, and Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02, on the grid
Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images
Time penalties are served when the drivers pit and the crew can’t work on the car before the penalty passes. If they don’t pit again before the race ends, the penalty is added to their finishing time. Reasons why drivers receive such penalties vary.
Esteban Ocon was the victim of a hat-trick of time penalties in the 2023 season opener in Bahrain. He received a five-second penalty for having his right front tyre outside the starting box before lights out, then another 10-second penalty because one of the mechanics started working on the car 4.6 seconds into the first penalty, and another five-second penalty for exceeding the 80kph pit lane speed limit by 0.1km/h.
Sometimes, drivers receive a drive-through penalty, in which they drive through the pitlane and join the rest of the race. Or in other instances, they’re hit with a 10-second stop-and-go penalty in which they pit, wait 10 seconds, have no work done to the car and join the race again.
Grid penalties are usually given when drivers have engine components changed more than the times allowed. Charles Leclerc knows the pain when he received a 10-grid penalty for the Saudi Arabian GP for having his control electronics changed twice already when only two are permitted for the entire season. So when he qualified second, he had to go down a further 10 places and start in 12th for the race.
Disqualification is a harsher penalty which is given when a driver commits a serious offence. For example, Sebastian Vettel was disqualified from the 2021 Hungarian GP after he earned a second-place finish because Aston Martin failed to provide the required fuel sample after the race - meaning the FIA was unable to check if his car was running legal fuel.
Romain Grosjean, Lotus E20 is launched over the top of Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F2012
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
The worst penalty a driver can receive and only happens in extreme circumstances is suspension from a number of races. In the last 40 years, only six drivers were suspended, with Romain Grosjean being the latest. The Frenchman was given a race ban for the 2012 Italian GP after he caused several crashes that season, reaching its peak at Spa when at the start of the race he squeezed into Lewis Hamilton, missed a braking point and took out multiple drivers.
While drivers are more likely to receive penalties, the team may also receive a punishment. If a team is found guilty of “cheating” in any sort of way, it will probably be faced with a hefty fine and other punishments.
For example, when Red Bull was found breaching the cost cap in 2021, it was prohibited from using the wind tunnel for aerodynamic testing before the 2023 season. Meanwhile, Aston Martin had to pay $450,000 for the smaller breachers of the cost cap.
Another famous occurrence was Crashgate in 2008 when Renault were guilty of telling Nelson Piquet Jr to purposely crash into a wall at Turn 17 in Singapore and allow Fernando Alonso to come out on top after pitting. The Spaniard was enjoying better performance after a difficult year, but failed to challenge for pole that weekend when a fuel problem saw him out of Q2. It was kept quiet for a while, but in 2009, Piquet was dropped from Renault and went to the FIA testifying that Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds asked him to crash, bring out the safety car and allow Alonso to win.
In this case, Briatore was given a life ban from F1, Symonds a five-year ban, while Renault suffered financially when sponsor ING pulled out. The team also received a two-year disqualification suspended period.
Nelson Piquet Jr., Renault R28 crashes into the wall
Photo by: Sutton Images
During a race, once the FIA stewards notice an infringement, they put the involved cars under investigation. When it’s a big offence, for example causing a collision, the stewards investigate the incident as quickly as possible and have the guilty cars penalised immediately, unless both cars end up out of the race and it can be investigated after the race.
Penalties may also be picked up during practice sessions, qualifying or sprint races and the driver will ultimately face his fate in the Sunday race. Minimal offences are normally looked at after the race so the stewards don’t get distracted from the major matters at hand.
Meanwhile, for teams, it’s quite a different story because they have to hand in detailed documents related to topics such as finances and the construction of the car. If the FIA discovers something doesn’t comply with the rules, it will launch a further investigation which will undergo several assessments, examine the submitted reports further, ask for any more relevant information and finally decide whether there was any infringement.
Sometimes, just as what happened in the case of Crashgate, the FIA’s attention is gained by a driver or a team principal.
Another example is Racing Point’s “pink Mercedes” in 2020. Technical Director Andrew Green said the team had been trying to adapt more to “the underlying architecture that we’ve had from MGP (Mercedes)” and develop a “Red Bull philosophy.” He admitted that the team didn’t want to “deviate” away from what Mercedes do – produce a championship-winning car – and that they followed its concept.
The FIA was forced to step in as other teams were unhappy and so the regulator launched an investigation. They concluded that Racing Point had used a set of rear brake ducts from Mercedes, which had gone from a listed and legal part to non-listed and illegal part from the 2020 season, and as a punishment they had 15 constructors’ points slashed and were fined €400,000.
Pierre Gasly, Alpine A523
Photo by: Alpine
When a driver is penalised, they accumulate penalty points on their superlicence. This licence is the required for drivers to compete in F1. First introduced in the 1990s before being refined in recent years, points are earned by competing in different series and the better the results a driver achieves, the more points they earn.
However, their licence may be hit with penalty points and when the count reaches 12 in a 12-month period, they face an automatic one-race ban. The FIA created this system to prevent dangerous driving. The motorsport regulator said the stewards are going to take a more considered approach to give out penalties in 2023, so a driver doesn’t risk getting banned for minimal offences. This was evidently true in Bahrain when they dished out sporting sanctions without penalty points.
This decision came after Pierre Gasly complained about being on the brink of a ban with 10 penalty points which were a consequence of minimal offences. He said: "It's a very unpleasant situation and quite delicate. In some ways, also a bit embarrassing to be standing in a position where I could be banned. After the season that I've done, I don't really feel like I've been particularly dangerous over these last 12 months, and that will be definitely a harsh penalty."
To make matters worse, Gasly suffered the points when he drove for AlphaTauri, so the ban would affect his new team Alpine. He is not set to lose his first couple of points until 22 May.
Drivers and teams may feel they were wrongly penalised and can appeal the decision with the FIA.
A recent example is Fernando Alonso in Saudi Arabia. The Spaniard was demoted to fourth after suffering a 10-second penalty when the stewards decided a rear jack was illegally in contact with the car when he was serving another penalty for a grid box infringement. Aston Martin appealed the decision, claiming while the car was touched, no one started “working” on it. The FIA agreed and the Alonso's post-race time penalty was overturned which meant he regained his third-place finish.
|Pierre Gasly||10||22.05.23 (2 points)|
|Lance Stroll||8||09.04.23 (2 points)|
|Daniel Ricciardo||7||08.05.23 (1 points)|
|Fernando Alonso||6||08.05.23 (3 points)|
|Alex Albon||5||22.05.23 (1 points)|
|Nicholas Latifi||5||12.06.23 (1 points)|
|Yuki Tsunoda||4||03.07.23 (2 points)|
|George Russell||4||10.07.23 (2 points)|
|Kevin Magnussen||3||08.05.23 (2 points)|
|Esteban Ocon||3||29.05.23 (1 points)|
|Lando Norris||3||10.07.23 (1 points)|
|Zhou Guanyu||3||10.07.23 (1 points)|
|Mick Schumacher||3||23.10.23 (1 points)|
|Sebastian Vettel||2||10.07.23 (1 points)|
|Sergio Perez||2||02.10.23 (2 points)|
|Max Verstappen||2||13.11.23 (2 points)|
|Charles Leclerc||1||09.10.23 (1 points)|