Teams and drivers push the limits of the rules in every respect. So it’s no surprise that, as in all sports, controversy abounds when someone is judged to have broken a rule.Sebastian Vettel denied Ferrari their first win of the year, and handed victory to Lewis Hamilton. The debate over whether stewards should “let them race”, or rigidly apply the rules at every round, rumbled on throughout the season.
The 2019 season also saw a significant and largely unanticipated change on the FIA’s regulatory side. The sudden death of race director Charlie Whiting after he arrived in Melbourne for the first weekend of the year led the FIA to promote Michael Masi in his place.
Like Whiting before him, the role Masi plays in the stewarding process is often misunderstood. Although he has the power to refer incidents to the stewards, it is the stewards who decide what gets a penalty and what doesn’t, not Masi himself.
Many of the stewards have been in place for several years, and last season was the 10th since the FIA began using ex-drivers to advise their decisions. This means we should expect to see continuity and consistency in the decision-making process, despite the change at the top.
Number of incidents investigated
The raw numbers make it clear. Far more incidents were investigated last year Formula 1 drivers received more penalties as a result.
But does that mean the stewards are taking a tougher line on driving standards? Look a little closer and it’s clear this is another case of the statistics not quite bearing out reality.
The majority of the increase occurred because of a change in the way track limits were policed at the German and United States Grands Prix. Electronic loops were used to detect if a driver had run wide, and their lap times deleted if they did. This alone caused an extra 46 investigations and penalties.
If we exclude those we can see there was still a rise in the number of investigations and penalties, but a much more modest one.
Does this mean drivers were indeed committing more infractions which the stewards decided should be penalised? Again, this is not quite the case, as the data reveals.
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Penalties due to drivers and teams
Once more, on the face of it, the data looks clear: There was a large increase in the number of penalties caused by drivers (e.g. collisions, track limits) than teams (e.g. engine and gearbox changes).
But again, we know 46 of those penalties were routine lap time deletions. The electronic loops at two races account for more than half of all driver penalties issued during 2019.
Factor those out and the number of penalties given for driving infringements per race falls from a real value of 4.1 to just 2.0. That compares to 2.3 for 2018 when, as the next graph shows, the number of lap time deletion penalties was far lower.
2019 penalties versus 2018
Lap time deletion penalties aside, there was little change from 2018 to 2019 in terms of how many penalties were handed down.
There was an increase in the number of occasions drivers were order to start from the back of the grid or in the pits. This follows changes to the rules limiting how many times drivers may change their power unit components. Drivers who exceed the allocation by a significant amount now have to start from the pits instead of being given grid penalties of 20 places or more.
Use control to show/hide drivers
While Romain Grosjean made it as far as 10 penalty points in 2018, no one in 2019 got that close to the 12 required for a one-race ban. Sebastian Vettel hit the season’s peak of nine point at the Italian Grand Prix.
This also made him the driver who has scored the most penalty points since the system was introduced five years ago. He now has a total of 24. Incredibly, Formula 2 driver Mahaveer Raghunathan scored that many in a single season, earning himself a one-event ban, and only avoiding a second on a technicality.
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Notes on the data
The figures above exclude fines for minor infractions e.g. pit lane speeding during practice. All penalties due to component changes have been considered the responsibility of teams.
2019 F1 season
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