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Ten-second penalties: Friend or foe?

Written by Katie Jeromson, Edited by Sean McKean

Kevin Magnussen at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix; Credit - Eric Alonso/Getty Images

The 2024 Formula One season is closing in on race number three, and the chatter around the FIA’s decision-making has already begun. For this season, the sport’s governing body has directed the stewards to make more use of the ten-second time penalty, doubling the punishment of five-seconds often dolled out. 

First to feel the rejuvenated power of the FIA was Haas driver Kevin Magnussen, who came away from the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix with two ten-second time penalties. The first of them he picked up was for causing a collision with Williams driver Alex Albon and the second for overtaking Visa Cash App RB of Yuki Tsunoda taking all four wheels beyond the white line, where he did not return the place. 

Undoubtedly, these penalties cost Magnussen a chance at a points finish, as the Haas driver did not serve these penalties, incurring the penalties once the chequered flag was waved. However, what they did inspire was what could be considered crafty teamwork by the Haas team.

In illegally overtaking Tsunoda, Magnussen was able to back the pack up and allow teammate Nico Hulkenberg to exit the pits in free air, thus taking one championship point for the Haas team.

Whilst the Haas team can be commended for making the best out of a bad situation, the move has not gone down quite as well with their rivals, with both Visa Cash App RB and Williams calling for a review of the tactic.

Alan Permane Racing Director of RB called it “the definition of unsportsmanlike behaviour,” and Williams Team Principal James Vowles told the press “that’s not how I want to go racing.”

Alex Albon and Nico Hulkenberg at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix; Credit - Eric Alonso/Getty Images

There is the risk that this can set precedent for other teams to do the same, something Albon has raised concerns about, stating that teams in the midfield “would do it every single time,” if it meant guaranteed points. 

Fringe moves like this became large talking points for the drivers during the 2023 season,  expressing they were worried that the FIA were setting dangerous precedents over some of their decisions.

For example, Max Verstappen waiting at the end of the pit lane in Singapore 2023 – where he escaped with only a reprimand from the stewards – incited the other drivers so much that it dominated the Japanese Grand Prix’s press conference. Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc said “that could open quite bad situations in the future,” and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said it “definitely sets a bit of a precedent.”

That particular incident did generate a response from the FIA, as the Event Notes for the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix contained two specific instructions on drivers leaving their pitstop position in the pit lane. 

Ten-second time penalties are not something new though. The FIA have four main penalties at their disposal during a race under article 54.3 of the sporting regulations: the previously much used five-second time penalty, ten-second, drive-through and ten second stop-and-go penalties. 

Perhaps the FIA are using these more – once again in response to the driver complaints that the five-second time penalty was too easy to recover from. Mercedes driver George Russell made a risky move around the outside of Oscar Piastri, in the US Grand Prix Sprint, which led him to take all four wheels beyond the track limits.

After the race Russell commented that it was high reward and low risk to take such actions and that it seemed to be what other drivers were doing.

Similarly, Fernando Alonso and Alex Albon have been very vocal that five-second time penalties were able to be exploited. The latter particularly, after a dive down the inside by Sergio Perez at the Singapore Grand Prix, caused damage to Albon’s Williams car.

Oscar Piastri, George Russell and Pierre Gasly during the US Grand Prix Sprint Race; Credit - Jared C. Tilton - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

It could be argued that the FIA perhaps need to look at what is causing quite so many penalties to be doled out. In the Saudi Arabia press conference, the drivers were asked by The Race how they felt about the longer penalties.

Charles Leclerc said “it is quite harsh… the main priority should be in fixing or helping [the drivers] respecting those track limits better.” George Russell agreed and added that this era of cars means the driver can struggle for visibility. 

Interestingly, Haas driver Hulkenberg was asked if the longer penalty would change the drivers approach. He said that this should force the driver to be more careful but that some tracks are better than others for the drivers. 

With the Australian Grand Prix looming in the next few days, the Formula One community will need to wait and see if the harsher interpretation of the rules continues.

Plus, if the Haas team have started a domino effect, teams affected by this penalty may start using one of their drivers as a sacrificial lamb more often – all to make up those all important points. If the FIA continue their stance, we will have plenty to talk about in the coming season.


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