Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, Albert Park, 2020

Penalty points: Why Ricciardo benefits most from delayed start to season

2020 F1 season

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Back in the days before the pandemic swung a wrecking ball into the whole sporting world – not just motor racing – England rugby player Joe Marler landed himself in trouble by grabbing a rivals’ genitals during a match.

The sport’s governing body slapped him with a 10-week ban for the offence. No small matter, but then Covid-19 forced all the rugby matches to be cancelled. So the total number of games missed by Marler as a result of his penalty is zero.

While nothing quite as serious as that has happened in F1 lately, its penalty points system works on a similar principle. Any penalty points drivers incur remain on their licences for a 12-month period, and many have expired during the hiatus.

The clearest example is Daniel Ricciardo. The Renault driver was supposed to line up for his season-opening home race on March 15th with seven penalty points on his licence – more than halfway towards the 12 needed for a ban.

Instead, when the 2020 F1 season belatedly begins at Red Bull Ring next month, Ricciardo’s penalty points tally will have fallen to two.

Only one other driver was due to start the season with a points total as high as Ricciardo’s: Sebastian Vettel. However he will still have five points on his licence by the time the season gets underway.

Other drivers who stand to gain significantly from the delay are Kevin Magnussen and Antonio Giovinazzi, whose penalty points totals will fall from four to one respectively. Four drivers – Romain Grosjean, Carlos Sainz Jnr, Sergio Perez and George Russell – will all get to start from a clean slate instead of beginning the year with one or more points on their licences.

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Vettel will start 2020 with the most penalty points
This may not make a major difference to the contest, although Ricciardo clearly has less to fear from picking up a few penalty points early in the season, such as the three he collected on the final lap of the French Grand Prix last year.

But what might catch drivers out this year is the sheer density of events the 2020 F1 calendar is likely to feature. We already know the season will begin with eight races in nine weeks, and that may become nine in 10. And F1 intends to fit in another five to eight races by the end of the year.

Never before has the sport packed so many races into such a short time, which increases the risk of drivers accumulating penalty points quickly.

No F1 driver has yet reached the 12 penalty points which triggers an automatic ban, though Formula 2 driver Mahaveer Raghunathan did so twice last year. The tweaks to this year’s calendar may slightly increase the risk of it happening in 2020.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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15 comments on “Penalty points: Why Ricciardo benefits most from delayed start to season”

  1. Even under delayed start Vettel has the most to loose. Whats ironic is Grosjean is the biggest winner with delayed start.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      13th June 2020, 13:36

      Grosjean only received 2 penalty points last year. One reason why I don’t get why he got so much criticism. Many other much more respected drivers got more than him. He just wasn’t as bad as most think he was last year. I feel many look at his 7 retirements and just assume he had a part to play in all of them.

      1. @thegianthogweed to some extent, I think it is because of the fact that Grosjean has been involved in some high profile accidents over the years – it therefore becomes easy for him to be presented as a crash prone driver, because those events stick in the mind as particularly dramatic events.

        The comments by some drivers that they get the impression that their reputation can result in the stewards potentially being biased against them may also play a part – it creates a potential self-reinforcing loop where the stewards take the attitude of “oh, you again – what have you done this time?”, tending towards blaming a particular driver when others with a better reputation might be let off for the same offence.

        1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
          13th June 2020, 19:02

          I think Palmer made an excellent point about Kvyat’s incident in China last year and the stewards decision in his review of the race. Almost everyone (including the stewards IMO) make too bigger deal about this incident. He wasn’t going too fast to make the corner. He looked like he was going to easily make it, but he had just a touch of oversteer and when trying to correct himself. He happened to have two cars on his outside because everyone was crammed together due to it being so early on the first lap. He happened to hit both other drivers (Noris and Sainz) but that was more unfortunate than down to careless driving. A drive though penalty for this was completely overkill, and I think it was because of his reputation that seems to make the stewards be harsher on him.

          An example of them being far slacker with most other drivers was with Leclerc in Japan. He misjudged his speed and oversteered into Verstappen causing himself damage and Verstappen to retire later on. Initially, it got looked into, then there was no further investigation necessary…. What is wrong with the inconsistency here? Verstappen and Red Bull complain and that then makes them change their mind from no penalty to 2 penalty points and ONLY 5 seconds for the actual incident. Then a further 10 for driving in an unsafe car. Even so, that is nothing like as harsh as a drive through for Kvyat with an incident that looked nothing like as clumsy, even if the outcome was worse.

          It seems both the stewards as well as many f1 fans judge drivers based on their past (especially if it has not been a strong point for them) a little too much at times.

          1. @thegianthogweed I would agree that the Kvyat incident was another example of a driver who, being tagged as a “crasher”, was blamed for an incident which, had it involved others, would probably have been dismissed as a ‘racing incident’ – if anything, I’d argue that Norris was more at fault for the way in which he was rejoining the track.

            I agree that some drivers do seem to be more harshly treated as a result – I think one driver steward did basically admit to that bias, suggesting that if he’d seen a particular driver come before him a number of times in the past, then they were more inclined to impose a penalty or likelier to impose a harsher penalty because they’d assume that driver hadn’t “learned their lesson”.

  2. Not sure if Raghunathan is still in F2, but I’m sure he would have been the biggest winner from the dealyed start.

    1. @gechichan he has already benefitted hugely last season. He got his ban in the feature race at france but was still allowed to compete in the sprint race. He then got another ban in practise for Abu dhabi, completed the rest of the weekend and wont serve any ban for that.
      Whilst I appreciate the regulation, it needs to be bumped up to an immediate ban, not after the weekend, and if you get multiple bans the penalty needs to become harsher.

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        13th June 2020, 14:26

        Indeed. That would be easier, quicker and more effective than try to steer motorsport so that a drive of Ragunathan level would never reach F2 in the first place.

      1. But his legacy lives on in the new F1 game! :)

      2. @keithcollantine This is not my surprised face. It’s also why multiple bans don’t worry me so much as the incidents that result in them – incorrigible drivers tend to find their services surplus to requirements before long…

  3. We’ll probably get an article in July 2021 claiming how much certain drivers are disadvantaged by the delayed start in 2020 ;)
    I think Ocon might be in trouble towards July next year.

  4. These penalty points are almost irrelevant anyway considering most you lose is a race and you have to try really hard for that.

    Even if you’re in contention for the title for the last few years, if you’re hamilton you can afford to miss a race and win, and if you’re anyone else you can afford to miss a race and you wouldn’t have won even if you hadn’t!

  5. The tweaks to this year’s calendar may slightly increase the risk of it happening in 2020

    Er no, it makes it less likely to happen this year, but more likely to happen in 2021

  6. Is there a list somewhere of how each driver picked up their penalty points?

    I can’t remember how Hamilton got his.

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