Sebastian Vettel is set to become the first victim of F1’s new engine penalty rules.
With six races left to run, only two of the eight units he started with are unused. As engines rarely complete more than two races, and his remaining Renaults will have to cope with the high-revving challenges of Spa and Monza, he looks certain to need a ninth.
That will bring a ten-place grid penalty the first time it is used. How should Red Bull handle the problem? And does this rule punish drivers unfairly?
Plan A: Turn the wick down
Red Bull have two options.
The first is the conservative choice. They can try to make both his remaining engines last for three races.
That would mean reducing his Friday and Saturday practice running, or using one of his tired old engines for it. Additionally, they could transfer the majority of the practice workload onto Mark Webber’s car.
In the races he may need to reduce revs more aggressively than usual to prolong engine life. It would be wise to use different engines for Spa and Monza (although the predicted rain at Spa could reduce the strain on the engine he uses there).
There are two problems with this approach. First, there is no guarantee it will work. Second, it will compromise his championship chances, which are already severely damaged after two consecutive DNFs.
Plan B: Deal with it
Red Bull’s other option is to accept they are doomed to get an engine penalty, and carry on regardless.
This looks like the better bet to me. First, it allows them to practice and race as per normal.
Assuming they use two engines over the next four races, they will have to use the ninth at the Brazilian Grand Prix. That will give Vettel a ten-place grid penalty.
There are many worse circuits to take such a penalty than Interlagos. Its long, uphill drag to the first turn, and the sequence of corners that follow it, provide an excellent opportunity for overtaking.
Yes, he would be vulnerable should he have another engine failure. But he’s 25 points behind Button, and he’s not going to get that back by being conservative.
A fair rule?
The wider question here is whether the engine penalty rule is fair. Here’s what the relevant part of the sporting regulations says:
28.4 a) Each driver may use no more than eight engines during a Championship season. Should a driver use more than eight engines he will drop ten places on the starting grid at the first Event during which each additional engine is used.
Exactly the same clause is present in the 2010 F1 rules. But should drivers get penalties for mechanical failures which, by and large, they are not responsible for?
I don’t think they should – but it’s hard to see how else teams can be forced to limit the number of engines they use per season.
Perhaps teams could be docked constructors’ championship points for using extra engines. But how long would it take for one team to decide that the constructors’ title isn’t that important anyway, and give their drivers all the engines they need to win that championship?
How do you think Red Bull should handle Vettel’s engine situation? And does the rule need changing? Leave a comment below.