Grid penalties galore in Austria


By Lee McKenzie

Mathematics has never been my strong point, but I even I could work out that 25-place penalties on a 20-strong grid were never going to work.

It was met with embarrassment and incredulity that McLaren had 50 grid place penalties between Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. Add in another 20 for the two Red Bull cars and that comes to 70. Then throw in the penalties for not being able to take the penalties – yes, that’s right – which amounted to a 5sec stop-go, a 10sec stop-go and a drive-through. It all just seems madness.

Of course, the teams and drivers must be reprimanded when there are infringements, but there surely must be a simpler way. It’s not great interviewing drivers on a Saturday after qualifying when they don’t know where they are going to start the grand prix.

It’s not the first time it’s happened and in some ways, while the size of penalties were huge, it wasn’t too bad to work out. I remember some late nights at Suzuka, particularly in 2009, when team managers were walking around in the paddock after dark, piece of paper in hand, asking to see each other’s version of the grid as there were so many penalties to be applied. As always it is the timing of when the issue occurred that’s crucial as the penalties are applied in order. You can imagine that planning a strategy for the race is trickier when the FIA are sitting into the night trying to apply 10 different grid drops!

Lewis Hamilton struggled to find rhythm throughout the weekend and Nico Rosberg was ready to pounce. He has now won every European race this season and is only 10 points adrift in the championship. Interestingly, in a season supposedly dominated by Hamilton, Rosberg has only six points fewer than he did this time last year and in 2014 everyone was salivating over an all-time classic battle.

The McLarens were once again disappointing. Fernando Alonso could do nothing after being scooped up by an out-of-control Kimi Räikkönen. But Jenson Button had been on team radio complaining of issues with his car before the race even started. Several laps later they chose to retire before the car made that decision itself. It was not a great weekend for new Honda president Takahiro Hachigo to have come over from Japan.

Also not too impressed must have been Ferrari impresario Sergio Marchionne, who was attending his first grand prix of the year. A mistake saw Räikkönen qualify in 18th after the team mistimed his out-lap, which meant he couldn’t do his quick run on the third go round. It also failed to tell him this information, so he hadn’t done a quick lap on any previous run.

Sunday brought no luck either. The crash was an obvious and spectacular disappointment, but to lose Sebastian Vettel a podium after a pitstop issue added frustration.

After the short little rollercoaster of Spielberg we head to the vast airfield of Silverstone. The British Grand Prix last year has had it all: popping Pirellis, downpours, Lewis heading for the pits and dropping from pole to sixth and then from the desperation of Saturday to a crowd-thrilling victory on Sunday. We’ll have a bit more of that excitement thanks, but maybe go easy on the rain. For the fans in the grandstands, of course!

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