Rewind to November 2022 and the Thursday press conference at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. With both championships sewn up for Red Bull and Max Verstappen, the topic of conversation turned to penalty points, not least Pierre Gasly’s perilous position going into the weekend.
Gasly came into the penultimate weekend of his second stint at AlphaTauri with ten penalty points on his superlicence.
It meant two more penalty points would guarantee a race ban, thus becoming the first driver to be banned from a Grand Prix meeting for over ten years.
With a move to Alpine for 2023, the last thing Gasly needed was time out of the car and during the press conference, he opened up about his efforts to try and reach a solution with the FIA to avoid a ban.
‘‘It’s a very unpleasant situation and quite delicate,’’ said Gasly.
‘‘In some ways also a bit embarrassing to be standing in a position where I could be banned for a race after the season that I’ve done. I don’t really feel like I’ve been particularly dangerous over these last 12 months.
‘‘There have been a lot of discussions with the FIA, trying to find a solution because personally, I want to do all the races. I want to finish the season in the best way I can with AlphaTauri.
“I want to do all the races in 2023 and get the maximum chances to perform for Alpine. And obviously, this is a lot at stake.’’
Luckily for Gasly, he avoided a race ban, but his position remains on shaky ground going into this season. The question remains, is the penalty system doomed to fail, and how does it work?
How does the FIA penalty points system work
With virtually everything in Grand Prix racing now under more scrutiny than ever, drivers have to watch their every move to avoid adding any points to their superlicence.
Different on-track transgressions carry several penalties, with a minor pit lane speeding infringement or a string of track limit breaches generally earning the driver a five-second time penalty or his team a small fine, usually of £500 plus.
For not yielding a position after leaving the track, drivers get a five-second time penalty and one penalty point on their superlicence, which goes up to two for failure to stay within car lengths of the safety car.
On-track collisions or dangerous manoeuvres earn three-four penalty points, depending on the scale of an incident.
A time penalty or a grid penalty is applied at the end of the race or heading into the following weekend if the incident caused another competitor to be affected.
Why is it flawed, and how could it be improved
Although 12 points for a ban seems quite forgiving, it is, on the contrary ruthless as drivers who continue to rack up the points eventually get banned for committing several minor offences.
Yet acts of poor driving that would have seen several drivers get banned in the 1990s go virtually unpunished.
Reducing it to 10 or increasing it to 14 wouldn’t do much either, apart from giving the drivers more leeway to commit a vast amount of breaches of on-track etiquette or earning a race ban for minor offences such as breaching track limits.
What needs to change is to emphasise poor on-track etiquette with more penalty points being handed, i.e. four for a dangerous manoeuvre and five for causing a collision, with six being awarded for an accident that takes one car out of the race.
Infringements such as track limit breaches should carry merely a reprimand, and offences such as speeding the safety car or gaining an advantage by leaving the track earns a driver one or two penalty points, depending on the severity of the incident.
By refreshing the system, drivers who commit a crash are more likely to get a ban rather than several breaches of track limits. This, in turn, gives the race director the authority to stamp out acts of dangerous driving.