FIA Loves The Five-Second Time Penalty

Daniel Ricciardo reacting to the FIA five-second time penalties in France F1 2019
The famous five-second time penalty aside, the FIA has had three controversial decisions in recent weeks – two in Formula 1, one in Formula E. 

FIA Loves The Five Second Time Penalty

Despite the controversy and arguments around the ‘five second time penalty’ since the last race in Canada, the FIA repeatedly used this penalty across the French Grand Prix weekend – in Formula 1 and the feeder series (although in one instance, a Formula 3 driver had his time penalty cancelled!). In Daniel Ricciardo’s case, the first penalty was towards re-joining the track in an unsafe manner and at an angle that forced Norris off the circuit, causing the British driver to lose places to Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg too. However, Ricciardo’s second penalty was for gaining an unfair advantage off-track as he re-passed Raikkonen for 7th place.

The general belief being that while Ricciardo’s second penalty could be deemed acceptable, the first one was totally uncalled for. On the opening lap of the race, Racing Point’s Sergio Perez was slapped with the same time penalty despite following the FIA mandated procedures for Turn 3 incidents. The penalty cost the Mexican driver (whose move was a bit cheeky!) possible points scoring the finish. Along with the rules and regulations for the sport come 2021, the FIA and Formula 1 should revisit the sporting rule book that is now penalising situations that would otherwise go down as classic racing. Also, this could be counted as the FIA’s third controversial decision in recent weeks after their ruling on Vettel’s penalty in Canada a fortnight ago, the restart in the Formula E ePrix in Bern on Saturday and with Ricciardo in France this weekend.

2019 Is Historic For Mercedes-Hamilton

The 2019 Formula 1 Season will most definitely go down in history as the season in which Mercedes scorched the Formula 1 record books. With every passing Grand Prix in this hybrid turbo era of the sport, Mercedes are either inching closer, equalling or beating an existing record in the sport, and the 2019 French Grand Prix was no different. For starters, Mercedes registered their 63rd front-row lock-out in the sport, a new record in itself. Ferrari, Williams, and Mclaren are all tied with 62 front row lock-outs each. Given Mercedes’ form and superiority this season, one wonders where the bar will be set once and if their domination ends.

Mercedes seem to be more than making up for their unusually long break in Formula 1 (from 1955 till 2010) as they look set to clinch their 6th consecutive Constructors’ Championship this season – they are a staggering 140 points ahead of Ferrari. It would be their 6th Constructors’ Championship in 10 seasons! Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes’ star driver, looks set for his 6th Drivers’ Championship too.

In France, Hamilton claimed pole position on Saturday (86th career pole, a record that keeps growing!) and followed it up with an easy win on Sunday, his 79th career win.

The race in France was Hamilton’s fourth consecutive race win of the season, while taking his season tally of wins to 6. Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s team-mate and nearest title rival, finished a distant 2nd and came under attack from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in the last few laps of the race. Bottas, who led the Drivers’ Championship early in the season, now trails Hamilton by 36 points – one hopes that the Finnish driver is able to rise up to the championship challenge this season.

It was only a few races ago when Hamilton acknowledged the opportunity Mercedes’ technical superiority offered him to create new records in the sport and how he would be foolish to squander it away. However, one must not take away Hamilton’s talent, dedication and ability to multitask as a Formula 1 racer and pursue several other off-track passions unlike most of his counterparts. It’s almost as though Hamilton is in a different mould altogether – on-track and off it. This is why crowds booing him as they did in Canada is uncalled for. And at this point, it would be worth wondering if Nico Rosberg would be ruing his unexpectedly early retirement – the 2016 World Champion could’ve owned some of these records!

French Yawn Prix?

Yes, the moot point of this weekend was just how boring the 2019 French Grand Prix was. But if one is blaming Mercedes for operating at a level no other team can, then it is unfair. It’s like being punished just because you are the smartest in your class. The blame lies elsewhere, and not it isn’t the FIA or Formula 1 alone, but a complex web of techno-commercial structuring that Bernie Ecclestone enabled in his last negotiations with the teams. The teams are involved in the rule-making of the sport and are able to vote or veto rules that they believe will/won’t work. Formula 1 is a rare sport where the competitors make the rules they will adhere to. The new owners of the sport, Liberty Media, are working hard to ensure that Formula 1 resets from 2021, but can it really? One can only pray and hope!

For the 7th time in 8 races, Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen was able to beat at least one Ferrari. In France, he finished 4th and ahead of Sebastian Vettel. After the start, the top-4 drivers paced themselves to be within 2-3 seconds of each other – a gap that keeps in contention while not destroying their tyres. After a not-so-regular qualifying session in which he qualified only 7th, Vettel did his bit of charging early in the race. The Ferrari driver took the first 7 laps to get ahead of the Mclaren drivers after which he tried an alternate tyre strategy to finish higher than 5th place. At the chequered flag, Vettel could only manage 5th along with the additional point for the fastest lap of the race.

The Battle For 6th to 10th

If the first five finishers were more or less secured before lap 10 of the race, it was an open race for positions 6th till 10th. The McLaren drivers, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, registered their team’s best qualifying performance in recent times as they locked out the front row of the grid – beating a Ferrari (Vettel) and a Red Bull (Pierre Gasly). Following the Mclaren duo closely was Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen and the other Renault driver, Nico Hulkenberg. However, it took till the last lap of the race for this battle to finally heat up and of course, an unfortunate hydraulics issue with Norris’ Mclaren.

McLaren, who seemed set for a 6th and 7th place finish, ended up losing 7th place with Norris after reliability issues made him fall prey to attacks from Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg on the very last lap of the race. In fact, the last-lap skirmishes between these four drivers are what fans expect from Formula 1 races time and again. For his moves, Ricciardo was awarded two post-race penalties of five seconds each – ones that saw him be demoted from 7th to 11th place. The unexpected beneficiary of Ricciardo’s penalty was local hero, Gasly. However, one wonders if the single point earning from his home race would go any distance in pleasing the driver or his team.

In the mid-field battle, we expect fortunes to swing at every Grand Prix and in France, it swung in McLaren and Kimi Raikkonen’s favour. The Woking-based team is now 4th and 12 points ahead of Renault, while Raikkonen, who went without scoring for the last three races, jumped to 8th place – just 7 points behind Sainz. The biggest disappointment of this season would be Haas who fell to 9th place after the last race in Canada. The American team, who were expected to be in the fight for 4th, are still struggling to get on top of their tyre issues. And finally, Robert Kubica finally managed to finish ahead of his team-mate George Russell. It was for the last two finishing positions in the classification, but a battle nevertheless.

The 2019 Austrian Grand Prix is next weekend – yes, a doubleheader treat for the fans. Also racing in the Formula 1 support races in Austria will be India’s lone Formula 3 driver, Jehan Daruvala. The Mumbai-born driver becomes the first back-to-winner of the new Formula 3 series after he won Race 1 on Saturday and followed it up with a 3rd place in Race 2 on Sunday. Jehan is currently second in the Drivers’ Championship and has given much to cheer for to Indian Motorsport fans. As for Formula 1, the shorter circuit layout of the Red Bull Ring with its unique corners should make for an interesting race, but will it be yet another where Mercedes goes unchallenged for the 9th time this season? And how soon before Mercedes’ rivals talk in unison against the Pirelli tyres that they have continuously failed to adapt to this season?

This post was first published on Firstpost

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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