Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Guest Blog on 'Inconsistent Penalties'

Entire article and data/graphs are guest blogger's own words. @saltireF1, www.vivaF1.com   

During the search for bloggers and hosts for the Summer Swap Shop, Duskyblogger mentioned that he was interested in “someone else’s view of inconsistent penalties in F1” so, eager to please, I thought I’d have a go at making some sense of the statistics. 

I’ve blogged on penalty statistics for the 2008 and 2009 seasons before but here was a chance to bring the results up to date. There is however a problem with this years’ statistics; normally the FIA put details of every steward’s decision on their website after the race but this season they haven’t routinely been updating them. I note penalties as they occur during the race and check the motorsports news sites for details of incidents I might have missed. As a result, the 2011 statistics may not be 100% accurate but all “Drive Throughs” and “Stop and Gos” are recorded.

The statistics here are slightly simplified, I’ve not included disqualifications (because they are so rare), grid drops for gearbox changes or penalties for speeding in the pitlane during free practice sessions. I’ve confined the analysis to 4 categories: Stop and Go, Drive Through, Grid Drop and Reprimands; penalties that add 20 or 25 seconds post race to the elapsed time have been classified as Drive Through. The statistics here cover the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons’ plus the eleven races held so far this year, a total of 65 races. We should bear in mind that the composition of the stewards’ panel has changed over recent years, gone is the permanent steward (and assistants) and in their place we currently have a driver steward and a combination of national and international stewards... so much for internal consistency and just one of the reasons that makes comparisons difficult.

If you look at averaged data (the number of penalties per season divided by the number of races that year) it’s obvious that the predominant type of penalty has changed over the four years; Drive Through’s have increased year on year (more than doubling this year) whilst Reprimands, which followed a similar pattern until 2010 seem to have been replaced by the harsher Drive Through penalty. Grid drops’ have also reduced this year, so what could account for the changes? The obvious candidates are that more incidents are being sent to the stewards for investigation and/or the data they have available to them has changed. The latest FIA In Motion magazine gives details of new Racewatch monitoring software available to Race Control so that may help to explain some of the recent changes. The full list of penalties for each of the categories can be found here and they do make interesting reading, but they can they give us any information about inconsistency between teams?

This is a difficult question to answer but looking at the top three teams (Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari) McLaren drivers have received the most Drive Through penalties, with 11 compared with 5 each for Red Bull and Ferrari. I’ve included a summary table for those three teams, blue for Red Bull, red for Ferrari and grey for McLaren drivers, Kovalainen who drove for McLaren in 08-09, Raikkonen (Ferrari 08-09) and Coulthard (Red Bull 08) also appear in the table with the appropriate colour for their years’ of service.

Surprisingly, none of the top three teams have accrued Stop and Go penalties; McLaren drivers have 4 Grid Drop penalties between them whilst the other teams have none. For Reprimands, Red Bull have 5, McLaren 5 and once again, Ferrari have none.

So, on the face of it there is inconsistency in the number of penalties applied. Yes, Lewis Hamilton has gained the most penalties across the various categories than any other driver. Is that to do with some sort of inherent bias in the stewarding process or is it simply a case of a driver who simply pushes his car and his chances to the maximum, intent on gaining every single tenth of a second he can within the rules? I’d suggest that it’s the latter and that it’s within his game plan to push to the maximum and to expect a few penalties along the way, he’s said as much in response to criticism of his aggressive driving style. Sometimes the dice will fall in his favour and sometimes not but he has to try and we the fans are richer for his involvement, rule breaking or not.

My aim was to present to you the basic statistics and to leave the interpretation of the results to you, the reader. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.