The current Formula One season has seen grid penalties handed out for all sorts of reasons, from gearbox changes to causing collisions to impeding drivers during qualifying. At this weekend’s Korean Grand Prix, Marussia’s Charles Pic becomes the first driver to receive a grid penalty for an engine change.
Each driver is permitted to use eight engines per season, and may choose freely when to use each available engine. For every additional engine used, however, the driver will incur a ten-place grid penalty for the race at which it is first used. Pic will use his ninth Cosworth engine of the season on Sunday, and therefore receives the prescribed penalty.
For a front-runner, a ten-place penalty would be extremely damaging. For Charles Pic, however, the penalty will have very little impact. A qualifying position of 14th or lower will result in the Frenchman starting last on the grid. Considering that his best qualifying result of the year so far is 19th, Pic’s only task in qualifying is to be within 107% of the fastest time in Q1, which should not be a problem even on the prime tyres – on option tyres in Q1 for last week’s Japanese Grand Prix, Pic was three seconds quicker than the 107% time. He can therefore save an additional set of supersoft tyres for the race.
Despite the lack of impact on Charles Pic’s weekend, penalties for engine changes are likely to become topical in the next few weeks, particularly among the front-running teams where grid position could have a material effect on the outcome of the championship. Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel would be very unhappy to have an extra ten cars to pass at the start of a race.