Wolff defends 'complicated' grid penalties for new engines

Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director. 11.06.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 8, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku Street Circuit, Azerbaijan, Qualifying
© XPB 

Fans and media pundits alike have been growing increasingly frustrated by the impact of engine-related grid penalties in recent races, but Mercedes boss Toto Wolff insists it's the least-worse solution to the issue.

Eight drivers were hit by penalties for taking additional power unit elements at Spa, with Max Verstappen among those receiving a 'back of the grid' sanction after having won pole position in qualifying.

And in Monza the figure was up to nine drivers, with Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton this time sent to the back of the grid while Verstappen served a 'mere' five place penalty for the start of the Italian GP.

The situation was so complex that it took four hours for the race officials to publish a provisional starting grid, with AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly jokingly asking Twitter whether anyone could tell him his starting position.

It's left many fans fuming about how it's made qualifying into a farce, with the starting grid bearing no resemblance to the order at the end of Saturday's session.

But while acknowledging that it was a far from perfect situation, Wolff explained why the penalties were needed and argued that there was no better alternative solution on hand.

“We must remind ourselves why we have that,” he said. “On the chassis side we are cost capped and we weren't before. On the engine side, we are not cost capped yet.

“If there were no grid penalties, we would have qualifying engines. And not five of them but 20," he continued. "The big teams and the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] would spend what they want in order to have an advantage.

Stefano Domenicali (ITA) Formula One President and CEO with Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director and Mohammed Bin Sulayem (UAE) FIA President. 09.09.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 16, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy, Practice

"That's why there needs to be a certain factor that limits that and avoids them, so this is where it's coming from now. But has it gotten too complicated? For sure."

One proposed alternative would be to penalise the constructors in the points standings, leaving drivers free to race. After all, it's hardly their fault if the engine develops a reliability issue during the season.

But Wolff wasn't convinced.

“One negative could be that the drivers' championship is the one that counts, and you're just throwing engines on the car," he said. "Taking plenty of constructor deductions, but winning the championship with a driver because he has a new power unit every race.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18 at the start of the race. 11.09.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 16, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy, Race

Other criticisms have targeted the number of engine components that teams are allowed to use over the course of the season before incurring penalties, with suggestions it should be raised.

“I think we need to reconsider when the engine cap kicks in, and then that all goes away," Wolff agreed. "But still, we don't want to have an arms race on engines.

“Whatever freedom you give us, we will do it and we will do it even more strategically because it's only five places or 10 places," he added. "We will blow an engine every race because it's going to be three tenths quicker than the one before.

"So there needs to be a certain deterrent," he concluded.

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