Formula One's First Extra Engine Penalties Hit The Grid In Canada

Image for article titled Formula One's First Extra Engine Penalties Hit The Grid In Canada

So, it begins: Max Verstappen and Jenson Button both received grid penalties for using a fifth power unit for the Canadian Grand Prix. With some teams experiencing reliability on par with a Renault Fuego at a LeMons race, this won’t be the last time we see penalties for using a season’s four-engine allotment too soon.


Renault, of course, has been the subject of our ongoing Renault Engine Death Watch series. They have struggled the most with engine reliability this season, with spectacular blow-ups and failures all season long. They even asked the Formula One Strategy Group to consider allowing a fifth engine with no penalties for this season. However, as Red Bull and Toro Rosso are the only teams running Renault engines this season, and Red Bull is the only team of the two with any representation on the Strategy Group, that suggestion was shot down as expected.

Naturally, a Renault-powered car beat everyone to the punch and earned the first extra-engine-related penalty of the season. Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen was the unlucky recipient of the first a ten-place grid penalty for a new power unit on top of the five-place penalty he earned at Monaco for rear-ending Romain Grosjean’s Lotus. Toro Rosso opted to swap out Verstappen’s fourth and final allowable engine for a fifth engine after ahead of qualifying, triggering the penalty.


Verstappen, however, qualified 12th out of 20 cars. The five-place penalty from Monaco sent him back to 17th, so how would a ten-place grid penalty work when you only have three places to go?

According to Formula One, here’s how this will play out for heavily penalized teams according to this year’s regulations. The number of unused grid place penalties determines the additional penalty levied on a driver when they’re already starting from the back of the grid. For up to five unused grid penalties, a five-second stop and go must be served during the race. For six through ten unused grid penalties, that becomes a ten-second stop and go. Stop and gos are usually handled during pit stops, with the team holding a car for the length needed to serve the penalty without performing any work. For over ten unused grid penalties, that penalty becomes a drive-through penalty.


Verstappen, with his seven unused grid place penalties, earned a ten-second stop and go penalty for Canada on top of his back of the grid start.

When Autosport asked how many engines Verstappen expected to use this season, he mentioned that several of his swapped engines still technically work (albeit poorly).


“Hopefully [we won’t use] more than six - but it will be hard,” Verstappen told Autosport. “I still have three engines alive - only one was blown up. The others are still running so I can do some more mileage.”


Both Red Bull drivers (Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat) are on their fourth and final engines as well, so expect them to join the penalty party soon, given the Renault’s Fuego-Turbo-like failure rate.

The second penalty went to McLaren driver Jenson Button. McLaren’s Honda power units are the other ones experiencing teething issues this season, such to the point where Fernando Alonso point-blank called out his McLaren Honda’s lack of power over the radio during the race today.


Crucial components of Jenson Button’s power unit failed in Free Practice 3, causing him to spend qualifying with a car in the garage.

“Initially it was an electronic issue, and that caused a problem with the ICU [internal combustion unit] so it’s difficult but we’ll deal with it,” Button explained to “The guys are doing a fantastic job of taking the car apart and putting it back together!”


Button was already on his fourth MGU-H (Honda’s hybrid system) and fourth turbo, so he gets the dreaded fifth engine penalty for using the MGU-H and turbo from a verboten fifth power unit. The first component swap for the MGU-H merited him a ten-place penalty, and the second turbo swap gained him a five-place penalty on top of that.


Because Button didn’t qualify at all, he qualified in 20th place: dead last. However, previous penalty recipients gave him two grid places, moving him to an 18th place start. Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel had a five-place grid penalty for passing Roberto Merhi’s Manor Marussia under a red flag in practice. Vettel had a miserable qualifying effort, getting knocked out in the first session due to his engine being down on power. This meant that Vettel was moved behind Verstappen.


Confusing, eh?

Button was then moved two spots behind to the very back of the grid, and his eighteen unused grid place penalties forced him to take a drive-through penalty within the first three laps of the race.


Whose fourth engine will fail next? All we can say for sure is that these penalties will continue to be extremely complicated and confusing, and that I would love some apple fritter Timbits right about now. Please send Timbits. Thanks in advance.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Contact the author at



Even as a German I find this sport overregulated.