Sao Paulo Grand Prix: F1 drivers pushing for changes to the penalty points system

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Pierre Gasly

Formula 1 drivers are pushing for a change in the penalty points system to prevent drivers being banned from races for frivolous offences.

Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly said before the Sao Paulo Grand Prix that he was “a bit embarrassed” to be two licence points off a mandatory one-race ban.

Mercedes driver George Russell said: “The penalty does not fit the crime, especially in Pierre’s case.”

The Briton added: “The rules aren’t in the right place”.

Governing body the FIA’s approach to various administrative matters has come under the spotlight this season and Russell, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, said it had told the drivers that it was going to hold a review over the winter.

“They have expressed that were going to have the conversation in the off-season and review all of this.

“There is a lot to review this season in many different regards, so the FIA are definitely going to have a busy off-season.

“In sport, you have to be ready and able to adapt, you have regulations in place and it only takes one incident to recognise maybe the regulation isn’t quite right. We need to have the capability to change things and take penalty points away afterwards if we all agree it was incorrect.”

Gasly is on 10 penalty points after a series of incidents this season, ranging from collisions with other drivers and speeding under red-flag conditions to exceeding track limits and not staying within the required distance of the safety car.

The rules dictate that any driver who accrues 12 points in any rolling 12-month period will be given an automatic one-race ban.

Gasly has even discussed whether it would be advantageous to deliberately get the extra two points in Brazil this weekend so that he can serve out a ban at the final race in Abu Dhabi next weekend, rather than have it hang over him when he moves to the Alpine team next year.

Gasly said: “It is a very unpleasant situation and quite delicate and in some ways also a bit embarrassing to be standing in a position where I could be banned for a race.

“After the season I have done, I don’t particularly feel I have been particularly dangerous and that would be a very harsh penalty. There have been a lot of discussions with the FIA to avoid the penalty. There is a lot at stake.

“No-one knows what could happen in 2023. I could have an amazing car and be fighting for the championship. I can’t take the risk to miss a race. It is a very tricky situation.

“I have been discussing quite a lot with the FIA to try to find a solution.

“The way the regulation is written it is quite strict as it is not always related to dangerous driving.

“I hope we can avoid the situation where I end up being banned for a race. I can’t go into next year with only two points [left] and that risk over my head but at the same time there is no clear solution.”

Russell added: “He has some for safety-car infringements, incidents in practice sessions. If anything were to result in a race ban, it needs to be for something pretty reckless and dangerous. I personally don’t associate Pierre with being a reckless or dangerous driver.”

An FIA spokesman confirmed to BBC Sport that it would hold a review of this and other matters over the winter but added that Gasly would have to serve a ban if he exceeded the points limit this season.

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Williams driver Alex Albon also said the system needed to be reviewed and that Gasly did not deserve to be on the brink of a ban.

Albon said: “We are discussing it and there is going to be a change. We do need to do something about it. I don’t think any of us are dangerous. You should punish drivers if they do dangerous things, but a lot of points are not for dangerous things.”

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez also agreed with Bottas and Albon on the Gasly situation.

Optimism at Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell

Mercedes have had two of their most competitive races of the season in the last two events in the USA and Mexico, but Russell said the team were unlikely to be able top fulfil their hopes of winning a race this season.

Russell said: “Realistically, Red Bull and Max [Verstappen] are too strong and the only way we are going to be able to beat them is if they make a mistake and we need to be there to jump on that misfortune.

“Ferrari are the unknown at the moment, they are a bit up and down but the last two weekends have been pretty great for us.”

But Russell added that Mercedes were confident about returning to the front in 2023

“The mindset now is we can definitely fight for the championship next year,” Russell said.

“If we hit our targets over the winter, we will be in a really competitive place. And even if we don’t start off with the fastest car, I am very confident we will have a car that is a lot closer than this year.

“You are seeing now how we are managing to close the gap pretty rapidly. It is definitely exciting going into next year and I think there will be a huge amount of motivation within the team. You can see that progress, we all feel it within.”

His team-mate Lewis Hamilton said he expected Mercedes to be less competitive at Interlagos this weekend than at the last two events.

“Every time we arrive at a track we are surprised one way or another how big the gap is or how close we are,” the seven-time champion said, “so I won’t know until Friday where that is.

“I don’t know if the car will be spectacular here, I don’t know if we will be as close as we were the last race. I don’t think we will. But I hope we’re surprised and it’s not the case.

“We kind of know where are our car is going to work and what corners it won’t work so I anticipate it is not going to be the easiest on track, but there is weather and all sorts that could come into it.

“But out of the next two races this is the best option we will have or the closest we will be. The next one with the long straights is going to be tough.”

Brazil is the third and final ‘sprint’ event this season, with qualifying moving to Friday to set the starting positions for a shorter race on Saturday, the results of which decide the grid for the main grand prix on Sunday.

F1 is considering changes to the ‘sprint’ format for next year, when the number of such events will double to six.

One idea under consideration is to make the sprint a stand-alone race that has no bearing on starting positions for the grand prix.

Meanwhile, at McLaren, Lando Norris missed the Thursday media day because he was unwell with food poisoning.

The team said they expected him back for Friday, but Dutchman Nyck de Vries had a seat fitting on Thursday as a precaution in case he needs to stand in for the Briton.

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