On Ferrari’s “tactical” gearbox penalty
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Nov 2012   |  11:33 pm GMT  |  394 comments

One of the major talking points from the US Grand Prix weekend was the decision by Ferrari on Sunday morning to deliberately break a seal on the gearbox of Felipe Massa’s car, so that he would get a five place grid penalty which would move team mate Fernando Alonso one place up the grid and onto the clean side of the grid for a better start.

Practice starts during the weekend had shown that the dirty side of the grid was so lacking in grip that the car would lose up to a second in the 350 metre run to Turn 1, equivalent to two positions.

Much has been said and written about Ferrari’s tactic in the last 24 hours, but it’s worth looking in more detail at the background and technical detail of this to better understand whether the rules need to be re-written to avoid similar actions in future.

Ferrari used Article 28.6 (e) to give their own driver a tactical penalty on Sunday. This states that: “a replacement gearbox will also be deemed to have been used if any of the FIA seals are damaged or removed from the original gearbox after it has been used for the first time.”

The rules on gearboxes are that each ‘box must last for five Grands Prix. An FIA seal is placed in several areas of the gearbox, “to ensure that no moving parts, other than those specifically permitted … can be rebuilt or replaced.”

These seals may only be broken with the approval of the FIA in order to make limited repairs. These include replacing a damaged gear ratio with a similar one, O-rings and oil seals. Nothing is allowed to be done to the transmission itself and if needed a new gearbox must be used which incurs a five place grid penalty.

Ferrari were transparent about the fact that there was nothing wrong with Massa’s gearbox and they will have been equally open with the FIA about it. In fact they will have gone through the procedure carefully with the FIA’s Charlie Whiting and Jo Bauer to ensure that they satisfied the regulations. They broke the seal on the cross-shaft, which is at the back of the gearbox and drives the final drive.

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali confirmed that the team waited until the last moment to break the seal, so as not to allow time for Red Bull to react and do the same with Mark Webber, who was starting 3rd. However Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said that they never even considered it.

This is the second race in succession where a team fighting for the championship has done something unusual in order to gain an advantage for the race. In Abu Dhabi Red Bull Racing were penalised for not having enough fuel in Sebastian Vettel’s car in qualifying.

He was sent to the back of the grid, but Red Bull Racing used Article 34.5 of the Sporting Regulations to change his car and optimise it for overtaking in the race. So he was able to gain an advantage from what should have been a severe penalty. The rule states, “If a competitor modifies any part on the car or makes changes to the set‐up of the suspension whilst the car is being held under parc fermé conditions the relevant driver must start the race from the pit lane.”

Both actions were within the rules and as things stand, both rules are in the 2013 Sporting Regulations.

A lot of effort goes into thing through various scenarios and wording these regulations; for example on the rule regarding teams using 8 engines in a season, Ferrari was one of the prime movers in adding a detail whereby if an engine is replaced after qualifying with another from the permitted eight, the unit removed cannot be used again that season for qualifying and race. This was to avoid teams producing special “qualifying engines”.

This is the level of detail the teams and the FIA go to.

There’s no doubt that what Red Bull did in Abu Dhabi and what Ferrari did in Austin played badly with fans. Ferrari’s move affected their own driver Massa and it meant that several drivers who had qualified on the clean side of the grid, were forced to start on the dirty side.

The most affected were Senna, who moved to 10th and lost two places at the start. However his team mate moved onto the clean side in 9th and still lost four places. Hulkenberg moved to sixth and picked up a place at the start.

The dirty side did have an impact overall; Raikkonen lost three places from 4th and Hamilton lost a place from second.

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I fail to see how working inside the rules can be seen as cheating or against the spirit of motor sport. When a team come up with a radical design that is within an inch of the regs they are deemed to be revolutionary, (blown diffusers & engine mapping spring to mind). So I fail to see how using technical regs to your advantage differs.


Ferrari garage…Massa’s car crew…
Luca:-Stefano, clean the gearbox.
Stefano:-Right away…wait,something is stuck here…
Stefano:-…wait…something broke…
Luca:-Stefano,imbecile,che cos’hai fatto?Coglione,you broke the seal!!
Luca:-Porco dio!Now we have to change the gearbox!
Stefano:-,sorry,something was stuck!
Luca:-What was stuck?
Stefano:-Fernando on the grid!


Out of Topic. This notebook look, is much better than the previous one.


Not read all the posts so apologies if the point has already been made. There was one race where Ayrton Senna qualified in pole and raised a stink because the pole was drawn on the inside of the track (shortest route to the corner) rather than the outside (better grip on the racing line). To me, the simplest solution would be to adopt the policy in WDC which is the driver who qualifies with the fastest time gets to choose his grid position rather than automatically starting on pole and then other drivers choose in sequence based on their Q times. In Austin you may have seen the cars line up like.

Q1 = Pole

Q2 = 3rd

Q3 = 5th

Q4 = 2nd

Q5 = 7th

Q6 = 6th etc..

This gives the fastest drivers the tactical advantage that is sometimes missing from your qualifying position and also means that you can stay as far away from Grojean as possible 🙂

The second point is that ulitimately it probably didn’t change the race outcome (subject to random 1st corner crashes) Without the swap around, Massa would have been ahead of Alonso in the closing stages and would have been ordered to move over. The Ferraris were faster than all the cars in front of them on the grid except the two that beat them in the race.

The rule that needs to go is the use both tyres. From Qualifying onwards you should have to select either hard or soft compounds and make the choice between poor Q and a 1 stop race or better Q and a 2 stop race. The tyres need to be designed to degrade at a pace that requires 1 additional stop at some tracks and 2 additional stops at others IF your car is hard on it’s tyres.



Are there any regulations that stop a Team from hiring/bringing their own track sweeper/cleaner?

That would seem easier than all the fuss of penalties?


I’m sure there is. You can use a blower on your own pit box area and grid slot, but everything on the track is FIA property


100% Ferrari and Alonso supporter and fan bur shame on Ferrari.

A team does not win a championship with little tricks and clever (????) solutions.

You win by giving the best driver a decent car, not a superior car but a vaguely competitve one.

Someone should exlain this to the despicable Domenicali.


Ferrari only did what was allowed by the rules but it had a nasty taste to it. I feel for the other drivers forced onto the dirty side of the track.

I’d seriously propose a change to the rule that you impose an even number grid penalty (i.e six) so that no other team is affected by another teams selfish/cynical act.

Can James mention it to the powers that be!!


It won’t make a difference. The drivers still get shifted forward one place!

Only the person receiving the penalty and anyone in front of him will stay on the same side of the grid, everyone else will end up on the opposite side.

The answer really is to try and make both sides of the grid the same, the grid is aligned so that the advantage goes to the drivers that qualified fastest. This assumes that both sides of the track have equal grip.

The only advantage that should be given by grid position is that you are in front of the people you out qualified. Also the position into the first corner but one row will always be the inside, one the outside, not much to be done about that.


Doh – you are right!

Alternatively, move them to the back of the grid & don’t fill the empty space?


I’m not a fan of either Ferrari or Alonso, and I hated the “Fernando is faster than you” situation in 2010 because it was against the rules and the championship had barely began

In this case I don’t think there was anything wrong with what they did, and I’m not saying that just because it was legal

In my view they took advantage of a penalty, yes, but in the same way so many other sports do

For instance, in football, when Team A is defending an attack from Team B, as soon as Team A recover the ball, they will start a counterattack, and 50% of the times, Team B will try to stop it with a fault, even at the expense of a yellow card.

This is accepted by all fans and players, we all call it an intelligent fault

Considering the 90 minute match in F1 is coming to an end (continuing in the football speech), and there’s no possible extratime, I don’t see anything wrong with it


The main problem here was not massa’s penalty but the grip imbalance odd vs even slots. 2nd should never be worse than 3rd at any track, and if it is they should have it in the rules to use a car to clean it, ideally with Pirellis on like a gp2 or that 2 seater thingy.

Also, “poor” hulkenburg, for example, originally qualified 8th on the dirty side (with both ferraris on the clean side) before grosjean’s penalty so he can hardly complain starting 6th instead of 8th


I don’t see the need to change the rules to prevent what Ferrari did. If somebody feels something has to be done then go to the root of the problem. The clean and the dirty side of the grid.

In normal circumstances it’s just stupid to move your other driver 5 places back to promote your first driver up one place. He’ll move over anyway if that’s what it takes. And he could also perhaps drive slow enough to make it easier to overtake the other drivers in between them.

Or get rid of second drivers and cars and make it one car per team.

On a side note I’d have nothing against seeing Vettel lose this championship the way he won his first.


Comparing what Red Bull did in Abu Dhabi and what Ferrari did in the US is like comparing apples and oranges. Both are different and the risk involved in doing them also is different.

What Ferrari did affected other drivers, some positively and some negatively. Also it moved Alonso forward and limited risk for his championship. They could have changed Alonso’s car and could have started him from the pit lane. They didn’t do it because Alonso is no Vettel and would never agree to such a thing.

What Red Bull did had lot of risks. Vettel could have got stuck behind a car like Alonso in 2010. Vettel may have not scored at all if it is not for his skilful and fearless driving and risk taking(of course unfortunately Bruno and a DRS board ran into ‘him’).

That is what has made Vettel one of the greatest in F1 today.

People may have different views on whether Ferrari did is right or wrong. I don’t have a problem with what they did. In my opinion, technically they didn’t do anything wrong but morally it is not. Wonder how they can sleep at night.


I don’t have a problem with Ferrari doing what they did to place Alonso in a better position, in fact it adds intrigue! And who’s to say RBR didn’t do what they did at the previous race on purpose? To get Vettal in a car set up for both qualifying AND the race.
Good stuf, I reckon!
I can’t see why some people are critisizing Farrari, it just seems like some humans can’t accept things for what they are, they have to be criticle of everything!


Dude why will red bull leave no 2 on the grid thhat too when mark webber is in pole. vettel would have won by default th. that is just silly……..


Definitely a cynical move and I felt bad for Massa (but he did respond well in the race). However, you cannot make this stuff up, and, as with RBR’s work on Vettel’s car in Dabbey Abbey, it spices up the championship creating lots of interest in both the race and the championship. Give the teams a loophole and they’ll drive a truck through it.


“Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali confirmed that the team waited until the last moment to break the seal, so as not to allow time for Red Bull to react and do the same with Mark Webber, who was starting 3rd.”

Domenicali’s statements are insane. No other team would’ve even considered doing something like that. Well, perhaps Schumacher era Ferrari. You can clearly see that Ferrari is now back in that mindset.


If they really expected to lose 2 places starting on the dirty side, they must’ve expected to also gain 2 places by starting on the clean side? That’s a difference of 4 places. It seems like the effective expected penalty for Massa then was only one place. (Starting 6th, expected 8th on lap 1, vs. starting 11th and expected 9th on lap 1.) At the same time the expected gain for Fernando was 5 places (from expected 10th to expected 5th). It seems like a no brainer to me.


What Ferrari did was logical. Was it sporting? Not sure.

What about the fact that Red Bull won 2 races with a car that was using illegal engine maps? That for me is not sporting as it was also cheating. Period.


One additional thing that is lost here. Everybody has been talking about how Alonso has eeked out every bit of performance from the car. Is that really true? Going by Massa’s performance in the last few races – does not seem to be the case – particularly considering Alonso’s influence on the design. Have Alonso’s drives been as great as they have been made out to be?


Yes. Fernando’s drive have been not only great but epic. Australia, Malaysia, Valencia, British, Monza, Germany, Abu Dhabi and hopefully Brazil.

Sorry to say but it’s simple. Fans of F1 who question Fernando’s driving this year don’t understand the sport on a whole.


Excellent anop You have hit the nail on it’s head

What fernando has done this season is incredible and beyond imagination

Without a shadow of doubt Alonso is the driver of his generation for many (For me greatest driver in the history of F1)

This F2012 is a nightmare to drive and still remains as howler


Very difficult topic. Lots of very strong opinions with some people even arguing that a, honestly not very probable at this point, WDC for Alonso would be unfair because of this.

My opinion, Ferrari move was legal but I didn’t like it.

But an interesting point to consider is that Ferrari, and even Alonso in particular, are the focus of a level of monitoring that is much greater than other teams and drivers. The RB action with Vettel’s car in Abu Dabhi didn’t receive any attention except now as a response to Austin events. Look at the role of Toro Rosso and its drivers: Vergne went just out of track to let Vettel through in Abu Dabhi but James didn’t write an article about this and nobody said that a Vettel’s WDC would be unfair because he has drivers of other team working for him. I wonder what had happened if a driver of a Ferrari B team would have done something similar.


Could not agree more, I’m also very surprised that what the Toro Rossos did in Abu Dhabi has not received any attention from the media, for me was completely unacceptable, they were supposed to be fighting for track position with Vettel and they just dissapeared from his way. THAT is bringing the sport into disrrepute but there is not a single word about this from the loads of people who are criticizing Ferrari and Alonso, not to mention from the FIA.


This might have been mentioned already.. But I seem to recall Massa saying in a press conference words to the effect of, ‘If I am Driver number 2 on a team then I would rather retire’ (possibly after the whole team orders shenanigans in 2010 at Germany??)

Got to feel sorry for Massa who has genuinely picked up his game towards the end of the season after a terrible start to it. These kind of tactics which affect more than one driver in a negative way definitely go against all that is “sporting” but then again I’m routing for Vettel so…


James, what do teams do about changing gear ratios ? How is that possible without breaking the seal ? Each track is different which would require different gear ratios. How is that achieved ?


As it says in the piece you are allowed to change a damaged ratio breaking the seal under FIA supervision. But you cannot change ratios for performance reasons, unless you start in pit lane


What a fuss abt. another trick played.

Imho it is only a matter of communication that makes the difference.

RBR tends to tell nice fairytale stories, whereas Scuderia has the guts to tell again the truth, well knowing their decision is absolutely right conc. team objective and sporting regulations.

What is better ? Being lied, fooled or outsmarted ?

It has kept the WDC alive, since Nando would not have been in 4 th place / survived after turn 1.

The Schumacher-Raikonnen- Hulkenberg express would have arranged that ….


How about widening the pit straight and have everyone start off the racing line? Starting grid positions are on either side of the racing line.

I know this is contrived, but penalizing one side of the entire grid is just silly for “the pinnacle” of motorsports.

Or bring a child’s solution to this – 1st qualifier has first choice of grid position, 2nd qualifier has second choice – and he is free to choose the 3rd grid position, and so on.

For a sport full of smart people, surely an equitable solution can be found if they were permitted to exercise their ingenuity.


I can honestly say this is probably the first time I have admired something that Ferrari have done. With such a freak set of circumstances (a big difference from one side of the grid to the other and Massa having qualified ahead of Alonso) they applied some creative thinking – and were honest about it.

All teams do as much as they think they can get away with to bend the rules whilst still appearing to stick within them. Adrian Newey has frequently gained an advantage by creating front wings that pass a test but flagrantly break the rule – that is what he is paid to do.

If the FIA do not like it all they have to do is change the penalty to 6 places so that all cars remain on the same side at the start. I have no problem with that as long as they prevent teams changing gear ratios after qualifying.


Changing the penalty to 6 places only keeps the the driver getting the penalty on the same side of the grid.

All the drivers who were behind him will still move to the opposite side.


I don’t really have much of an issue with this, Ferrari were confronted with Alonso’s poor performance in quali and a perfectly legal way of getting out of that situation. In the end they got both cars to the finish in the highest places they could (no way could they have caught Hamilton and Vettel) so they were justified in doing it.

I don’t think this will become a regular thing anyway, the only reason this happened was because of the very slippery new tarmac at the Austin track, next year there will be no need for it. If it was on a “normal” track there would have been no need for it, they could have let the race pan out and if Massa was still in front then they could have done something about it.

What I DO have an issue with is the gearbox penalty. It is ridiculous, if they are allowed 5 per year then they should be able to use the 5 how ever they wish, change whatever they want etc etc, much like they do with the 8 engines rule. If the gearbox genuinely breaks in quali then they should be able to swap it for another (with identical ratios) without penalty, providing of course they don’t go over their allocated 5 per season.

Ferrari (when in contention) have always had no1 and no2 drivers, Ferrari’s ethos has always been that no driver is greater than the team and the team always comes first. 2007 & 2008 where Massa and Raikkonen were fairly evenly matched and treated was an anomaly. I have no issue with team orders so long as only 1 driver is in the championship. I do have an issue with 1 driver being favoured from the start of the season, they should both be given a fair crack at the whip until it becomes obvious who the favorite for the championship is.

I hope Alonso and Massa have been getting equal cars for the majority of the season. It is up to Massa to get the results in early on to leave the team no option but to back him.

I wrote on another thread about Ferraris philosophy of throwing the kitchen sink at Alonso’s car to make it faster. Massa’s I believe is not getting the latest developments. Is this a factor in Massa’s recent return to form? Mercedes showed a couple of seasons ago that there is a lot to be said for learning how to use what you’ve got rather than constantly chasing upgrades. Thoughts?


Personally I don’t have much problem with Ferrari’s use of the rule, given that this is a one off. It’s pretty much the first time all year that Massa has been in a position to support his team mate and with Ferrari fighting against what is obviously a vastly superior car a little help for Alonso on what was one of hes rare off weekends shouldn’t be seen as a problem. Of course, if this becomes the norm now I will most certainly not be happy, particularly if this starts happening in the early season races.

I have more problem with what Red Bull did with Vettel at Abu Dhabi. If a driver gets a penalty, said driver should have to take it, not use it as an oportunity to make his already quick car more raceable. I think that rule needs to be changed so that any driver being sent to the back of the grid has to start from the grid unless it can be demonstrated that his car is in need of repairs.

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