The issue of grid drops for engine changes in F1 always crops up around the time of the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix as teams take advantage of the good overtaking opportunities offered at the venues to go for new powertrains.
During last weekend’s race at Monza, there were nine drivers who were penalized for a variety of reasons, including replacing drive unit parts, extra gearboxes or too many reprimands.
But the issue caused quite a bit of controversy as fans and teams were left in the dark for nearly four hours after qualifying on Saturday to be absolutely sure how the FIA would implement the penalties and shape the grid.
The situation has also sparked renewed calls for a complete reconsideration of whether or not F1 needs a better system than simple grid drops for motorcycle engines.
But Wolff, who had Lewis Hamilton start from 19th on the grid after having to get a new power unit because of damage he sustained to a new engine in Belgium, sees no better way to handle the situation.
“We have to remind ourselves why we have that,” he said of the engine penalty system. “As far as the chassis is concerned, we’ve been capped on costs, and we’ve never been that way before. We are not yet at the cost price on the engine side.
“If there were no grid penalties, we would have qualifying engines. And not five, but 20! The big teams and the OEMs would spend what they want to have an advantage.
“So therefore there has to be some factor that limits and avoids that. So here it comes from now. But has it gotten too complicated? Secure.”
Photo By: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
While it has been suggested that one way to keep the current grid would be to simply link the constructors’ championship points to engine changes, Wolff is skeptical of its operation.
He thinks that if teams start to lose points, that would leave the door open for them to completely sacrifice the constructors’ championship to go for more powerful engines at each race to help their driver win the title.
“A negative point could be that the driver’s championship is all that matters, and you just throw engines on the car, take a lot of constructors’ deductions, but win the championship with a driver because he has a new drive unit every race. ” he said.
Wolff admitted, however, that the excessive number of changes teams have had to make this year is enough to spark some debate over whether the current limit of three main components per driver is too low.
However, he says that no matter how many teams are given, they will always go to great lengths to try and maximize competitive opportunities.
“I think we need to rethink when the hood kicks in, and then that’s all” [excessive grid penalties] goes away. Still, we don’t want an arms race to bring in engines.
“Whatever freedom you give us, we’ll do it and we’ll do it even more strategically because it’s only five or ten places.
“We will blow up an engine every race because it’s going to be three tenths faster than the last. So there has to be a certain deterrent.”