Charles Leclerc grid penalty: Formula 1 rules explained as driver given penalty ahead of Saudi Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc will start in the second half of the grid at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
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It is only the second race of the season but Charles Leclerc has already been hit with a grid penalty. The Monegasque Ferrari driver was unable to finish in the season’s opener in Bahrain due to engine failures and his team have now replaced the Energy Store and Control Electronics on his engine for a third time meaning he will suffer a 10-place grid drop this weekend.

The season opener in Sakhir could not have gone any better for two-time world champion Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team as they enjoyed a one-two finish but for Ferrari it felt like the same old story again as their 25-year-old driver missed out on a podium finish.

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Bahrain was also an eye-opening experience for McLaren who trudged their way into last place with rookie Oscar Piastri failing to finish. While the Papaya team will ascertain how to work their way back up the field, the Prancing Horses will suffer the consequences of a grid penalty in just the second week of the season.

Here is all you need to know about grid penalties in Formula 1

What is a grid penalty?

Essentially, drivers who are served grid penalties are forced to start lower down the order on Sunday’s race. If a driver qualifies in second place after qualifying on Saturday, but has a 10-place grid penalty, he will then be made to start the race in 12th place.

A Ferrari pit stop in Bahrain 2023A Ferrari pit stop in Bahrain 2023
A Ferrari pit stop in Bahrain 2023

One of the best examples of grid penalties was seen at Monza last year. The 2022 Italian Grand Prix almost felt like the drivers were playing musical chairs due to the number of grid penalties that had been handed out. Nine drivers were given grid penalties due to changes in their car. Mick Schumacher, Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen were served 15-place penalties, Yuki Tsunoda, Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton started from the back of the grid; Sergio Perez was handed a 1-place penalty while Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon had just a five-place penalty.

Why are drivers given grid penalties?

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For every season, drivers are given an allocation for power unit components and if a driver exceeds that number, they are bumped down the grid for that weekend. This generation of Formula 1 power units consist of seven elements and drivers are only allowed to use a set number of each power unit element before receiving the aforementioned penalty.

Here are the power units and their allocations:

  • International combustion engines (ICE) - 3
  • Moto generator units-heat (MGU-H) - 3
  • Moto generator units-kinetic (MGU-K) - 3
  • Turbocharger - 3
  • Energy store (ES) - 2
  • Control electronics - 2
  • Exhaust - 8

So why does Charles Leclerc have a penalty?

Ferrari have decided to change up Leclerc’s control electronics for a third time already this season meaning he will have at least a 10-grid penalty drop - potentially more if they replace any other parts.

Speaking to selected media on Wednesday 15 March, the Ferrari Team Principal Fred Vasseur said: “On Sunday we had two different issues. The first one was on Sunday morning, when we did the fire up, and the second one was in the race. Unfortunately, it was two times the control unit, the ECU.

“It’s something that we never experienced in the past. I hope now it’s under control, but we have a deep analysis on this. Unfortunately, we’ll have to take the penalty in Jeddah, because we have only a pool of two control units for the season.”

When is the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix?

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The race will take place on Sunday 19 March at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit and lights out is expected at 5pm GMT. Sky Sports will have all of the weekend’s action from practice to qualifying and, of course, the main event on Sunday afternoon.

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