Crashing into two cars on the opening lap might seem like a reasonable thing to give a penalty for but Daniil Kvyat should never have received a drive-through penalty for hitting the two McLarens during the Chinese Grand Prix
I’m sure you all remember it (after all, it was one of the only interesting moments of the race), but let’s have a brief recap anyway. Kvyat is on the inside at Turn 6 and slightly loses the back end. As he corrects the car, he naturally moves to the outside of the track on the exit, where Lando Norris is recovering himself after running ever so slightly wide. Carlos Sainz is in the middle and the three collide in a rough approximation of the crash between Max Verstappen and the two Ferraris in the 2017 Singapore GP. Amazingly, all three kept going, and Kvyat was handed a drive-through penalty.
Now, these days, a drive-through is quite a rare penalty for the stewards to issue, with the less severe five or 10 second time penalties being the preference these days. The first lap is also a time when penalties tend to be less harsh because the racing is so chaotic that the chances of racing incidents are higher. If everyone was judged for their driving on the first lap in the same way they were during the rest of a race, then it’d be penalty city.
Therefore, for Kvyat to get a drive-through suggests that he’s done something incredibly silly - maybe he’d lazily squeezed somebody off of the circuit, or performed an overly-aggressive move. But to my mind, a driver collecting a slide and then causing a collision as a result doesn’t even come close to being in that category.
For comparison, take a look at what happened in the last race in Bahrain, where Lance Stroll drove into the side of Romain Grosjean on the first lap. That left Grosjean crawling back to the pits with a puncture and eventually caused his retirement, yet Stroll received no penalty whatsoever.
Then there’s last year’s Chinese GP. Max Verstappen ploughed into the side of Sebastian Vettel, spun him around and ruined his race, yet his punishment was a mere 10-second time penalty. Was what Kvyat did on the opening lap really worse than that?
It also makes you wonder if Kvyat was given such a harsh penalty simply because of his reputation - ‘if ‘The Torpedo’ is involved in an incident it must therefore be his fault’. Preconceptions can be quite hard to shake off, after all.
Kvyat himself was obviously incredibly unhappy with the penalty, feeling it was just a “normal lap one incident” and that he’d left space for the other cars. However, he also mentioned that he’d spoken with the stewards after the race, saying:
“I think we found a good understanding, but we disagree on few things, and it was a very long meeting. I think they kind of understand that they were quite harsh today, I could feel it in the post-race conversation.”
Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost also called it “unjustified” and highlighted the fact that Norris was rejoining the track after running wide also contributed. I’m not sure I’d agree with that angle since he was only slightly beyond the white line - it’s not like he was rushing back to the track from the run-off area at 45 degrees. Lando himself said after the race that “it looked like a bit of a racing incident”, while Sainz - who did his best to back out of the incident - said he felt like Kvyat knew there were two cars alongside him and should have left more room.
F1 stewards have all sorts of information available to them that we as fans aren’t privy to. With all of that taken into account it may well be the case that a drive-through was the correct penalty but from the outside, it appears to be very harsh. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the stewards were consistently harsh, but when you look at the leniency shown in the previous race, both to Stroll for the Grosjean incident and the collision between Kvyat and Giovinazzi in Bahrain, where no penalty was given, then it looks very much like consistent application of penalties is still proving to be an issue.
This is especially frustrating as it comes off the back of a meeting between drivers and stewards at the last race where the consensus was to go a bit easier on the penalties, especially on the first lap - and that’s the unusual thing. For F1 to go from ‘let them race’ to dishing out a drive-through for something which many feel was closer to a racing incident doesn’t come across brilliantly.
Personally, I think Kvyat was deserving of a penalty - but not one as severe as a drive-through. From watching the replays, he could probably have given a little bit more room after collecting the slide and the fact that his driving did effectively ruin the race of two other drivers can’t be ignored. A five-second penalty would probably have been fitting as an acknowledgement that he caused the accident and as a warning to be a bit more cautious. However, if it had been deemed a racing incident, I don’t think it would have been a ridiculous decision.
What do you reckon? Were the stewards too harsh or was the penalty fair? Let us know your thoughts!