Why Kevin Magnussen’s nuisance Saudi Arabian GP tactics need to be outlawed

Thomas Maher
Kevin Magnussen, Haas, 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Haas' Kevin Magnussen defends hard during the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Kevin Magnussen played the team game to perfection in Saudi Arabia, but exposed a weakness in the rules that should be tightened up.

Having accrued 20 seconds of time penalties, Kevin Magnussen’s race at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit turned from one of self-interest into one where he simply set out to wreck other driver’s races.

Kevin Magnussen exposes weak penalty regulations

Just a caveat to start, if I may. Kevin Magnussen did nothing wrong in Saudi Arabia, I’d like to make myself clear on that. It’s the job of every driver to maximise the points he and/or his team score in any given race and, to that end, the Danish driver performed his task admirably as he helped Nico Hulkenberg bring home 10th place in Jeddah.

But the circumstances under which the regulations allow such tactics to be used are ones that need examining and tightening up, to prevent drivers with penalties from ruining other driver’s days.

Magnussen is well known for his elbows-out approach to racing, and that fearlessness was very evident in the early stages of Sunday’s race in Saudi Arabia.

Battling with Williams’ Alex Albon, Magnussen failed to leave quite enough room for his rival as they approached Turn 4, and the Haas driver was duly given a 10-second time penalty – already a harsher penalty than the usual five-second penalty that’s handed out for most incidents.

Just 11 minutes later, Magnussen picked up a second 10-second time penalty as he overtook Yuki Tsunoda in a clumsy manner at Turn 4 – a move he completed by going off-track and failing to cede the position back.

Magnussen had already pitted on Lap 7 meaning that, unless he pitted again, that 20-second time penalty would simply be added onto his race time at the chequered flag – rather than having to sit in the pits for that amount of time before his mechanics could work on his car had he needed to stop again.

With his race already ruined by those penalties, Haas duly turned their attention to figuring out how Magnussen could be used to maximise Nico Hulkenberg’s race. The German driver, ahead on track and eyeing up 10th place as he held off Stake’s Zhou Guanyu, could benefit from a big gap to the cars behind – a gap that Magnussen could now help open up by blocking the train of cars behind.

And that’s exactly what Magnussen did for the rest of his afternoon, driving around tactfully slowing down where the cars behind couldn’t overtake, and then defending masterfully in the sections where they could.

It was a brilliant display, worthy of praise, even if it did come about as a result of Magnussen wrecking his own race – playing the disruptor allowed him and the team to conveniently repackage his bad day as exemplary teamwork.

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Should drivers with bigger time penalties be allowed to stay on track?

But should drivers with such penalties be allowed to stay out on track? After all, once upon a time, the rulebook was much harsher on this. Up until 2013, drive-through penalties were de rigeur – it was the most lax penalty available to the stewards in handing out punishments to drivers.

Until then, Magnussen would have had to pit within three laps of the first penalty to serve that drive-through (or even serve a 10-second stop/go penalty), and then serve another penalty when he was punished for the second incident.

Certainly, he wouldn’t have been able to have any lasting effect on the races of those behind him.

It was in 2014, with an eye to making a more lenient penalty available to the stewards, that the five and 10-second time penalty add-ons were introduced – with the drive-through and 10-second stop/go reserved for the more egregious incidents.

However, with the regulations allowing drivers to ensure these time penalties can be applied to their race times by not pitting again, it leaves the door open for tactics like what Magnussen and Haas did in Saudi Arabia.

In making the more lenient punishments, the wording allows for this kind of exploitation. Again, nothing wrong with doing so, but it’s a weakness in the rulebook that means drivers can set out with their sole purpose being to ruin other people’s races.

The exact wording of the regulation used to punish Magnussen (twice) is as follows: “A ten (10) second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop in his pit stop position for at least 10 seconds and then re-join the sprint session or the race.

“The relevant driver may however elect not to stop, provided he carries out no further pit stop before the end of the sprint session or the race. In such cases ten (10) seconds will be added to the elapsed the sprint session or race time of the driver concerned.”

A solution to this could be quite simple – once the amount of time accrued exceeds that of most minimal penalty (ie. five seconds) – showing that either more than one offence has occurred or the one offence committed warranted more than the most minimal punishment – the driver must pit to serve this penalty within three laps.

However, give the teams an option. If the driver doesn’t pit within these three laps, the penalty is doubled if they do pit again, or make it to the chequered flag without stopping. In other words, if a driver is given a 10-second penalty, they can pit within three laps to shed it, or the penalty becomes 20 seconds if they pit again after this window or continue to the chequered flag.

This would mean the teams have to weigh up the possibility of a Safety Car intervention that could rescue the race for the driver with the penalty, versus the pain of serving the penalty quickly.

Certainly, the only punishment that should allow for the current leniency of continuing on track with a simple time add-on should only apply to the more minor five-second penalty, and not to a driver who had racked up 20 seconds worth of penalties.

Having committed two offences that ranked above the most minimal punishment available, Magnussen should not have been allowed to continue on his merry way to impede the others.

Given that the rulebook pre-2014 wouldn’t have allowed for it, it seems a straightforward enough system to tweak.

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