Charles Leclerc will start ahead of the group of penalised back-of-the-grid drivers including Formula 1 title rival Max Verstappen at the Belgian Grand Prix despite an ostensibly similar offence because of a quirk of the sporting regulations.
A big batch of engine component changes means several drivers have grid penalties for the race at Spa.
Drivers have a certain number of engine components they can use in a season.
The first time they exceed an allocation is a 10-place penalty per component, while repeat instances of exceeding an allocation are five places per component.
For example, a fourth internal combustion engine would merit a 10-place penalty but a fifth would only be five places.
If a driver incurs a penalty exceeding 15 places – for example, a fourth ICE and a fourth turbocharger, adding up to 20 places – that triggers an automatic back-of-the-grid start.
This is what Verstappen, Lando Norris and Esteban Ocon have fallen foul of at Spa.
Verstappen had his fourth internal combustion engine, turbocharger, MGU-H and MGU-K of the season fitted for FP1 when the permitted allocation is three; Norris took his third energy store and control electronics of the season when the maximum allowed of each is two; and Ocon had a batch of six new components that each carry a 10-place drop.
Therefore, they must all start from the back of the grid. But Leclerc, who also has several new engine components and was expected to get the same penalty, has a numerical penalty because of a rule quirk.
Initially for first practice, Ferrari only fitted a third energy store (10 places) and a fifth MGU-K (five places) of the season for Leclerc, who was given a 15-place grid penalty as a result.
For second practice, Ferrari fitted a fourth control electronics of the season. For this, Leclerc received an extra five-place grid penalty.
But the penalties are not cumulative. And the regulations specifically state: “If a driver incurs a penalty exceeding fifteen (15) grid places he will be required to start the race from the back of the starting grid.”
That means one single penalty exceeding 15 grid places. Leclerc did not have this, which means he will start ahead of Verstappen, Norris and Ocon.
And if Ferrari wants to, it will also be allowed to give Leclerc more engine components tomorrow without dropping Leclerc behind that group.
For example, Ferrari could give Leclerc his fifth combustion engine, turbocharger and MGU-H, with each only carrying a five-place penalty – not enough to exceed 15, and therefore trigger a back-of-the-grid start.
So Leclerc will start in a slightly higher position, possibly as high as 15th or 16th depending on what final penalties befall the likes of Mick Schumacher and Valtteri Bottas, who have also taken new components this weekend but have so far avoided being sent automatically to the back of the grid.