Stewards have the power to impose various penalties on a
driver if he commits an offence during a race. Offences include jumping
the start, causing an avoidable accident, unfairly blocking another
driver, impeding another driver when being lapped, speeding in the pit
lane, or gaining an advantage by leaving the track.
The two most
common types are the drive-through penalty and the ten-second time
penalty. In the case of the former, the driver must enter the pits,
drive through the pit lane at the pit-lane speed limit and rejoin the
race without stopping. Depending on the length of the pit lane this can
cost a driver a significant amount of time.
More severe is the
ten-second time penalty (also commonly known as a stop-go penalty) where
the driver must not only enter the pits, but must also stop for ten
seconds at his pit before rejoining the race. During this time the
driver’s team are not permitted to work on the car.
In the case
of the drive-through penalty and the ten-second time penalty, a driver
has three laps, from the time his team is notified, to enter the pits
(failure to do so may result in a black flag and the driver being
excluded from the race).
The only exception is when the penalty
is awarded during the final five laps of the race. In this case the
driver may continue and complete the race. However, 25 seconds will be
added to his total race time, which may drop him considerably in the
final race standings.
In extreme cases the stewards may choose to
enforce tougher penalties. They can drop a driver any number of grid
positions at the next Grand Prix (so, for example, even if the driver in
question goes on to qualify on pole, a ten-place penalty would for drop
him to 11th). They can also impose time penalties, reprimand a driver,
exclude him from the results, or suspend him from the next race.