Poor McLaren gets the indignity of making up an all-world-champion back row. But how? Why are they behind the Red Bulls when Red Bull broke the same rules by using a fifth power unit, too? Let us answer the irritating question of the season for the Austrian Grand Prix.

Once again, the usual Renault- and Honda-powered cars find themselves in deep schnitzel because their power units are pretty unreliable this season, and they’ve already blown through the allowed four. Using a fifth (and beyond—it’s only June!) power unit gets you a hefty grid penalty. Renault-powered Toro Rosso hasn’t joined the party yet, but McLaren and Red Bull are down in it for this weekend.

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This weekend, timing matters. Per F1 journalist Adam Cooper, Red Bull told the FIA about Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat’s fifth engines at 2:43 p.m. on Monday, while McLaren didn’t notify the FIA about Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso’s fifth power units until 4:25 p.m. on Tuesday. Consequently, Red Bull starts ahead of Mercedes, as their engine penalties were applied first.

Don’t knock it, man. This race to tell the FIA about lemony engine problems is our best shot at some team versus team competition this season unless Ferrari finally gets on-pace with Mercedes, or we get a delicious rain race. Since these extra engine penalties are going to be a regular feature now, can we maybe televise that race? Let’s see who’s got a quicker runner: Team Honda or Team Renault. Excitement!

Per Formula One, Red Bull’s Daniil Kyvat and Daniel Ricciardo then received the first ten-place grid penalties for using a fifth Renault engine. Kyvat qualified eighth, so he was moved to 18th, ahead of Manor Marussia drivers Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens in 19th and 20th, accordingly.

Now we get to the very back of the grid. Daniel Ricciardo qualified 14th, so his grid penalty moves him all the way to last place, with four unused grid spots. Because of Formula One’s rules regarding unused grid penalties, Ricciardo was then bumped to a 20th place start (behind Kvyat, Merhi and Stevens) and must serve a five-second stop-and-go penalty during his first pit stop, during which no work may be performed on the car.

But wait! There’s more.

McLaren’s Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso got hit with penalties not only for using their fifth power unit, but for exceeding the number of allowable changes to make their engines reliable.

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According to the BBC, the team opted to take the penalties for extra changes at the Austrian Grand Prix because they feel as if the Red Bull Ring’s long straights and short corners doesn’t suit the Honda power unit well. They’d rather take the extra hit for tweaking the engine now and have a better chance at the British and Hungarian Grands Prix, where they feel as if the Honda power unit will perform better. Furthermore, Alonso got the upgrades first in part because he will be taking part in Tuesday’s mid-season test at Austria, and Button won’t.

For this race, that means that Fernando Alonso gets a twenty-place grid penalty for his fifth power unit usage and the associated tweaking. He qualified 15th, meaning that he had fifteen unused grid penalties after being moved behind Kvyat, Merhi, Stevens and Ricciardo. Per the rules, Alonso must serve a drive-through penalty during the first three laps of the race.

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Button’s penalties got applied next, as Button qualified a miserable 17th. Button got hit with a 25-place penalty for changing his engine as well as the team tweaking too many items for reliability on that engine. Button is now using elements of a sixth power unit in June. We’re on race eight of nineteen. That sucks. As he could only serve three of the twenty-five penalties from his original qualifying spot, Button was assigned a ten-second stop-and-go penalty that must be served in the first three laps of the race in addition to starting from the rear.

Just when you thought the back of the grid was settled, Alonso’s gearbox had to be replaced ahead of the race, slapping him with an additional five-place grid penalty, per the BBC. Only unused engine-related grid penalties would affect his additional in-race punishment, so this didn’t move Alonso one bit. He stays put in a 19th place starting position. Button still is in the most trouble of them all with his sixth power unit use, so Alonso’s gearbox penalty disappeared faster than a plate of homemade spätzle. (Mmmm. Spätzle.)

Thus, the final starting order for the back of the grid was as follows:

15. Kvyat

16. Merhi

17. Stevens

18. Ricciardo

19. Alonso

20. Button

Confused yet? Yes. Me, too. I can’t say the penalties and the way they’re compounded and applied makes the most sense. Needless to say, Red Bull isn’t amused that all of this is happening at their home grand prix (at the Red Bull Ring, for Pete’s sake!), either.

If you think this is only a Renault and Honda problem, Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen are both on their third power unit with eleven races to go. Could they be part of these brainhurt-inducing penalty roundups at the end of the season? Maybe. All I know is that this is getting ridiculous, and that race to turn in the engine penalties first absolutely needs to be on TV somewhere. Can it involve a Slip N’Slide and/or minibikes for our amusement? Thanks in advance.

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(Note: If you’d like to keep up in more detail with which power unit elements in particular are getting swapped for fifth and sixth components, Formula1Blog’s Mie does perhaps the most comprehensive round-ups of power unit component use I’ve seen to date.)

Photo credit: Getty Images


Contact the author at stef.schrader@jalopnik.com.