In Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix, Sutil and Hülkenberg initially finished eighth and ninth, but after each receiving 20-second penalties (both of which were for cutting corners), were demoted to ninth and tenth behind Massa, putting the pair as the last two to complete the race-distance. What struck me was this gave them time-differences to the winner that had become much more than a lap’s-worth, with a number of drivers not that much over a lap-down behind them in the results.
At the end of the race, there was very little in it between 8th and 14th. The last-gasp battle with Alonso fending off Vettel for the win by 0·293 seconds saw the two leaders lap the 12th and 11th placed cars on the last lap, with Sutil, Hülkenberg, and Massa starting the last lap only just soon enough to avoid being lapped by the leaders, the three finishing the full-distance covered by less than a second.
The only way I can think of to judge this is to calculate the time-differences between the relevent cars at the last lap they all completed, that is the sixtieth, second-last lap. I have the .pdf file from FIA that gives me the lap-times for the cars that completed the last lap, and the post-penalties result page from gpguide.com (not only does it contain more useful information about the finishing times of the lapped cars but the race-result on f1.com has added ten seconds too many to Hülkenberg’s time). I have used the time at which Alonso finished the race as the zero-point, so this table shows how many seconds earlier or later the cars in question completed the 60th lap.
The next car behind was another lap behind so can be ignored. The time-difference between Sutil and Buemi with a lap to go was 19.517 seconds, so surely it would be just to have relegated the two penalised drivers to 13th and 14th, with Petrov and Alguersuari gaining the points for 9th and 10th. Otherwise a driver that is last to finish on the lead-lap could be given a penalty of a million seconds with no effect on his race-position whatsoever.
It could be argued that had all the drivers had the opportunity to complete the full distance, even if lapped, then with the tendency of cars further up in the race to be faster, the gaps would have increased, so another way to do it would be to work out the average speeds of the penalised cars based on their race-time including the time penalty, and use that for comparison. That data is available in the gpguide.com results, and would have resulted in Adrian and Nico being only put down to 12th and 13th, in front of Buemi.
(Incidentally, five-times Le Mans winner, Emanuele Pirro, will be the driver-steward at the last round, and thus was present at Monza to observe the process. He was not at all happy about, as he saw it, Hülkenberg being allowed to get away with cutting the chicane so many times to defend his position against Webber. The drivers at Abu Dhabi would be wise to bear this in mind, although it is possible not all of them read this blog.)