Because of his poor judgment at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix of 2012, the driver Romain Grosjean of the Lotus team caused a huge accident that eliminated two championship contenders from the race and could have caused serious injury.
Grosjean was barred from the Italian Grand Prix the following weekend and, so that he might be more careful next time, he was fined 50,000 euros, or almost $63,000.
Welcome to the financially hazardous job of driving at the pinnacle of world auto racing. Although rarely discussed, the system of imposing fines has long existed in this richest series in world auto racing, and in most other series as well.
''The fining system has been around as long as I can remember, and I have 37 years of experience in Formula One,'' said Charlie Whiting, the race director for the series, who is appointed by the F.I.A. to operate each Grand Prix. He works with the race stewards who ultimately decide on the penalties. Fines are issued for rules infractions on and off track. The stewards decide on the amount, based on past fines and on the circumstances of the infraction.
Teams must pay their fines to the International Automobile Federation, the sport's governing body based in Paris, by bank transfer within 48 hours of the infraction. Although the driver pays if he was judged to have been responsible for the infraction, the team makes the transfer and the money is deducted from the driver's paycheck.
The money goes into the operating budget of the F.I.A., which writes the rules and then polices for infringements at the races.
The fines may be harder for drivers to pay than for teams, but both are designed to deter future rule infractions.
The Sauber team, for example, had to pay 25,000 euros at the British Grand Prix in July for a dangerous release of the car during a pit stop, and Jean-Éric Vergne, a driver at the Toro Rosso team, was fined the same amount for causing a collision at the European Grand Prix in June.
''It came out of my pocket,'' Vergne said. ''It's a huge fine, especially since I'm not earning a lot of money, so it's not nice. I've never been fined before. But I did a mistake, I paid it cash.'' Most people involved in the series think the fines work, because although most drivers and teams have a lot of money, the assumption is that no one likes parting with any of it.
''It functions pretty well, because even if it is a small sum for the salary of a driver, they don't like it when you touch their money, like anyone,'' said Eric Boullier, director of the Lotus team, speaking before the sanction against Grosjean, his driver. Noting that the team did not like paying, either, he added, ''It is always money that is not spent on the car.''
Although the rule is that he who errs pays, teams sometimes pick up the tab for staff members who are fined.
Often, as in the case of Vergne and Grosjean, the penalty can include both a fine and another penalty. Vergne was also penalized 10 spots on the grid at the next race.
Vergne is a rookie and Grosjean is only in his second year, and neither earn anything like the money pocketed by Michael Schumacher. At the peak of his career, Schumacher earned as much as $80 million a year, including personal sponsorships. For both Grosjean and Vergne, however, the fines could easily represent 10 percent or more of their salaries.
Schumacher, incidentally, was fined 2,500 euros in August 2012, at practice before the Belgian Grand Prix, for entering the pit lane by the wrong route. Other infractions and penalties this year include Jenson Button, a driver at the McLaren Mercedes team, being fined 2,500 euros for crossing the solid line at the pit-lane exit during qualifying for the German Grand Prix in July; the Caterham team paying 2,500 euros for using the incorrect tire during practice for the same race; and the Sauber team being docked 5,000 euros during qualifying at the European Grand Prix in June for one of its car going too slowly and thus impeding other cars.
It is more difficult for a team with a small budget to pay than it is for top teams.
''It's clear that $1,000 to one man is very different to $1,000 to another man and/or team, so maybe there is an argument that says that the penalty is viewed more harshly by some than by others,'' said Graeme Lowdon, a director of the low-budget Marussia team.
''In a driver contract we'll have a clause that says something along the lines that the driver is responsible, and usually the driver indemnifies the team for any fines that are due to his actions,'' he added. ''But the driver would not be responsible for something where it is the team's fault. A good example can be pit-lane speeding. If the driver forgets to press the pit-lane speed limiter, or presses it a little too late - and we can see it on the data - then the driver pays the fine. But if by accident when the controls guys set the limit, if they make a mistake and set the limit too high or too low - if it is a team mistake - we would pick up that one for that.''
The fines for unsafe maneuvers, he said, are usually clear cut and the responsibility of the driver.
Lowdon said he thought the system usually worked well, but he noted that in some cases it was problematic, as with fines for an unsafe release of the car during a pit stop. He worried that some teams might be willing to pay the fine in order to have the advantage - gaining a spot ahead of another car, for example - that a quick but dangerous release of a car might bring.
Nico Hülkenberg, who drives for the Force India team, has the record for pit-lane speeding this year: He was fined 7,200 euros when he was caught driving at 95.5 kilometers an hour in a 60 k.p.h. zone. Pastor Maldonado, a driver at the Williams team, paid 1,200 euros for speeding at 66 k.p.h.; at a previous race, he paid 1,400 euros for going 66.1 k.p.h.
Compared to Grosjean and Vergne, Maldonado got off easy after causing a collision at the British Grand Prix in July: He was fined only 10,000 euros. And Sebastian Vettel, the defending world champion, received only a reprimand for causing a collision at the Canadian Grand Prix in June.
For his error, Grosjean accepted the stewards' decision, apologized and called it a learning experience.
''I can only say that today is part of a process that will make me a better driver,'' he said. Vergne said his fine would not be on his mind as a deterrent, as the error was its own warning. Maldonado agreed.
''For sure, it's too much, and it's painful when you pay,'' the Venezuelan said. ''But I will be racing, I cannot be calm, I will just try to be more clever during the races and I just need to do my job. I need to do my best every time, to push very hard. Otherwise you lose performance.''
Lowdon noted that even in the series below Formula 1, the fine system exists, although the amounts are smaller.
But earlier in 2012 in Nascar, the Richard Childress Racing team's signal caller, Danny Stockman, was fined $10,000 because of an open vent hose on the car. And at the Daytona 500 this year, the Hendrick Motorsports crew chief was fined $100,000 for illegally modified parts on the car.
Still, no other racing series, let alone any other sport, has fined a team $100 million, as the F.I.A. did the McLaren Mercedes team in 2007 for using the secret technical data of the Ferrari team.