The Monza circuit operators have installed new kerbs in four places on the track. Significantly, the kerbs feature high raised parts to discourage drivers from using anything more than the flattest part of the corners.
Ferrari themselves have acknowledged their car is not so good over kerbs, which could lead to suspicion that the Italian Grand Prix organisers made the change to help the home team. However the same kerbs have been installed at Catalunya’s new chicane and the Veedol chicane at the Nurburgring, so perhaps not.
But these new kerbs are not likely to prevent more controversies about corner-cutting.
The layout of Monza’s first two corners – the Variante Rettifilio and Variante della Roggia – invite corner-cutting. This has become even more of a problem since tarmac run-offs were installed at the corners for safety reasons a few years ago.
New ‘combination’ kerbs have been installed at turns one, two, four and five – i.e. both major parts of the Rettifilio and della Roggia – which are designed to prevent drivers running across the kerbs completely with all four wheels off the track.
The benefit of the new kerbs is that drivers will not want to run over the raised parts, which could slow them down or damage their cars. If a drivers cannot ‘make’ the corner, they will opt to cut it entirely, making it easier for the stewards to spot what they’ve done and force them to yield any advantage gained.
Monza has tried several solutions to its chicane-cutting problem. In 1996 tyre stacks were installed on the inside of some chicanes, which several drivers hit during the race. They were removed the following year and three years later the new and much slower first chicane was built.
The potential drawback of the new-style kerbs, which are partly flat but with a raised, rounded section further inside, is what could happen if an out-of-control car runs over one of them. Say, one that had lost control under braking as happened with Nick Heidfeld in his collision with Takuma Sato at Austria in 2002:
A similar thing happened to sports car racer Stephane Ortelli at the Rettifilio last year, though on that occasion the car took off of its own accord.
Inside and outside
If the first problem with drivers cutting corners is knowing when they’ve done it, the second problem is consistently punishing them when they do.
At the moment, the stewards seem to only punish drivers for gaining an advantage by going over the inside of a corner rather than around the outside. There is no indication in the rules why this should be so.
For example, when Lewis Hamilton was stripped of his Belgian Grand Prix win last year after going across the inside of the chicane on one lap, the stewards punished him for breaking a rule that says simply: “the race track alone shall be used by the drivers during the race”.
There is no stated reason that explains why this rule is not applied when drivers go off the track on the outside and gain an advantage. This happened at least twice at Spa: Kimi Raikkonen passed Jarno Trulli and Heidfeld (and gained sufficient momentum to carry him past Robert Kubica) by going off the track on the outside of turn one. And Adrian Sutil passed Luca Badoer also by going off the track around the outside of him.
This whole area was thoroughly explored in the comments after the Belgian Grand Prix, a discussion that’s well worth a look.
I make no apologies for being a broken record about this sort of thing because we come up against the same problem time and again when trying to understand steward’s decisions in F1: a dire lack of clarity and consistency. Whether a driver gains an advantage by going across the inside or around the outside off the circuit makes no difference: they’ve gained an advantage and they should have to relinquish it.
Monza’s new kerbs may prove to be an improvement but what the FIA really needs to change is not the track but its entire approach to stewarding. It should make a start by publishing clear and unambiguous rules and sticking to them.
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