Monza’s new kerbs are not likely to stop corner-cutting controversies

The new kerbs have been installed at the Nurburgring as well as Monza

The new kerbs have been installed at the Nurburgring as well as Monza

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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56 comments on Monza’s new kerbs are not likely to stop corner-cutting controversies

  1. If am not mistaken, lewis hamilton also cut the first corner of the italian Gp 2007 to get ahead of massa.

    • Massa forced him off—because he knew there was room off track and that Hamilton wouldn’t hit him. The rule obviously doesn’t punish excursions in that case.

      That brings up the other can of worms–forcing people off, a la Hockenheim. Hamilton and everyone else does it with gusto wherever we have these new “grass-crete” dealies and acres of tarmac run-off. I don’t think it should be allowed and its dangerous, but its clearly permitted.

      Anyway, we have a clear and articlated rule for gaining spots by going off–The Spa Hamilton Rule—articulated in an appellate ruling to take away a victory, such is the apparent gravity of the crime. However, only a year on, it’s violated willy-nilly and rarely enforced. For example, the egregious Spa example Keith didn’t mention: Baricchello passed a heap of cars in Les Combes at Spa. He violated the Hamilton Rule—he did not let anyone by for another corner ahead. No, not all of those cars were off-course, most were slowing up to make the corner using the tarmac. Yes,the rule against gaining spots by going off track seems only to be applied to egregious cases, i.e., where it matters to race outcomes, when the driver’s name begins with H and ends in “amilton.”

  2. The single-most effective way to stop drivers from cutting chicanes, is to cut with the chicanes. Especially at Monza. ;-)

  3. JohnBt said on 9th September 2009, 8:05

    Nothing like GRAVEL. Drivers will think twice for sure.

  4. PatrickL said on 9th September 2009, 8:08

    It’s all fine and dandy when people claim that measures should be taken so drivers won’t cut the chicane, but realise that there won’t be any overtaking then either. Or if they still do try, lots of crashes.

  5. DGR-F1 said on 9th September 2009, 8:20

    Although I don’t like the idea of any part of the circuit being built to deliberately damage the cars, I do think that some measure should be taken to ensure that whatever surface is used in run-off areas ought to be sufficiently horrible to make the drivers slow down as they cross it, and so not really gain any advantage, but still know its available to use for avoiding measures.
    Otherwise they might as well all copy Kimi at every circuit and pretend the racing line doesn’t exist.

  6. David said on 9th September 2009, 8:32

    I agree whit the people saying that FIA needs to be more consistent in rule definition and application.
    Then let’s swith to kerbs: sometimes I watch some movies about old races, and I see tracks with no kerbs at all, I mean just exit and…you’ll get what’s there: slippery grass, gravel or a guard rail or a wall. Well, I know it wasn’t safe enough but I think it should make us stop and reflect: if the scope of the kerbs are to let the drivers make a slight mistake with no danger well, for that you just need a little kerb with no run off area. In my opinion the kerbs should be more narrow, and beside the kerbs you should put a 1 meter stripe o gravel. So the drivers could have a little space for mistaking but no chances of take advantages from going wide. After the gravel area you should put there the best safest material you know, to slowing out of control cars in the most effective way.
    Let’s limit kerbs and too fast run off areas (like La Source Spa exit).

  7. Could it be kerbs are now a past problem for Ferrari?

    I’m thinking this because Massa constantly cut the chicanes at Monaco, especially the one near the pool, but the FIA only issued a warning. Other times this year too, we have seen Ferrari drivers making the most out of a chicane, something which wasn’t so common last year and before. For example at Spa, I noticed that Raikkonen took the straightest line at Eau Rouge by going over the kerbs most. It was mostly apparent from the cameras installed just over the kerb at the corner, were one could clearly see the different driving lines drivers took, and how much over the kerb Raikkonen went. So I don’t really think Monza did it on purpose.

  8. Last year they lowered the kerbs in Singapore, here they are raising them.

    By the way, I thought it was amusing that a change to an Italian track “could lead to suspicion” that it was done to help Ferrari but if anyone brings up equally abusurd conspiracy theories about Glockgate they are in the tinfoil hat brigade.

  9. gabal said on 9th September 2009, 9:08

    I found a link of what I mentioned before – a ”blue line” tarmac area which is more abrasive then the track – cars would still be able to rejoin the race but they aren’t able to benefit from going off the track. I’m not sure does it slow down cars significantly but this concept could be a solution to this problem.

    • parmalat said on 10th September 2009, 23:28

      gabal, the “blue line” tarmac areas provide ADDED grip for drivers who are out of control and are trying to stop. A driver who has his foot on the throttle will benefit from this grip as well and will be able to take even greater advantage of off-course excursions – it doesn’t slow them down.

  10. Due to health and safety much has been done to ensure that if a car goes off the circuit that the safety of the driver and fans is paramount. The problem with gravel on some high speed corners is that it’s not effective in slowing cars down and can result in flipping cars over. With slow speed corners and chicanes, however, I think that gravel is a viable option. But in saying that, gravel traps might not be possible – street circuits.

    In light of what happened in Valencia this year between Webber and Button, as soon as an effective, positive working link between stewards and teams is in place during the race the better; something they’re looking into next year.

    As a race fan I want decisions to be consistent and made, where possible, during the race, NOT after. We can hopefully then try and avoid the nonsense of Spa last year and the arguments over Kimi this year. This isn’t rocket science but as usual, with the FIA, everything has to be overly complicated, leading to controversy and petty bickering between race fans.

  11. For those that know a lot about the history of race tracks, how have kerbs evolved over the years?
    Kerbs obviously allow a driver to pick the apex and get good traction. But what would happen without them? Just the tarmac and grass? No one is going to want to put a tyre on the grass!? LOL.

  12. Marcus said on 9th September 2009, 10:47

    Guess that slows down Hamilton’s cutting corner tricks that he is well known for doing more then the other drivers. He thinks he is in some kind of Go-Kart the way he goes on some corners.

  13. Jonathan said on 9th September 2009, 11:20

    The difference is that the cutting across the inside of the Bus Stop chicane is cheap, obvious and gains an instant advantage – whereas going round the outside at La Source is subtle, clever and gains a “long run” advantage along the following straight.

    As we saw with the diffuser situation at the start of the year, flexible rules allow for clever innovations – and Raikkonen’s trick at Spa is an example.

  14. PaulF1 said on 9th September 2009, 11:21

    Good article Keith, points well made again about consitency but…
    Those 2 vids you posted, neither has anything to do with kerbs. Sato was avoidance breaking on the dirty part of the track before the corner and took of on the due to the large “grassy knoll”. In Ortellis case he took off due to the inherent instability of his car when “rallying” across the grass at very high speed. Neither incident had anything to do with kerbs.
    A more pertinent (if less dramatic) point would have been made with the radio comments from Red Bull to Weber at Spa about avoiding the kerbs. Or you could always get the FIA to muck about with everyone’s aero so all cars are basically arcade racers like this :)

  15. It’s interesting to note how this same discussion has been carried out since that Senna and Prost accident in Japan, ’89. Senna was disqualified for cutting the corner, besides other ‘infractions’ (six or eight, as long as I remember), while he argued he had not taken advantage. Actually, the very same rule was used in the case…

    • patrickl said on 9th September 2009, 15:24

      They must have changed something to the rules though. Senna was disqualified and today a driver would not get disqualified for the same situation. The same thing happens quite often in Monza.

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