F1 needs to clear up rules on off-track overtaking

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Felipe Massa, Jenson Button, Melbourne, 2011

Felipe Massa, Jenson Button, Melbourne, 2011

When are drivers allowed to go off the track to make an overtaking move?

Jenson Button was punished for it in Melbourne but Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Buemi weren’t.

A clear line is needed on this much-abused area of the F1 racing rules.

When Jenson Button took to the run-off area to pass Felipe Massa during the Australian Grand Prix, it was immediately obvious he was going to get a penalty.

I said it, television commentators said it, and everyone on F1 Fanatic Live said it.

Button had no excuse because he did exactly the same thing on the first lap of the European Grand Prix in 2009 and had to surrender the place.

This time he was not so lucky – Felipe Massa made his pit stop shortly afterwards, leaving race control no choice but to issue a drive-through penalty.

The stewards have been reasonably consistent in punishing drivers who gain places by cutting the inside of corners. Much like Fernando Alonso’s mistake at Silverstone last year, it’s hard to understand how McLaren and Button got this call wrong.

But the Australian Grand Prix highlighted other examples of confusion and inconsistency in the rules over what constitutes an illegal, off-track overtake.

On lap 16 Sebastian Vettel passed Button by going off the track at turn four. Sebastien Buemi did much the same to Adrian Sutil later.

It’s possible that neither would have made their passes stick without going off the track. But neither had to give the places back or received a penalty.

When drivers gain places by going off the track on the outside of a corner, it’s much harder to predict how the stewards will react.

At Singapore in 2009 Mark Webber had to surrender two places after passing Alonso on the outside of turn seven – despite the fact that Alonso himself had also gone off the track:

Race Driver Incident Result
2009 European Grand Prix Jenson Button Ran off-track on inside of corner to pass Mark Webber Handed back position
2009 Singapore Grand Prix Mark Webber Ran off-track on outside of corner to pass Fernando Alonso Handed back position
2010 British Grand Prix Fernando Alonso Ran off-track on inside of corner to pass Robert Kubica Drive-through penalty*
2011 Australian Grand Prix Jenson Button Ran off-track on inside of corner to pass Felipe Massa Drive-through penalty*
2011 Australian Grand Prix Sebastian Vettel Ran off-track on outside of corner to pass Jenson Button No penalty
2011 Australian Grand Prix Sebastien Buemi Ran off-track on outside of corner to pass Adrian Sutil No penalty

*Driver was no longer able to hand back position on track

There were reports after the Melbourne race that drivers had been told they were free to go off-track at turn four if they needed to.

If that was the case, that information should have been communicated to everyone watching the race before it had started. (And perhaps someone could have mentioned it to Button, too, because his radio messages gave the impression no-one had told him.)

It’s difficult to judge exactly how these decisions are being made because we hear so little of the stewarding process. Given this confusion, it’s to be expected that teams will be wary of second-guessing the stewards, and may gamble on not getting a penalty at all.

Generally, we saw better, fairer and more logical decision-making from the stewards last year, thanks to the addition of experienced former drivers to the panel.

For example, they clamped down on drivers going off the track on the outside the La Source hairpin at Spa to gain an advantage.

It’s illogical that a driver should be allowed to go off the track on the outside of the corner and gain an advantage when they are penalised for going over the inside of corners.

F1 stewarding may be getting better, but Australia showed us there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Where do you think the line should be drawn on what is and isn’t allowed when drivers go off the track to gain a place?

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194 comments on F1 needs to clear up rules on off-track overtaking

  1. GeeMac (@geemac) said on 4th April 2011, 12:11

    The rule is pretty black and white so I always struggle to see why the stewards seem to have so much discretion when applying the rule.

    If you run off track, be it on the inside or the outside, and you gain a position as a result, you should hand the position back. If the driver you pass has been overtaken by another car before you hand the place back, tough, you are going to drop 2 places. In the event that the driver you passed retires or pits you should be given a time penalty because a drive through jsut seems to be too harsh.

  2. Jenson Button was punished for it in Melbourne but Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Buemi weren’t.

    This is the most blatant ovesimplifying I’ve ever seen in this blog. Really? Are they comparable?

    It’s the same when you say “Stealing a car and stealing a bread is the same thing, they are both stealing”, then I have to remember to you what the context is.

    Button chose to cut the chicane, whereas Vettel and Buemi were fighting not to do what eventually they had to do. Furthermore, FIA had made clear that excursions in this part of track are acceptable (source).

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 4th April 2011, 12:25

      A tweet from 1 (pretty reliable, I admit) journalist hardly makes it that

      FIA had made clear that excursions in this part of track are acceptable

      And where do you get Buemi and Vettel were

      fighting not to do what they eventually had to do

      I do not remember the Buemi pass, but Vettel clearly did not spare a single thought about keeping to the track confines there and never looked back.
      Possibly because the FIA had really told the drivers its OK to go off there, but why on earth weren’t we told?
      Sounds a bit like just as much of a mess up as the FIA not telling us, nor the TV crew much about what would happen with the SC-lines last year. That had everyone guessing for 2 races before we understood.

    • Rob said on 4th April 2011, 12:37

      Whether you steal bread or a car you are still punished for it.

  3. verstappen said on 4th April 2011, 12:13

    I have no problem with a bit more complex rule, but the rule that is in effect needs to be communicated clearly and of course be followed by both the drivers and the stewards.

    Now I don’t know what to think about Vettels and Buemi’s moves and that’s something I don’t like. Did they get away with something, or did they stay within the rules?

    So “lengthening the circuit exception” or just plain “not all wheels outside the white line”, are both okay but please FIA, be clear.

  4. vitaredux said on 4th April 2011, 12:15

    If you’re not.a.good.enough driver to overtake on the track, you dont deserve the place. I don’t take this rubbish about exciting, rules are rules. If they could only be applied consistently we could have faster responses from the stewards too.

  5. -A- said on 4th April 2011, 12:20

    The issue at hand, I think, is that paved run-off zones, regardless of whether they are on the inside or the outside of a corner, obviously provide an incentive for drivers to use them as if they were part of the track. Now, as the rules have been quoted in the comments here a few times, this plain shouldn’t happen, as the drivers are required to use the track only and all four wheels beyond the white line constitutes having “left” the track.

    In the case of Vettel overtaking Button at Melbourne, one could argue he actually used the run-off area to set up the overtake, by accelerating hard and early and passing him in a place where he expected Button wouldn’t or wouldn’t be able to cover his position. This would be using the run-off to pass another car, which is, to me, quite obviously something the rules don’t specify.

    I agree they do need to find one consistent application of the rules in these cases. Exceptions for certain corners of certain circuits don’t help at all, especially when there appears not to have been any official kind of communication to broadcasters or the audience on whether or not an exception has been made.

    The approach then, in my opinion, also would have to be to come up with a clear specification of what’s going to happen if a driver has gained (track) position from leaving the track. It should be specified whether or not race cantrol would then ask the respective team to instruct his driver to nullify the advantage (i.e. give back the position) and how much time could then pass without a reaction from the team until a penalty would be applied. The current practice of the teams saying “We’re gonna talk to Charlie” and the driver, as Button at Melbourne, as Alonso at Silverstone last year, just staying ahead in some more or less accurate anticipation that a penalty might not happen after all, would then just be unnecessary.

    • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 4th April 2011, 13:35

      I think that for Button/McLaren, the Alonso/Ferrari precedent in Silverstone should have been clear enough sign that “talking to Charlie” wasn’t needed and was the wrong approach, actually. They were just not wanting to admit it to themselves.

      For the rest, I completely agree with what you are saying.

    • Dr. Mouse said on 4th April 2011, 13:35

      I agree they do need to find one consistent application of the rules in these cases. Exceptions for certain corners of certain circuits don’t help at all, especially when there appears not to have been any official kind of communication to broadcasters or the audience on whether or not an exception has been made.

      If there is going to be an “exception”, officially, why not just move the white lines?

  6. I’d bet for everybody going faster by running wide at turn 4 than using normal line. Although you lengthen your circuit by going straight, but the exit speed gained is enough to kiss your opponent good bye. The same I think for turn 1 at Spa. It’d be different story if non tarmac run-off area used.

  7. Boost (@boost) said on 4th April 2011, 12:32

    “20.3 … leave the track … this may only be done when it is safe to do so and without gaining any advantage.”

    F1 doesn´t need to clear up rules on off-track overtaking. The rules are clear as vodka since the 2011 regulation.

    F1 simply needs to enforce the rules.

    Button + (corner cutting overtake in Australia) – (give position back) = (Drive Through) + McLaren * Failure.
    Is it McLarens first year in F1? That was one of the most clear cases I´ve ever seen in F1 where you should give back your position.

    • Rob said on 4th April 2011, 12:40

      Was it Ferrari’s first season last year? I don’t remember them exactly rushing to tell Alonso to let Kubica back past…

  8. maxthecat said on 4th April 2011, 12:33

    It would have made my day to see Vettel punished to be honest but the route he took to overtake Button wasn’t a short cut, it was a longer way round the corner and therefore NOT an advantage.

    • Rob said on 4th April 2011, 12:41

      Did he leave the track or not? Yes he did.

      • maxthecat said on 4th April 2011, 19:16

        No he didn’t, as stated the drivers were told they could use that area if needed therefore it was part of the track as sanctioned by Race Control. As a Button fan i have to wonder who he was texting when charlie told the drivers that in the briefing because he seemed to have no clue.

    • spanky the wonder monkey said on 4th April 2011, 12:47

      did he gain a position? ummm, yes. so is that or is that not an advantage?

    • djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 4th April 2011, 13:57

      It might have been a longer way around the corner, but because of that it was a larger radius and therefore he could carry more speed, therefore it is an advantage.

  9. TommyC said on 4th April 2011, 12:48

    Don’t forget the issue of going off track to defend a position too (such as Hulkenburg in Monza last year). I agree, the rule does indeed need clearing up.

  10. JohnBt said on 4th April 2011, 12:49

    (There were reports after the Melbourne race that drivers had been told they were free to go off-track at turn four if they needed to.)

    They should’ve made this announcement for fans. It would’ve made a huge difference to us. Well now we know!

  11. SoLiDG (@solidg) said on 4th April 2011, 12:52

    I never expected them to get a penalty as it has always been ‘allowed’ (even if silent) at that corner in Melbourne. I believe it is counted as a part of the track. They might want to communicate it better.

  12. James (@jamesf1) said on 4th April 2011, 13:05

    The racing track is clearly defined by white lines (or yellow in the case of Oz) running paralell to the edge of the track. All racing is supposed to take place within these confines. Going off the track and gaining an advantage, particuarly enough to pass another driver should be punished. I’ve done it a couple of times on F1 2010, unintentionally largely, and the stewards in that game are as hard as nails!

  13. M Sakr said on 4th April 2011, 13:12

    Quite simple. Button’s overtaking maneuver was a shortcut, he took a shorter distance than Massa to pass the corner, therefore had to be penalised. Vetted however didn’t do that. He covered the same distance as Button, he even put his car out of the tarmac (where there’s more grip) to overtake.

    The question here is do u want to handicap a clearly faster car from overtaking a slower one? For me, if Button wanted to overtake Massa, he could’ve done it the “Vettel way”.

    • BBT (@bbt) said on 4th April 2011, 13:21

      You mean breaking the rules a different way to how he did… that doesn’t make it any better.

    • Rob said on 4th April 2011, 13:34

      Another question is “Do you want drivers to be able to overtake by actually out-driving each other, or do you want them to be able to by just ignoring the route of the circuit?”

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 4th April 2011, 13:43

        Actually if we would let them do the last, we are very close to giving Bernie his shortcuts!

        Shows how contrived that would be, so we should rather stick with the first ;-)

  14. Button just abandoned the move as Massa did not look like he was going to yield that late in the corner.

    Isn’t their a rule that governs overtaking and yielding to passing manouvres, I thought if the following driver attempting to overtake has his fron wheels level with the head of the driver in the leading car, then the leading car must yield?

    Im not sure if this is an official rule or whether its an unwritten etiquette rule of racing? Slightly off topic but would explain why Button decided to avoid a shunt before the apex and didnt give the place back immediatly, if McLaren felt Massa should have yielded?

    I agree with most comments about this rule, my suggestion would be to move the line to the outside of the curbs in the corners thus making curbs part of the track, even with this in place Vettel still would have been over a car width the “wrong” side of the line. This way simple enforcement of all 4 wheels outside the line = off track thus resulting in a penalty if advantage/position gained could be applied……simples :)

  15. James (@jamesf1) said on 4th April 2011, 13:45

    Just a quick thought on this one, and a point that was used following the controversy at the Belgium GP in 2009. Lets assume there was a wall on this corner rather than a run off. Drivers wouldnt dare going wide then, would they?

    Cant get away with this sort of slack driving in Monaco, so why should it be acceptable at other tracks?

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