F1 needs to clear up rules on off-track overtaking


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. djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 4th April 2011, 13:54

    This inconsistency really pee’d me off in australia, they changed the rules before the start of the season and they now clearly state that all racing has to take place between the white lines.

    It’s a complete farcical injustice.

    • djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 4th April 2011, 14:00

      Also newly written into the rules is the rule about not crowding a car off the track. Going in to the second part of the chicane Massa gave Button a choice to take the shortcut or have an accident, that again is unacceptable. IMHO Button shouldn’t have been penalised for that reason.

      I would also love to hear the ferrari team radio at the point Alonso and Massa “switched” positions behind him.

      • spanky the wonder monkey said on 4th April 2011, 14:25

        don’t forget, team orders *are* allowed this season, so any radio instruction has no bearing whatsoever.

        yield or crash – seem to remember another Brazilian using that same ethos ;-)

      • DaveW said on 4th April 2011, 16:28

        Glad that was finally brought up. This whole corner-cutting issue has to be viewed together with the new rule against running a pursuer off the road.

        But I view it the opposite from you. Button had the choice to keep the line, but unless Massa slammed on the brakes (mid corner, and thus fly straight into the scenery) Button would have run Massa off the road or caused a massive accident at the next coner.

        This makes what Button did all the more inexcuseable. He did not have the privilege as in years past, of simply shouldering Massa off at the exit of the next corner. This new rule totally changes how we have to view the corner-cutting issue in these situations.

        Also, let’s also not forget the Hamilton Rule, which also addresses this situation. It requires that you immediately, that is, before the next corner, give up the spot and stay behind through that corner. This rule should prevent such passing situations from coming to a collision, because it offers a very clear rule that immediately resolves the situation where an over-ambitious pass requires someone to go off course to avoid a crash.

        • djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 4th April 2011, 19:50

          The way I see it, Massa should have left a cars width on the entrance to the second part of the chicane and BUtton should have left a cars width on the outside coming out of it, so we’ll never know if Massa was going to get crowded off will we?

    • djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 4th April 2011, 14:02

      Another way of looking at the whole situation could be the stewards looking at the situation and thinking “if that was a qualifying lap would I allow the time to stand?”

  2. DavidS (@davids) said on 4th April 2011, 13:58

    If the McLaren ECU is standardised across all cars, what about making it recognise when the car is off the track and not allow throttle application more than 50%. There’d be a strong disincentive for drivers to venture off the track if they have lose time and momentum.

    It’ll maintain the safety standards of the tracks without modification, and it will remove the need for a steward to interfere. Also, the punishment scales to suit the misdemeanor, in that a big off takes longer to recover from, while a small off takes a lot less time.

  3. Boost (@boost) said on 4th April 2011, 14:15

    Taking the longer way, the outside track, not an advantage?

    Going on the outside before a turn can give you a larger radius with higher speed in and out of the turn which can make the longer distance irrelevant.

    FIA should open their eyes, check lap/sector times for cars cutting race track with the whole car, if advantage taken – BAM – black/white flag or drive through if position gained. If you donĀ“t listen – BAM – black flag. Punish unsportsmanship :)

  4. No doubt Button should have recieved the penalty or have given the place back if possible.

    Vettel gained an advantage by being able to carry more speed knowing that he wasn’t going to hit anything or get stuckin gravel by leaving the race track.

    He basically took a less tight turn and gained advantage. Should have been a penalty also.

    Mclaren should at least have complained.

  5. David Livingstone said on 4th April 2011, 14:26

    The answer is quite simple really, Vettel and Buemi were gaining no advantage at all by effectively lengthening the track. They would be allowed to take that line every lap, without the overtaking. Button, however, was shortening the track and therefore was getting a discernible advantage. Look at Alonso v Webber at Yas Marina last year. If Alonso’s mistakes resulted in a net decrease in lap time, he would have been sanctioned.

    • djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 4th April 2011, 15:17

      Do the physics, the corner is being opened up and therefore can be taken faster. This negates the fact that it makes the track longer. FACT

      • Mads (@mads) said on 4th April 2011, 18:22

        But you have to remember the next corner plus the disadvantage of being outside the nice and grippy tarmac. So the physics are not that simple.
        Plus you have to agree that Button gained an advantage by both shortening the track AND being able to carry more speed into and out of it, and he didn’t compromise his run at the next corner.

        • bosyber said on 4th April 2011, 20:39

          In this case they might actually have ended up in a better line for the next corner, so that’s not really helping the argument. If that sort of thing is to be taken into account, it also makes the rules very unclear.

    • Rob said on 4th April 2011, 17:01

      I love the suggestion that overtaking another car is not in any way an advantage!

  6. BBT (@bbt) said on 4th April 2011, 15:08

    I am glad to read a vast majority can see going off the track on the inside or the outside is an advantage. The speed advantage in turn 4 for Vettel in particular was large.

  7. djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 4th April 2011, 15:18

    Keith could you do a poll on whether people think going off the outside of the track is an advantage or not?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th April 2011, 15:31

      Polls are useful to gauge difference of opinion – not so much when it comes to understanding of facts. Clearly, sometimes there is a benefit to going off-track on the outside of a corner, otherwise drivers wouldn’t do it.

      • djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 4th April 2011, 15:52

        You would happen to know the formula for calcualating maximum corner speed would you Keith? I would love to do the maths to show the difference it can make.

        • Dr. Mouse said on 4th April 2011, 16:13


          or (rearranging for velocity)

          Assuming constant frictional force (probably close enough, but not exact), for double the radius, therefore double the length of corner, you can go at sqrt(2) times the speed. While this means it will take you longer to go around the corner, you will be going faster at the end of it, which could be enough for an advantage.

        • spanky the wonder monkey said on 4th April 2011, 16:15

          the maths / physics is relatively simple.

          for a given radius, the maximum speed is governed by angle of turn & available grip. let’s call this speed ‘n’.
          larger radius = less angle on front wheels = less slip at speed n. therefore speed n can be increased until slip occurs.

          so, friction levels being equal, larger radius = faster cornering speed.

          and all without a calculator.

          • djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 4th April 2011, 19:52

            I know that, I was trying to put a number on it for people who think otherwise!

          • spanky the wonder monkey said on 5th April 2011, 13:40

            without knowing the coefficient of friction of the tarmac, the friction coeff of the tyres, the relative temperatures of each, the pressure in the tyre, the size of the contact patches, the maximum allowable slip, the barometric pressure, the strength and direction of any wind, the mass of the car etc etc, you’re not going to easily put a number on it.

            of course, in the previous post, i neatly packaged that lot up as ‘available grip’.

            alternatively, turn the wheel. does it understeer? yes – too much speed. no – can go faster.
            there’s your number. ;-)

  8. Robbie (@robbie) said on 4th April 2011, 15:28

    I think that in F1 they have their rules, but how they are interpreted and/or reinforced depends on the circumstances, the day, the driver, the standings etc…

    It is all well and good to say that once a car has all four wheels outside the white line, that’s a penalty, or at least requires that a driver not gain from that…but sometimes they are forced off the track by an unfair move from the other driver/car that was involved but managed to stay within the lines…MS was famous for that, but it was often deemed hard racing or ‘up to the other driver to let off’ etc…

    I don’t ever expect black and white rulings on this stuff because F1 thrives on contoversy and finds if far more important to be inconsistant, which is what stirs up the conversation and thus the attention to F1, as opposed to being fair and square for all…black and white…black and white is boring to F1, other than when it comes to cars having all their dimensions within regulations, which can be measured with instruments…

    • bosyber said on 4th April 2011, 20:42

      But last weekends Vettel move wasn’t needed to avoid hitting another car, he just wanted past quickly; if anything, the Button/Massa incident was closer to “needing to avoid hitting another car”, and it was still punished, because while both could have left more space, Button went outside of the track instead of lifting.

  9. DaveW said on 4th April 2011, 16:42

    I would suggest that at the well-known trouble spots, Copse, Variante, Melbourne turn 4, Hockenheim almost every corner, we put an electronic tennis-style “cyclops” in the road approximately one-half car width from the track margin. If your transponder picks up that signal, meaning you had the whole car over the verge, while you are one second away from another car, you come up on the boards in the stewards room and on the FOM broadcast. That way, if the signal went on in the process of a pass, the presumption is a foul, and the stewards then have to exonerate you, and they have to do so with the whole pitlane and every viewer watching. If a position gained is not given back, the penalty is automatic and immediate. The don’t have the choice of pretending they didn’t see it, or pretending there is some unwritten, secret exception. And just like in othersports where play at the margins is a fundamental part of gaining advantage, like tennis, football, volleyball, we need dedicated line judges to watch the trouble-corners and monitor the “cyclops.”

    Of course the stewards have no qualms about chopping a practice or qualifying time if a guy goes short cuts, but somehow in a race situation, where a pass for position is at stake, they often get cold feet. Their choice of whether to review has to made less subjective. They still will have to judge whether a pass was in progress, but they don’t get to decide the threshold issue of whether a driver went off track.

  10. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 4th April 2011, 17:51

    The outside/inside thing is a good point.

    Additionally, drivers can technically drive on the outside of the circuit before a corner to give themselves a better run in and more speed through the apex to complete their overtake. However, the driver does not overtake during the move but does it several corners later.

    For example. Alonso was doing something similar in Abu Dhabi behind Petrov (whether it was intentional or not), however didn’t succeed. Other drivers were also finding quicker lines by going off course.

    This also brings in the argument about courses not being punishing enough on drivers, with miles of asphalt everywhere.

  11. Robbie (@robbie) said on 4th April 2011, 17:53

    They could always put walls up where instead they have put in huge run-off areas that are one of the very reason why drivers consider currently designed tracks boring and mundane, lacking character…the element of danger has been greatly removed from some of said new venues…not saying I want more danger for the drivers, but as one example Nascar has gone to soft walls that give under impact, particularly post-Dale Earnheart’s death…and that of Adam Petty…ie. F1 could use their imagination I’m sure, and come up with ideas to eliminate controversy over short cuts…however, I don’t think they want to remove that element of controversy…

  12. foleyger (@foleyger) said on 4th April 2011, 18:16

    Coulthard is always biased towards Red Bull. Sure he is still working for them. He shudn’t be allowed to commentate. it is a conflict of interests

  13. VXR said on 4th April 2011, 19:20

    To use a ‘soccer’ term, both Vettel and Buemi were ‘offside’. Maybe there should be ‘linesman’ in areas where an ‘offside’ may occur?

  14. Patrickl said on 4th April 2011, 19:58

    There is no problem with the rules. Since Spa 2008, the rules are 100% clear, you cannot overtake until the corner after the next when you go off.

    The problem lies with that drivers only get punished when someone complains. Race control and the stewards don’t seem to enforce the rule on their own.

    Look at Barrichello passing a whole row of cars by simply not breaking in Les Combes in 2009. He basically cuts 2 corners and gets zero punishment:


  15. Jimmy_D (@jimmy_d) said on 4th April 2011, 20:24

    I was actually more surprised that no one wanted to say anything about it simply because it would ruin a good story. The stewards don’t have to explain anything because the commentators and the press are not making an issue out of it (ruins the story).

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