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. StefMeister said on 4th April 2011, 22:12

    Don’t think Vettel should have been penalised.

    I watched his OnBoard & he had the pass made pretty early on in the corner & I don’t believe him running wide ultimately gained him anything.

    Something else I noticed from Vettels OnBoard was that he never ran wide because he wanted to, He just plain understeered off & you could hear that he was off the throttle which indicated he was trying to make the corner without running wide.

    Here is vettel’s OnBoard:
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xhyspb_sv

    • Patrickl said on 5th April 2011, 1:12

      If he wouldn’t have been able to run wide, would he have been able to make that overtake stick?

      Of course not.

      • Ask yourself this: if a car A is being pursued by car B, and goes off at that corner, would he be allowed to rejoin the track immediately?

      • StefMeister said on 5th April 2011, 13:36

        I actually think he would pulled off the pass even without running wide. Pass was already made pretty much before he even turned into the corner.

        I also don’t think SV going a bit wide really gained him anything, Something to consider also is that he had to hesitate a bit before getting back on the throttle as he bounced over the raised bit of tarmac the exit kurb is placed on.

        That extra raised bit the kurbs on has thrown a lot of cars sideways over the years, Its what threw Nakajima into the wall back in 2009 for example.

        Something else i’d like to point out is that since the 1st race in 1996 a lot of cars have put all 4 wheels outside the white lines & not been penalised so if it hasn’t been an issue before why should it be now?

  2. I don’t have a problem with people passing off track if they take the long route, only if they take a short cut.

    For instance, no one complained when Villeneuve took Hill on the grass in Hungary in 1997. I know it was grass and not tarmac, but fundamentally, if a driver is taking a longer line, and taking the corner, I really can’t get worked up about the fact he crossed a white line.

    Don’t cut the track, don’t shove a driver unfairly. Past that, it’s fair enough to me.

  3. Piffles said on 4th April 2011, 23:45

    It should be physically impossible to go off the race track without significant time loss and high risk of damage to your car. That’s the definition of “off track”, it’s not tarmac.

    If the circuits were proper tracks, i.e. a ribbon of tarmac in the midth’s of earth/grass, instead of giant parking lots with a few white lines and bits of astroturf to denote a “suggested” tragectory, we wouldn’t run into to these silly problems, and wouldn’t need all these rules.

    Gaining a place by going off track happens a lot. But we shouldn’t forget situations where drivers fail to lose a place, thanks to going of track: example multiple times with Petrov at Abu Dhabi last year.

    A ruling shouldn’t be required about going off track. Circuits should always be designed in a way that going off track is physically always detrimental.

  4. Japan said on 5th April 2011, 8:16

    In suzuka, before fuji was brought back, Alonso had to give a place back TWICE because the first time he gave it back, the stewards didnt see that he already did. So he had to do it again because the stewards asked him to do so.

    • StefMeister said on 5th April 2011, 13:46

      He didn’t have to give the place back again because the stewards missed it.

      The stewards determined that even though he had let Klien back past, Alonso had still maintained an advantage from cutting the chicane.

      Alonso cut the chicane, backed off to ensure Klien had got back ahead of him but had kept enough speed rejoining to ensure he got a better run on Klien to pass him into turn 1.

      ITV used that incident in a video package while discussing the Hamilton penalty at Spa ’08.

  5. If anybody’s qualifying time was still valid after going off at turn 4, you have your answer.

    I believe they were going off on that corner all weekend, much as they do at turn 7 in Barcelona, and were not being called for it.

  6. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 5th April 2011, 13:26

    My understanding is that the driver is still on the track as long as one wheel, or a portion of the wheel remains on the tarmac and I think that’s a fair way to judge it. It will always have people arguing but at least it’s easy to define. Proving it may be difficult though. But given technology these days i’m sure something could be implemented.

    The same criteria should apply for a pass on the inside or the outside.

  7. If those guys who are planning on building a wall around turn 4 knew about the FIA decision permitting to go wide there,I strongly suggest them to cut back on the chianti with the liver and fava beans.
    There is some nice footage to be watched in the video section on http://www.formula1.com on Vettel’s qualifying lap(onboard),where you can see him going wide with all fours in turn 4.
    In the same video section(race edits) you can also watch the Button and Vettel overtakes(not Buemi unfortunately)and see Massa plowing the grass with his lefts while Alonso overtakes him.
    In true Sherlock Holmes style I pushed the pause button and went through the incidents second by second:
    1’37″:left hander,Massa and Button wheel to wheel
    1’38″:Massa in front by a whisker before the right hander
    1’39″:Button cuts the corner on the inside
    1’40″:Jenson comes out in front
    1’41″-1’42″:McLaren cheering and clapping
    1’43″:Ferrari surprised and thinking about the best strategy.
    Then I played the sequence in slow motion(0,25x)and noticed Massa was squeezing Button and left him 2 options :brake and loose 1 or more positions or take the escape route by cutting the corner.I also saw Ron Dennis faking a smile.
    My conclusion:Button should have given back the position or be penalised if Massa wasn’t breaching the new racing rules.

    In the second by second investigation in the Vettel case,I saw that at:
    2’07″:SV chasing JB
    2’08″:turn 3,JB goes left and SV stays right
    2’09″:SV comming next to JB,2’10″in front by a noselength,2’11″:turn 4,SV in front by half a car
    2’12″:SV has overtaken JB and is in front by 1 1/2 car
    2’13″:Sv goes (very)wide with JB chasing him

    In the slowmo search I saw SV going much further and longer over the racing line than in qualifying,throwing up a cloud of dust in the process.
    I also noticed a black patch of fresh tarmac behind the racing line at the spot the racers were told they could go off track if needed(turn 4)

    My conclusion:a legitimate pass by Vettel ,followed by going off track ,where he probably lost a couple of split seconds considering the dirt and how close to turn 5 he came back on track.

    Overall conclusion:seeing the amount of manoeuvres these guys have to perform per second,they bettter be in pristine condition and not have a cold for example where they have to sneeze all the time..

  8. The white lines are there to mark the edge of the track.
    So ALL drivers should be MADE to stay within the boundaries or loose points

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