F1 finally cracks down on track limits abuse

Comment

Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Hockenheim, 2012The FIA appears to have finally woken up to the necessity of preventing drivers from abusing the limits of the track.

Sebastian Vettel’s penalty for passing Jenson Button on a stretch of run-off was an encouraging sign that the FIA have finally taken notice of the problem.

While the advantage gained by cutting the inside of a corner is self-evident – it makes the track shorter – the potential benefit of going off on the outside of a corner has sometimes been underestimated.

In the days when circuits were bordered by grass and gravel drivers rarely considered going off the track deliberately. But the increasing use of tarmac run-off has presented drivers with opportunities to use the outside of corners to dodge around rivals who are defending their position on the track.

Hockenheim was one of the first tracks to adopt extensive tarmac run-off when it was remodelled in 2002 and, unsurprisingly, it didn’t take drivers long to start exploiting them.

Michael Schumacher used the tarmac border to get past Jarno Trulli’s Renault during the 2003 race:

The move went unpunished and so did a string of similar moves by others in the years that followed.

The 2007 renovations at Spa added more off-track tarmac and in 2009 there were two particularly blatant examples of it being abused: Kimi Raikkonen passed at least two cars on the first lap using it (which provoked much debate in the comments) and Adrian Sutil took Luca Badoer at the exit of Pouhon also by going onto the tarmac outside the corner.

The first race of last season saw another two examples of drivers going off on the outside of a corner to overtake a rival. I wrote a comment piece at the time arguing that the stewards had a blind spot for drivers gaining an advantage in this way.

Encouragingly, they now appear to be tackling the problem. As reported here, FIA race director Charlie Whiting addressed the subject prior to the race in a letter to competitors and stewards, saying the latter should “use their discretion in cases where it is not entirely clear whether or not a driver has gained any direct or immediate advantage”.

The same document stated: “Any driver leaving the track, (i.e. no part of his car remains in contact with the track in accordance with the current regulations), may re-join the track but without gaining an advantage.”

Vettel’s subsequent move on Button may have been a near carbon-copy of Schumacher’s on Trulli nine years earlier, but this time the stewards did not turn a blind eye. They handed him a post-race penalty which cost him three places.

He will be ruing not taking the opportunity to hand the position back to Button on the track and having another go at overtaking him properly. And other drivers will have taken notice of the precedent.

However overdue it may be, it is encouraging to see the stewards are finally cracking down on F1 drivers abusing the track limits to gain an unfair advantage, even on the outside of corners. It is not hard to see how the input of the recently-introduced drivers stewards may have been of benefit here.

But we should also question why some tracks offer such opportunities for drivers in the first place.

Tarmac may be a suitable surface for run-offs on the outside of fast corners – unlike gravel, cars will not dig into it and flip at speed. But it is surely not necessary, even on safety grounds, for the acceleration zone at the exit of a slow hairpin to be bordered by tarmac?

Comment


Browse all comment articles

Image ?é?® Red Bull/Getty images

Advert | Go Ad-free

117 comments on F1 finally cracks down on track limits abuse

1 2 3
  1. supercujo said on 25th July 2012, 9:28

    Alonso would have been no where near as fast at Hockenheim if he wasn’t allowed to use the outside of the track on the last corner.

    • dkpioe said on 25th July 2012, 9:45

      you know that for sure? maybe he would have been faster.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th July 2012, 10:12

      I’m assuming you’re referring to him running onto the drag strip between turns 16 and 17? I just had a quick scan through the world feed and spotted Alonso going through the final corner 14 times (laps 30, 33, 37, 37, 38, 39, 47, 48, 49, 52, 54, 56, 60 and 67 – you can see him on other laps but not clearly), of which I would say he was out at most three times.

      That doesn’t seem particularly excessive – I saw other drivers taking a wide line there at times as well. I see @hotbottoms watched a different feed and spotted the Caterhams doing it quite a lot.

      Perhaps Alonso’s onboard shows him doing it many times which weren’t shown in the world feed but I find that hard to believe. I also doubt two world champions like Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel would sit behind him watching him do it for lap after lap without either complaining about it or copying him.

      Ultimately, this comes back to my complaint at the end of the article: inadequate boundaries around the tracks. If there’s tarmac there, of course drivers are going to use it. In the case of Hockenheim, there’s a drag strip at that part of track, and before the race weekend began they were pulling up the rubber that had been laid on it to stop drivers from gaining even more grip. But really they need some low-grip surface between the F1 track and the drag strip.

      • Yorricksfriend (@yorricksfriend) said on 25th July 2012, 10:51

        Perhaps he means in his quali lap?

        In the race Vettel was running wide a lot, although I don’t know that he was gaining an advantage. He appeared to be driving at 11 tenths, but it was causing him to run wide a lot, especially in the nordkurve and the final turn.

        • rambler said on 26th July 2012, 14:11

          His qualifying lap yes. I reacted to this as well during qualifying and even more so when I saw Vettel got a penalty. Why not Alonso?

      • timi (@timi) said on 25th July 2012, 10:57

        Ultimately, this comes back to my complaint at the end of the article: inadequate boundaries around the tracks. If there’s tarmac there, of course drivers are going to use it

        Precisely. They should stick gravel traps right next to the corners. Really punish drivers for their mistakes or their attempts to gain an advantage.

        • Cornflakes (@cornflakes) said on 25th July 2012, 12:09

          Why not make the run off areas velcro, and have the floor of the car in velcro too, so that when someone runs wide, the two areas come into contact because of the low ride height and the cars get stuck to the road :) slows them down and discourages from running wide… simples.

        • coefficient (@coefficient) said on 25th July 2012, 12:15

          Or a dyke. LOL!

        • Punchy (@punchy) said on 25th July 2012, 13:35

          Agreed 100%

        • Mark (@marlarkey) said on 25th July 2012, 15:42

          Exactly…. surely its not beyond the realms of the clever people in F1 to come up with a material that could be used off track that slows the cars down without the cars getting stuck like they would in gravel…. this would give two advantages:
          – would improve safety
          – would deter drivers from using it

          Something like the surface they use on childrens playgrounds perhaps ?

        • Slimboyfatpauly (@slimboyfatpauly) said on 25th July 2012, 23:36

          Tarmack is the modern safe equivelant to tarmack bud…..an attempt to prevent cars flipping over thru digging in at speed.

        • Mike (@mike) said on 26th July 2012, 8:52

          Not on the outside of a fast corner. Honestly, I don’t think it’s a problem….

          The outside exit of the hairpin however, should be gravel.

          • Jack Cowie said on 26th July 2012, 10:35

            How about just grass? Cars can get beached in gravel, or else they can bring it all over the track. Grass is ideal for locations where cars going off at speed is not a threat.

      • Hotbottoms (@hotbottoms) said on 25th July 2012, 11:45

        Different feed, as in, the view from the stands :)

      • HoolyF1 (@hoolyf1) said on 25th July 2012, 12:34

        Yes I was sitting on the last corner and both of the Caterhams were going near the drag strip on every lap. They had all four wheels off the track while all of the other cars would just run two wheels on the run off area. ie: take the racing line

        • Nick.UK (@) said on 25th July 2012, 13:07

          I think in this Pirelli tyre age, forget putting in gravel or low grip run off. Layer it with sand paper or another highly abrassive surface, then see who is still silly enough to try and use it!

        • DVC (@dvc) said on 26th July 2012, 4:59

          By the regs you can have two wheels outside the bounds of the track (which is defined by the white lines “for the avoidance of doubt”). 4 Wheels is a big no no though.

      • xeroxpt (@) said on 26th July 2012, 5:35

        I don’t think it had anything to do with the tarmac on the other side, i think it was just a better way of making the corner especially if driving with understeer, i dont know perhaps they were just trying to square off the corner, alonso had also a wide entry to the hairpin, he often used the kerb to get an wider angle, Vettel wanst as extreme at the harpin and Button was much tighter at the hairpin and especially at the last corner were he was nowhere near the white line, in my opinion those are evidences of different setups rather than straightforward “cheesing”.

    • xeroxpt (@) said on 26th July 2012, 5:17

      Beautiful line by the way, and yes his car was setup to do precisely that.

  2. Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 25th July 2012, 9:29

    But it is surely not necessary, even on safety grounds, for the acceleration zone at the exit of a slow hairpin to be bordered by tarmac?

    It may be designed to be a slow hairpin, but all you need is a brake failure for a car to crash into the barriers there at high speed.

    That said, they should look at other materials that could provide the flip protection that tarmac gives, while still forcing a vast reduction in grip (like gravel or grass). Easier said than done, though.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th July 2012, 9:34

      @journeyer I don’t dispute it’s necessary to have it on the approach to the corner for exactly the reasons you explain.

      But I don’t see how at the exit of the corner, at the point Vettel chose to go off the track, it would make any difference on safety grounds.

    • THOMF1S (@thomf1s) said on 25th July 2012, 9:35

      In the case of a brake failure going into the Hockenheim hairpin, I would have thought a gravel trap would slow a car down more than flat, smooth tarmac, which won’t kill off any speed.

      • coefficient (@coefficient) said on 25th July 2012, 12:42

        Brake failure is less likely than a genuine driver mistake or crash. F1 cars have secondary brake cylinders, servos and lines in case of main system failures. The caliper/pad/disc would have to fail which is highly unlikely.

        • SteveH2 said on 25th July 2012, 15:24

          No they don’t. They have two master cylinders, one for the rear and one for the front. If one fails the brake balance bar applies pressure to the remaining master cylinder, giving some brake pressure to the non-failed circuit. I know from personal experience, however, that the braking is MUCH reduced and the pedal travels pretty far. Not fun. There are no duplicate brake lines, only the single set to each caliper. I don’t know what you mean by ‘servos’.

      • Jack Cowie said on 26th July 2012, 10:44

        Gravel is much less reliable. Sometimes it will work perfectly. But if you hit it sideways at speed you are liable to flip. If it’s not perfectly flat a car will take off — in MSC’s 1999 accident at Silverstone, his car bounced three times between the track and the wall, so it was literally in the air most of the way. On tarmac the tyres never leave the road, and so the cars will slow down better.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 25th July 2012, 9:38

      It may be designed to be a slow hairpin, but all you need is a brake failure for a car to crash into the barriers there at high speed.

      thats why there’s a big runoff area at the tip of the hairpin. But that argument surely does not go for the exit of the corner, where no one can even be going fast because they have just come to a “standstill” when turning the hairpin (or they went wide because of not braking before that) @journeyer

    • Mark (@marlarkey) said on 25th July 2012, 15:43

      That said, they should look at other materials that could provide the flip protection that tarmac gives, while still forcing a vast reduction in grip (like gravel or grass). Easier said than done, though.

      Can’t be beyond the clever people in F1 to come up with something…. how about the material they use in childrens playgrounds ? Soft, pliable but firm and sticky.

    • mateuss (@mateuss) said on 26th July 2012, 11:49

      Just have 1.5, 2 or 2.5m wide strip of refrigerated ICE on the crucial parts:D No but seriously, technically I don’t see it being much more difficult to install than curbs for example(although slightly more difficult because of wiring or tubing and such), if the units are produced in a standard way. And during times when not necessary the liquid can be replaced with blocks of concrete(that would revert the tracks back to the solution we have now) , to save on energy costs and so on.
      And the liquid itself can be some some chemical mix with water that freezes at lets say 10C, this saves some energy in refrigeration and prevents rain water from freezing over and ruining the flat surface.

      This solution would not make the tarmac runoffs less safe, but would discourage drivers from going over the track limits, because by doing so they might spin, have a major slide, or interruption in acceleration by wheel spin, basically they would be slowed down massively instead of gaining an advantage.

      I would like for this sort of solution to be tested, and installed with some special effects like pressure triggered LEDs or something, but with no one willing to make some serious effort, never mind spend money, I feel I’am dreaming at the moment. But if I were to design a track I would definitely include this idea.

  3. Are they gonna cover the corner exits with gravel and spikes? no, I thought not…

    • MattW said on 25th July 2012, 10:38

      Spikes like they use to stop pigeons sitting on ledges of buildings? At least they sure would stop drivers from running wide :P

  4. A brake failure on the exit of a slow hairpin isn’t going to cause any grief, you don’t need tarmac runoff there.

    Although how is more tarmac going to stop a car with no brakes? Gravel would work much better.

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 25th July 2012, 9:40

      A brake failure on the exit of a slow hairpin isn’t going to cause any grief

      You’re not going to have a brake failure coming out of a hairpin, because you’re not using the brakes. You’re going to have a brake failure when you hit the brakes.

      Gravel would work much better.

      If the car hits the gravel at an angle, it can flip very easily. That’s why more and more run-off areas are tarmac.

    • Fixy (@fixy) said on 25th July 2012, 9:45

      If a car goes head-first into the gravel I don’t see how it could flip over. Perhaps after a little tarmac on the outside of the hairpin the rest should be gravel up to the barrier?

    • MattW said on 25th July 2012, 10:32

      @ ajokay: If I remember correctly gravel traps came into question when Schumacher broke his leg after the gravel trap at Silverstone did nothing to stop his Ferrari that was going straight on… I think since then the idea has been tarmac closer to the track so cars can use their brakes there, but at least some gravel closer to the barriers if the car is sliding / spinning – no point in it all being gravel as gravel won’t help much for a car going straight on

      • Mark (@marlarkey) said on 25th July 2012, 15:44

        Gravel is really bad at high speeds…. and when it is damp… the cars bounce across the top and there were too many cases of cars being launched.

  5. SD (@sd) said on 25th July 2012, 9:38

    But doesnt that mean the schumacher move would still be legal?

  6. PMccarthy_is_a_legend (@pmccarthy_is_a_legend) said on 25th July 2012, 9:38

    @jouurneyerits clear tht Keith is talking about the acceleration zone on the EXIT of the hairpin. You definitely don’t need a Tarmac run off there. I think a patch of grass would be enough to stop drivers taking advantage of that spot. Same thing on the last corner leading to the home straight.

  7. Kiril Varbanov (@kiril-varbanov) said on 25th July 2012, 9:38

    It would have been much easier to make the tracks wide enough, right? :)

  8. Mallesh Magdum (@malleshmagdum) said on 25th July 2012, 9:39

    why have tarmac run-offs? I can understand tarmac runoff on a street circuit, but why have it in tracks? How does tarmac run-off improve safety? Gravel traps are more safer

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th July 2012, 9:42

      @malleshmagdum See the final paragraph.

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 25th July 2012, 10:36

      @malleshmagdum

      Gravel traps are more safer

      No, they’re not. If a car hits a gravel trap at an angle, it can flip very easily.

      • SempreGilles (@sempregilles) said on 25th July 2012, 15:13

        It isn’t really the flipping itself that is the problem, but the danger of the roll bar digging into the gravel causing the drivers head to hit the ground.
        This brings me to the question of why they don’t make the gravel traps shallower. Say a layer of asphalt with 5 to 10 cm of gravel/sand on top of it. This would prevent the cars from digging far enough to do harm to the driver. Or wouldn’t that allow the car to slow down (sort of like driving on marbles)?

        • Jack Cowie said on 26th July 2012, 10:48

          MSC’s 1999 accident was blamed on a gravel trap that was too thin. His car basically just bounced straight across it — if you look at the replay, you can identify three bounces before he slammed the wall; in other words, his car wasn’t touching the ground for most of the accident. Tarmac is much more reliable by comparison.

  9. mattshaw85 (@mattshaw85) said on 25th July 2012, 9:46

    Can they not just replace the strip of astro turf with real grass, and maybe make the strip a little fatter? Currently you can get away with relatively big mistakes without being punished.

    As Vettel was being dropped by Button (before he started gaining again), he was running wide at the majority of corners for a few laps. I don’t want him to be penalised for that in an official time penalty sense, but in the old days if you ran wide and put the power down you’d spin off surely?

  10. dkpioe said on 25th July 2012, 9:49

    remember the battle massa and kubica had at fuji… plenty off offtrack action there including massa finally beating kubica in the last turn by going off track http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbb70UDFFQg

  11. Hotbottoms (@hotbottoms) said on 25th July 2012, 9:49

    I don’t know if they showed it in TV, but the Caterhams used the outside of the second last corner on almost every lap of the race. Kovalainen started it and Petrov (who was behind the Finn) soon followed. Their driving line was thus completely different from every other driver. It must’ve been faster for them since they didn’t even try to stay on track.

    Of course no one cares since they weren’t fighting against anyone, but it still seemed wrong. I think they should’ve been warned and then penalized if they continued to systematically use the outside of the track.

  12. John H (@john-h) said on 25th July 2012, 9:50

    It’s great news that they are doing something about it at last.

    This also highlights how absolutely useless the FIA are at dealing with things that are talked about for years and years. I remember the 2009 comments on Kimi’s first corner driving. Also Vettel’s pass on Button got similar responses where simple common sense seemed to be lacking yet again. All they had to do was watch a re-run of the race with a critical eye.

    All I can say is if the FIA employed people such as Keith, the sporting regs would be under control. Whether he would take a job or not there is another matter entirely!!

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 26th July 2012, 14:44

      Yeah, its good that they are starting to act on this, but its something that has been long overdue, and track design does not help discourage drivers to go beyond the limits of the actual race track either.

  13. pluisje (@pluisje) said on 25th July 2012, 9:50

    I can give one reason for preferring tarmac strips next to the curbs instead of immediately going to (artificial)grass or kittylitter:

    Motorcycles. I’ve been on the artificial grass when coming out of a fast corner at Assen once, it’s *very* difficult to not crash on that stuff on two wheels when you still have some lean-angle.

    That said, I agree with the penalty, it should not be used to gain an advantage. If you run off track and overtake someone, the position should be given back.

  14. andae23 (@andae23) said on 25th July 2012, 10:00

    It’s difficult for us to decide whether these tarmac run-off areas are better tahn ye olde gravel traps. We know for sure that gravel traps encourage cars to initiate a roll because the car kind of digs itself into the gravel: this can be prevented by using gravel. For a car with a brake failure, both surfaces do not sufficiently slow a car down (tarmac is obvious, on gravel cars may skid over it’s surface and thus the car will not slow down). A better material would be the stuff used on run-off areas in Paul Ricard, that increase tyre grip and minimizes braking distance.

    That aside, I believe most circuits have too much tarmac run-offs, especially on places where it is not necessary like the inside of a corner, along straights and so on. This turns beautiful tracks into parking lots, in my view not a good thing.

  15. Drop Valencia! said on 25th July 2012, 10:32

    They could paint a 1 meter wide strip of solid-slip-kote-paint on the outside of these corners, or a flat teflon ripple strip, I guarantee drivers will avoid it, and it will send cars into the runoff if they try, it could be removed easily after the race.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 25th July 2012, 13:43

      You can’t put measures in place which are designed to cause the cars to skid! That’s ridiculous and very dangerous. What if a driver is forced off track and it ends with a fatality?

      • Punchy (@punchy) said on 25th July 2012, 13:46

        It doesn’t have to be dangerously slippery. It just needs to have less grip than the track. To discourage drivers from going there creating a disadvantage.

      • Drop Valencia! said on 25th July 2012, 14:01

        Only putting it in a place where they would put themselves into an unadvantageous run off area, these places are very safe, it’s like wet grass but durable.

    • andae23 (@andae23) said on 25th July 2012, 13:56

      How is the FIA, an orginasition with a reputation for making F1 as safe as possible, ever going to explain slippery/dangerous tarmac??

1 2 3

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.