F1 finally cracks down on track limits abuse

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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?

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117 comments on F1 finally cracks down on track limits abuse

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

    I wonder if tihs is going to change the way drivers appraoch Monza. They’re generally allow to leave the limits of the circuit going through the Variante Ascari, because it is considered to be lengthening the circuit; by going outside the white line, they travel further over the course of a lap than they would if they stayed within the lines. I suppose that’s why the FIA has been slow to react in the past – when Raikkonen deliberarely ran wide at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix, he would have travelled further than if he had taken La Source properly. Never mind that he was able to take the corner faster and pass two cars because of it; it was deemed okay because it was a longer lap than it would have otherwise been. It was something the FIA should have cracked down on then, because it arguably put Raikkonen in a position to win the race, which would not have happened if he had stayed within the limits of the circuit.

    • PJ (@pjtierney) said on 25th July 2012, 17:27

      Put it this way: If the drivers didn’t see taking “the Kimi line” as an advantage, would they do it?

      The reason they do so is that lengthening the track and going flat out is faster than easing off and staying between the lines.

  2. Lustigson (@lustigson) said on 25th July 2012, 10:46

    Perhaps there should be a strip of (artificial) grass right outside the track’s edges of, say, 2 to 5 meters wide, followed by the tarmac run-off. That would cut out any advantage gained by running outside the track limits.

    • This is the most obvious, easiest and best solution.

    • Victor. (@victor) said on 25th July 2012, 12:26

      That’s a very clever idea actually.

      Personally I fail to see the reason for tarmac run-offs in any other places than quick arcs, like Pouhon or Copse, to run wide. As for slowing the cars down, it hardly does a better job than gravel, unless one is capable of braking hard without any steering angle (and even that is questionable – Massa would know). Yet the only place where one would need to brake hard without any steering angle is at the end of long straights – hence the argument for tarmac run-offs at hairpins. Wouldn’t it be better to simply have a relatively narrow strip of gravel followed by tarmac in the braking zones, so to punish outbraking oneself but providing enough safety if one goes straight on (in the case of a brake failure tarmac would be useless on its own), and a strip of grass in any sort of arcs followed by tarmac? Needless to say that acceleration zones don’t need any tarmac.

      It’s frustrating to see drivers abusing the tracks limits, never mind to see mistakes not getting punished. Tarmac run-offs, while it has some safety benefits, in my opinion, is worse than gravel in certain situations.

    • plushpile (@plushpile) said on 26th July 2012, 8:37

      @lustigson I fail to see why the strip of grass – or some Ricard style run-off – immediately adjacent to the track hasn’t already been put in place.

      It keeps the safety and the integrity of the racetrack at the same time

  3. Ben73 (@ben73) said on 25th July 2012, 10:47

    Speaking if abusing limits, I think that the FIA should have a three strikes and you are out approach to teams that continually abuse the tech rules. Twice this year Red Bull have been allowed to race with a car that has an unfair advantage. I am sure that some will disagree with me on the term unfair, but if it wasn’t the FIA would not have made sure the infractions were removed or changed by the following race.

    • Tom Haxley (@welshtom) said on 25th July 2012, 10:55

      The trouble is they are generally in the “grey” area between legal and illegal.
      It normally requires a rule change or revision to actually allow the FIA to ban the part.

      That effectively means at the time the car was legal. As good as the FIA are at making tech regs (or not) the engineers are far better at bending them.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th July 2012, 11:52

      @ben73

      Twice this year Red Bull have been allowed to race with a car that has an unfair advantage.

      Yet on all those occasions the car met the letter of the rules, which is the only standard you can hold them to.

      You can’t have a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy based on how often a team annoys Jo Bauer without actually doing anything wrong.

      • Ben73 (@ben73) said on 25th July 2012, 12:14

        I stand corrected and am still chuckling about the clip!

      • DaveW (@dmw) said on 25th July 2012, 19:19

        The only consequence of repeatedly being caught with your hand hovering over the cookie jar is that Jo and his people will be watching you hawk-style henceforth. Repeat run-ins with rule enforcers is a signal to the rules police and rivals alike, that one has things to hide. People who have things to hide get extra scrutiny and negative presumptions. Extra scrutiny is not desireable if you want to innovate freely.

        But Newey of course probably assumes that lesser minds like Bauer only catch him in small fraction of his rule-torturing innovations and probably miss the most eggregious examples all together. (Anyone remember the ride-height and wing-lowering issues? People just gave up trying to bust RBR but those mysteries remain.) For Newey it’s like donig a magic show for toddlers—occaisionally you slip up and a kid sees the card up your sleeve but it’s almost part of the show.

        By the way, something I’ve been wondering is why RBR put a wall of mechanics behind its car on the grid. If’s an ECU program issue, the TV cameras wont be able to tell anything about it. Something tells me there is more to this issue than a questionable reflash.

    • Jono (@me262) said on 25th July 2012, 15:21

      what about stopping Red Bull from disguising team orders as gearbox changes on Webbers car….always starts after he’s signed for the next year. Vettel must have cried at uncle Marko

  4. Dimitris 1395 (@) said on 25th July 2012, 11:03

    The certain thing is that if there was a gravel trap or grass, Vettel wouldn’t have abused the track limits. Personally, I believe that every time a driver uses a run-off area must be taken into consideration very carefully. Every battle for an overtake is different and every aspect of the battle must be carefully observed. Asking for the drivers’ opinion is a way to go if the action is not clear to the stewards. Is not clever to look at past examples and is much better to have a proper guideline and not apply a penalty every time a driver uses the run-off areas.

  5. MazdaChris (@mazdachris) said on 25th July 2012, 11:37

    Why not simply have a device by which only, say, 30% throttle can be applied when a car has gone outside of the track limits? No reason why it couldn’t be easily implemented, and wouldn’t hurt safety since you wouldn’t be pressing the throttle anyway if you were having an accident.

    Or, and I acknowledge this is a bit of a crazy notion, we could just trust the best drivers in the world to drive within the track limits, and have some sort of penalty system for anyone who seems to be pushing the limit a bit far. I know it’s easy to look at the lack of gravel traps and say that there’s not enough of a disadvantage to running off the track, but really I don’t see that we need anything other than consistency and transparency in how the track margins (and breaches thereof) are policed.

    • John H (@john-h) said on 25th July 2012, 21:03

      I think because if there is a guy behind, slightly offset with two wheels still on the circuit, he is going to get a nasty surprise when the guy in front steps of the throttle.

      You need to give the drivers control, just like you wouldn’t want limiting to 70 on the motorway because sometimes you may need to go a little bit faster to get out of danger (or for other reasons!).

      Your second suggestion is bang on in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong so long as the rules are enforced.

    • plushpile (@plushpile) said on 26th July 2012, 8:35

      @mazdachris Similar devices are in use in MotoGP – engine management based on position that gives full power on straights and less in tight chicanes.
      There have been multiple instances of this device playing up and making a bike ‘unridable’ – most recently Lorenzo in qualifying the other week

      Would the FIA risk a race being ruined by faulty software that will limit engine output in error?
      Not likely

  6. maxthecat said on 25th July 2012, 11:56

    You can’t blame the drivers for trying to get round the track in the fastest possible time. The problem is the FIA and Stewards not enforcing the rules. Charlie Whiting made it clear that if people ran wide at turn one they would be punished, during quali a few drivers had that lap taken away when they did. Then we got to the race where Vettel and others ran wide there every other lap and nothing was done.

    The FIA and Charlie Whiting are scared of the teams imo and therefore do not have the guts to enforce their own rules. Maybe this will change once all of them have signed the new concorde agreement.

  7. PeteF12012 said on 25th July 2012, 12:04

    Tarmac run-off is way safer than gravel in most situations, if it wasn’t then it woudn’t be used.

    also consider that its not just f1 which runs at these circuits, some of the lower categories flip much easier on gravel, formula ford cars in particular flip extremely easily upon hitting gravel.

    also consider that on several occasions in recent years cars driving over grass have managed to launch & in some cases cause back injuries upon landing.
    a gp3 driver suffered a back injury at hockenheim last weekend due to going on the grass just off the exit of turn 1. justin wilson suffered a back injury in an indycar race last year after the car got a bit of air on the grass.

    in terms og grass/gravel slowing cars, i remember reading something about burti’s big crash at spa in 2001 in which it was noted that the grass/gravel made the accident worse as the car wasn’t able to slow down on the wet grass & all the gravel did was break the suspension & brake lines while the car skipped over it.

    likewise mcnish’s crash at suzuka in 2002 at 130r, teh gravel/grass launched the car & he hit the wall having lost no speed, with tarmac in that situation he woudn’t have hit the wall as hard as he did because the car woudn’t have left the ground & he’d have been able to scrub off speed.

    finally, people blame the fia for the tarmac run-off, however it was actually the drivers via the gpda that began asking for it.

  8. squaregoldfish (@squaregoldfish) said on 25th July 2012, 12:11

    I still think those little speed bumps they use on the chicanes at Monza could be used much more widely to prevent these kinds of shenanigans.

  9. If I recall, didn’t Snetterton use long stalks of corn as a means of slowing the cars down when they go flying off the track?

  10. GeeMac (@geemac) said on 25th July 2012, 13:47

    Is the solution not to have a strip of grass a few meters wide next to the track to punsh mistakes and then have the tarmac run off areas after that, much like the currently used track-astro/grasscrete/tarmac runoff solution that most tracks use thesedays?

  11. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 25th July 2012, 13:47

    Something does need to be done. If you run off the track under your own volition then you should rejoin where you left in relation to the other drivers, or yield at the earliest opportunity. For me there is no difference between cutting a corner or running off around the outside. You leave the track, you’re no longer racing.

  12. spankythewondermonkey (@spankythewondermonkey) said on 25th July 2012, 14:17

    the solution, as maxthecat and chris goldsmith have already alluded to is to do nothing to the track but have a consistent and effective punishment put into place. a stop go penalty for gaining an advantage and not rectifying oneself. rack up 3 of these and you get dq’d from the race.

    not rectifying oneself….. this means if you overtake, you give the position back. if an overtake is not involved and you subsequently set a lap time that is within 1 sec (or a %age) of your fastest thus far, then the running wide will be deemed to have given an advantage and attract the same penalty.

  13. romeo said on 25th July 2012, 14:37

    Hamilton get past Nico this year out of circuit and stewards did not see any wrong with Nico (as he forced drivers out of circuit). So the question is if Nico was no in fault according the race stewards than how they let Hamilton to continue without a penalty.
    As usual inconsistent decisions going on.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 26th July 2012, 15:17

      Nico never forced anyone off the track. Both LH and FA chose to go wide rather than let off because they had the forgiveness of the tarmac apron to do so. At no point as they were going off the track were they beside NR until they were off the track. If there was a wall there NR still would have done nothing wrong and LH and FA would have had no choice but to back off or simply not carry so much momentum that they would need to back off.

  14. Maksutov (@maksutov) said on 25th July 2012, 15:08

    Well, I am not sure that I entirely agree with this. In situations where the outside of the corner (or run-off) is used to gain an advantage during unforced circumstances (that includes qualifying or timed runs where the car is not impeded) then yes, this needs to be addressed. However, in situations where the car is pushed wide during an overtaking maneuver, i don’t agree.

    Schumacher passing Trulli, in this situation a penalty is not so obvious. Because, if Schumacher had stayed on the right side of the track there would have been an incident and both drivers could have easily taken each other out. Also, in case of Hamilton pushing Maldonado wide, again driver on the outside has to go off track. So if a driver is purposely pushed wide during an overtaking maneuver, and they happen to gain an advantage, then so be it! That advantage is well deserved! If they go off track during unforced circumstances, then some kind of penalty should apply. In Button-Vettel situation, Vettel was not forced to go off track.

    What we forget to remember is that during an overtaking maneuver, the offending car has already done more than half of the work to try and overtake and so why should they be further punished if they are forced to go off track?

  15. ~a~ said on 25th July 2012, 18:24

    First of all, I also appreciate that the stewards appear to have been taking this more seriously at least at this event. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen how long they will remain consequent with following this issue. More details were put into the sporting regulations for this year from the beginning, so it’s unfortunate that it apparently took six months for some kind of regulation of this drivers’ behaviour. There have been cases where, arguably, action could have been taken before.

    The important thing to take away from this, in my opinion, is that there are at least a number of drivers who need to understand once again that they are to stay on the race track. That means if you’re along on the outside of somebody and you haven’t yet passed by, you need to think about a point during the corner where you yield and wait for another chance. What people have been doing for years, instead, is just staying at the outside of their opponent and then claiming he forced them to go off track.

    Even Vettel at Hockenheim brought this up as an excuse. It’s even funnier how he argued that it was slippery off the track and he still passed Button, so Button’s tyres must have been “going off”. Then why was he so impatient to pull off a potentially irregular move right there, instead of waiting for the exit of the next slow corner?

    Not that Lewis Hamilton would suddenly have become an expert critic on what a mature, sensibly acting racing driver is, but I actually see this as much of a replication of what Vettel did with Kubica at Melbourne in 2009. He clearly had the better tyres, he could go much faster than the driver in front of him – and he couldn’t wait another corner or to to make a clean move.

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