Drivers respond slowly to FIA track limits crackdown

2013 F1 season

Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso, Suzuka, 2013Since last year the FIA stewards have been cracking down on drivers going off the track to gain an advantage. But some drivers have been slow to acknowledge the change in approach and have picked up penalties for moves which might have gone unpunished a year or two ago.

In July last year FIA race director Charlie Whiting told stewards to “use their discretion” when judging whether a driver had gained an advantage by going off the track, which is forbidden by article 20.2 of the Sporting Regulations.

Soon afterwards Sebastian Vettel put the directive to the test – and was caught out. He was penalised for going off the track at the exit of the Spitzkehre at the Hockenheimring to keep Jenson Button behind him.

It was clear at the time that the FIA was finally cracking down on drivers abusing track limits, something which had been going on for years as tarmac run-offs replaced gravel beds and grass on racing circuits.

Since then we have seen other drivers being caught out in much the same way. In Hungary Romain Grosjean strayed outside of the track limits by just a few centimetres while passing Felipe Massa on the outside of turn four, but was handed a drive-through penalty.

Team principal Eric Boullier called it ‘a harsh penalty for a brilliant move’. Daniel Ricciardo had much the same to say after being caught out in a similar manner at Suzuka.

Ricciardo went off on the outside of 130R while passing Adrian Sutil. Where Grosjean had only strayed off-track by a tiny margin, there was no disputing Ricciardo had done so. But he felt he had been sufficiently far ahead of Sutil entering the corner not to need to give the position back.

“I was and am genuinely surprised that the stewards penalised me for the pass on Sutil,” Ricciardo said afterwards. “When my engineer told me I?d picked up a penalty, it never crossed my mind it was for that.”

However the stewards made it clear they did not believe Ricciardo would have successfully completed the pass if he’d backed off sufficiently to make the corner. They ruled Ricciardo “left the track at turn 15 and rejoined gaining an advantage” and “the driver’s momentum after the move was not otherwise maintainable”.

Had Ricciardo realised his error immediately he could have given the place back to Sutil and not been penalised. His opportunity to do this was brief as Sutil pitted one lap after being passed by the Toro Rosso. That cost Ricciardo his chance to avoid a drive-through penalty.

Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, Singapore, 2013Nico Hulkenberg was able to take advantage of that opportunity when he was also penalised for going off the track and gaining an advantage. When the Sauber driver was told to let Sergio Perez past during the Singapore Grand Prix he was no less surprised than Ricciardo had been.

Perez had tried to pass Hulkenberg on the inside of turn seven, but the Sauber driver crossed the white line on the outside with all four wheels and stayed ahead. Luckily for the Sauber driver his team were able to instruct him to let the McLaren past.

It’s easy to be wise after the event with penalties such as this. Nonetheless it is surprising so many drivers have been caught out in this way.

After this spate of incidents drivers and their teams no longer have any excuse for not realising they risk a penalty by taking or maintaining a position by going off the track and not relinquishing it themselves.

Over to you

Do you think the FIA is right to limit drivers gaining an advantage by going off the track? Should these drivers have been penalised? Have your say in the comments.

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94 comments on Drivers respond slowly to FIA track limits crackdown

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  1. Julien (@jlracing) said on 21st October 2013, 12:45

    Well all of this ******** is because everywhere there are massive asphalt run-off areas.
    If they just put grass or gravel on the first few metres of the run-off area, and then the asphalt, then there won’t be
    any problem. And also a mistake isn’t punished nowadays. If a driver doesn’t make the corner he looses nothing or a little amount of time. In the past if you didn’t make the corner, you had to be lucky if you could continue and you would loose a lot of time, that is a real punishment.

    • Carlitox (@carlitox) said on 21st October 2013, 21:36

      Brilliant comment. I’m okay with asphalt runoffs, they have prevented many flips since their introduction, but the abuse of them is its drawback. I hate the starts at Hockenheim and Spa, ruined by those. So a bit of gravel or grass would do better.

  2. There should be gravel no tarmac behind white line and this should fix world hunger problems

    • JCost (@jcost) said on 21st October 2013, 12:58

      I wouldn’t go that far but gravel really puts a high price on going off the limits. Gravel trap cost Lewis Hamilton the WDC when driving on dead tyres he went off entering the pits for new rubber…

      • Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 21st October 2013, 13:14

        And next time, he was more careful. There’s nothing wrong with surfaces that are outside the track limits being extremely punitive for drivers. They shouldn’t be going there in the first place.

        The sole purpose of run-off areas should be to slow cars that have lost control before they make contact with something more solid. It shouldn’t be a “get out of jail free” card for someone who’s made a mistake.

      • ECWDanSelby (@ecwdanselby) said on 21st October 2013, 13:59

        Surely that’s the point?

        You’re saying this like it’s a bad thing! These are the best drivers in the world. A lot of times you can make it out of the gravel, but sometimes you’ll get stuck.

        I honestly think it encourages stupid overtakes and reckless driving, as the drivers know full well they have half a mile of tarmac to run on to.

        It bugs me at the start of races in many formula, where you see 4-6 cars just openly use the run-off because it’s quicker than all the hassle of staying in the pack. I think that’s terrible.

        • JCost (@jcost) said on 22nd October 2013, 9:49

          @ecwdanselby No, actually I’m saying it’s good because the cost is tremendous. I just don’t think the circuit should be surrounded by gravel. I think in some points gravel is way to go and Hamilton example is the best I found, actually Hamilton himself has expressed his praise for circuits that force drivers to be “on side”.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 21st October 2013, 15:38

        I agree with @red-andy and @ecwdanselby here, if a driver can’t keep it on the track, that should cost him.

        Either it costs time, or it can cost a position, a race or a championship. There has to be some kind of penalty. When the track itself does not provide that (Paul Ricard with its abrasive runoff, gravel traps, grass, or walls, you name it) then we have to rely on the stewards to keep the drivers from going off.

        I do not much like to see a move like Grosjean’s on Massa get punished, but on the other hand there have been many cases where drivers did go off and just got away with it (Hulk defending from Webber in Monza, Kimi passing a busload of cars after the start in Spa, and many others). The only way to get them to learn that you have to stay between the lines, is when they get called back on it.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st October 2013, 13:01

      @pawelf1 But man cannot live on gravel alone.

      I think it’s wrong to have tarmac as the run-off surface at the exit of corners. On the way into a corner, where they might have to cope with a sudden brake failure or a jammed throttle, I can see the benefit of having a sealed surface which they’re not going to dig into and flip over. But at the exits they should try to use a surface that a driver can’t run over and gain an advantage.

      Of course in the case of Singapore it’s a bit different as they’re not racing on a purpose-built track. Perhaps in that case we should be asking why has the boundary of the track been placed as far away from the wall as far as it has, particularly as we’ve seen this problem at this corner before.

      • yes i know, but in some places there should ben at least a gravel or grass stripe

      • Keep in mind that many of those tracks are also used by motorbikes. And, in this case, a tarmac run-off area can be the difference between a scary moment and a crash.

      • “they might have to cope with a sudden brake failure or a jammed throttle”
        Fully agree: I’ve always wondered why they put tarmac-zones everywhere nowadays. One day, I’m afraid somebody will be badly injured/killed because of that: tarmac won’t slow a ‘crazy’ car.

        • Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 21st October 2013, 16:04

          @bebilou As I pointed out in a comment on today’s round-up, turn one at Montreal is particularly scary in this regard. With the tarmac down there, there’s nothing stopping a car with brake failure down the pit straight from ploughing straight into the oncoming traffic coming out of turn two.

      • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 21st October 2013, 17:12

        @keithcollantine Tarmac alone does just as bad as gravel alone.

        Gravel stops you, but there’s risk of flipping over.
        Tarmac gives plenty of room to recover, but if it’s wet or something, no chance.

        I remember in 2011 when Schumi lost a wheel at Spa in qualifying, at the time they had just put tarmac on the outside Bruxelles and the wet surface didn’t stop him at all.

        For a corner where the cars don’t approach it that fast, the room is limited and it goes downhill, I cannot help but think that it’s worse this way. Even Hamilton in 2010 got away with crashing into the barrier when he missed that very corner while leading…

        There should be a compromise, a balance between gravel and tarmac. But these days we’re getting all tarmac. Gravel seems a thing from the past.

        Not to mention drivers will always exploit the tarmac run offs. And it’s extra hard to judge whenever they approach the corner fully knowing they won’t make it, or they just went wide. I mean, we all saw Kimi at the start at Spa 2009…

        • @fer-no65 a potential compromise, to provide the best of all worlds: a thin strip of grass/slippery astro turf (to discourage running wide) followed by a decent expanse of Tarmac (about half the run-off area) to allow for recoveries without having to dig into a gravel trap, followed by thinner gravel just before the barriers on high-speed parts: hopefully that’d slow them down due to the increased friction before they hit a barrier.

          I also agree with Keith’s suggestion of having some sort of surface which discourages running wide on corner exit, to prevent the track limits abuse in the first place.

      • JCost (@jcost) said on 22nd October 2013, 9:52

        That was my point @keithcollantine. I understand the need for gravel or grass but there are points of the circuit that for tarmac run off should be the way to go. The fact there’s a run off does not allow its use, it’s like scoring offside

  3. IgrejaR (@igrejar) said on 21st October 2013, 12:53

    I really belkieve that the main problem is the proliferation of tarmac run-offs, instead of gravel traps (or at least grass). I belive that it was in Canada this year that Sebastian Vettel went straight into the run off somewhere in the middle of the race. Had it been gravel instead of tarmac, probably he wouldn’t have won there, and maybe the championship would been differente or not.

    It’s justo too easy and the drivers are getting used to take a lot more chances going into corners because they know that, worst case scenario, they go wide and lose some time. It creates problems and controversy towards the stewards, and promotes reckless driving.

  4. kcarrey (@kcarrey) said on 21st October 2013, 12:57

    please renovate all tarmac run-off into a soft gravel/soil/grass hybrid run-off.

  5. jimmy shot said on 21st October 2013, 12:59

    i dont think it is fair some of the given penalty.the stewards must be out of mind.hulkenberg in singapore was really shocking,i dont think he gain any advantage going outside,he was also leading perez by that time,the penalty was so harsh for what i think only some small matter.the stewards are very stupid for saying he gained advantage.enough already with what i felt unfair penalty they gave to the drivers,along with the stupid 2014 rules,fia always makes the cars slower,not improving them.******** stupid fia and also funny hair bernie.looking forward to what happens in 15-20 years from now.i really hope for the return of v10 and pre 2004 rules.

  6. randomfan said on 21st October 2013, 13:00

    They should apply this rule to all circumstances. Alonso drove outside the track on every lap of Korean gp.

    • tonyyeb (@tonyyeb) said on 21st October 2013, 13:39

      I know where you are talking about but he didn’t have 4 wheels over the white line so it was fine. Even if his right side was beyond the kerb at points, the left wheels were still on the track.

      • dennis (@dennis) said on 21st October 2013, 13:46

        There were several instances when he went onto the curb and over the white line with all four wheels.
        I don’t think he gained much of an advantage there, so I guess it was okay… But still.

      • Irejag (@irejag) said on 23rd October 2013, 4:38

        They should not be allowed to put ANY wheels over the white line. The white line defines the track, aka playing surface. In any other sport if you go out of bounds the play is over. Why should F1 Drivers be allowed to beyond the definitions of the track?

    • I think there might be some rule about even using 2 wheels over the line if you do it consistently. Usually it is allowed but if you do it every lap to gain a bit of laptime (or whatever advantage) then you will get penalised. I don’t know the exact rule though.

      • Andreas said on 21st October 2013, 15:46

        Actually, two wheels off the track is fine. The rule is that some part of the car (i.e. at least two wheels) need to be on the track. And for clarity, the rules state that the white boundary line is considered part of the track, while the kerbs are not. So if you put two wheels outside the line, it’s ok. If you consistently put all four wheels outside the line (like Fernando did), you’re in danger of being penalized. It all depends on whether the stewards decide you gained an advantage by doing so. And “gaining and advantage” can be anything from you passing another driver while being off track (which is quite straightforward to police) to you simply making a certain corner a little wider for yourself (even though there’s nobody else around).

    • @keithcollantine Last year, in the qualifying session for the Abu Dhabi GP, all drivers were four-wheels off the line/track at the exit of Turn 19 and I was astonished by that.

      So are they all the guillty ones or is it the track itself?

      Let’s see if they’ll do that again this year…

      • JimG (@jimg) said on 21st October 2013, 16:38

        @jeff1s I’m afraid that I can’t remember the details, but I’m sure I remember hearing in the run-up to a race a while ago that the drivers had been told they would be allowed to run wide off the track at a particular corner. Is this part of the standard drivers’ briefing? If this is the case, can’t the white line be repainted? Or at least the new track limits marked with cones, which should deter people from running even wider.

        Myself I think that any deliberate off-track excursion should be punished, not just during overtakes. If the rule is that you don’t leave the track, you shouldn’t leave the track without a very good reason – either to avoid a collision, or because of a mistake; in either case no advantage must be gained. Of course it becomes hard to judge intent in some cases, but if someone consistently runs wide at a corner then presumably it is to improve their lap time, which is surely gaining an advantage.

        It may be an extreme view, but I’m also against running over the kerbs :-) I occasionally hear people complain about kerbs damaging cars, and I have a simple solution: don’t drive over the kerbs! The race track is the black bit between the white lines, stay on that!

        • Dave (@raceprouk) said on 21st October 2013, 19:06

          Just remember that the kerbs are designed to protect the edge of the tarmac. If they weren’t there, the drivers would still cut the corner, removing grass and soil, and eventually the tarmac would start to disintegrate.

    • It’s not usually enforced unless drivers do it consistently over just lapping. Only if there is a battle for position.

  7. George (@george) said on 21st October 2013, 13:01

    I think it’s a question of degrees really. For example in the Grosjean and Hulkenberg cases there was no room to make the corner as there was a car right next to them. They weren’t ‘maintaining momentum’, they just got forced out there, so I think they shouldn’t have gotten penalties.

    In Ricciardo’s case though it looked like he had no intention of making the corner, or at least he wouldn’t have made the move if he didn’t think he had that safety margin on the outside. As far as I remember Sutil’s car was only close to him before the apex, he was nowhere near on the corner exit.

    • John H (@john-h) said on 21st October 2013, 13:58

      I completely agree. The Hulkenberg penalty for instance can be seen as the other car not leaving a car’s width on exit with someone alongside (another grey area by the way, that will no doubt rear its ugly head again soon).

      • OEL F1 (@oel-f1) said on 21st October 2013, 14:51

        Exactly what I was thinking, Perez made a desperate dive on Hulkenberg despite not being fully alongside and had Hulkenberg not gone off the track they almost certanly would’ve colided. So by forcing another driver to “move over or we’ll crash” you can easily gain position by having the stewards tell an avoiding driver to hand the place. That’s not what I call racing.

        • OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 21st October 2013, 15:24

          @oel-f1 in the Perez vs Hulk movement, there is a moment when the cars have a slight contact right? and by that ulk gets pushed out, so … How is that “gaining an advantage”? It’s Perez who should have got the penalty (especially because pushing drivers out of the track is becoming his trademark move).

      • Mads (@mads) said on 21st October 2013, 16:06

        Absolutely. Hulkenberg was effectively punished for saving him self from Perez’ overly aggressive driving.
        Hulkenberg, in that situation would have had every right to stay on the track, but he didn’t, to save both of them from ending up in the wall.
        Had he just held his line, then Perez would have (had he been able to continue) got a penalty for smashing Hulkenberg off the track and most likely into a race ending affair with the barrier.
        So how on earth Hulkenberg could have been handed a penalty for avoiding a crash, which would otherwise have been Perez’ fault, is ridiculous.

    • spoutnik (@spoutnik) said on 21st October 2013, 17:06

      @george and so was it for Alonso at Monaco who was forced off by Perez … A difficult case to handle for the stewards.

    • Patrick (@paeschli) said on 21st October 2013, 18:59

      A lot of people here are saying that Hulkenberg did the right thing, which is true but that’s also true for Grosjean, why is nobody talking about this one? :P

      • George (@george) said on 21st October 2013, 20:17

        The difference is if I remember correctly Hulkenberg was defending whereas Grosjean was attacking, so you could argue that Massa had every right to take his line whereas Perez committed an unfair overtake.

        In any case I stand by what I said above, if the driver is left no room to stay on track he shouldn’t be forced to return the place.

  8. Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 21st October 2013, 13:04

    If gravel or grass is not going to return to F1 tracks due to safety concerns then it is important that drivers are somehow penalised for leaving the track, and this is certainly one way of doing it. However due to the way that instead of inanimate gravel penalising the drivers it is now a human, I expect many more controversial decisions in the future.

    • bull mello (@bullmello) said on 21st October 2013, 17:09

      True and an excellent point. Expecting consistency from the stewards would be nice, but a bit like telling the sun to not rise in the east. The teams have to be proactive to help the driver in questionable cases to give the place back if needed. With the advantage in the pits of TV feed and possibly replays, they could also contact race control for clarification. If they sit around and wait for the stewards to hand down a penalty, then it’s too late.

      Timely article @keithcollantine .

  9. Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 21st October 2013, 13:27

    I still think It was BS when Hulkenberg had to give the place back at Sinagpore.

    • Mike Dee (@mike-dee) said on 21st October 2013, 14:52

      Absolutely. Hulkenberg was even pushed by Perez. I am amazed what luck Perez has had with the stewards! (Although in Japan, I am not sure whether he should have received a drive-through as there seemed to be enough space for Rosberg.)

    • kpcart said on 21st October 2013, 16:46

      well if there was wall on the exit or gravel or sand, hulkenburg would have lost a lot more then having to give the place back, possibly even more then if he had been given a penalty. Drivers know their is a run-off so they make passes they might not have if their was something else at the track limit – they exploit it – though I know not intentionally. giving the place back was more then fair, he didn’t deserve the completed pass as it was off-track.

  10. Slr (@slr) said on 21st October 2013, 13:33

    I’m really glad to see the FIA cracking down on drivers exceeding the track limits in order to pass rival drivers.

    I don’t understand why drivers still think they can get away with going off the track to pass others. To me it doesn’t matter if a driver had nowhere else to go, if they gain an advantage by going off the track, they must be penalised. If a driver really can’t do anything else other than illegally pass, then they should pass the driver and then give the place back as soon as possible.

  11. Alex Brown (@splittimes) said on 21st October 2013, 13:38

    If you try and take a shopping trolley out of the car park at Tesco’s, a wheel locks up. If you go far enough off on F1 2012, you lose power. The technology is there to instantly penalise people for leaving the track. Only problem is we’d have an even bigger problem with defending cars crowding others off (or taking their line, depending on how you look at it). But as far as I’m concerned, the track is for racing on, the run-off is for recovering from mistakes. If you’re on the run-off, you’ve made a mistake, whether there was a car at the apex preventing turn in at the speed you were traveling at, or you overcooked it on your own.

    Just an idea though. If anything, it would prove preventative, and the risk would be a drop in the number of non-DRS overtakes.

  12. I was listening to (I think) Karun Chandhok on Sky during a practice session recently, and he said simply adding a car-width border of proper grass before the tarmac run-off would do a lot to solve this problem, without compromising safety.

    Or I like Keith’s tarmac in, gravel out run-off.

    • Andreas said on 21st October 2013, 15:56

      Karun is absolutely right, and Suzuka has it mostly right in this regard. The grass (or astroturf) strip is not wide enough to pose a danger, but it’s wide enough so there’s no sensible way of running on it. In other words, if you make the track wider for yourself (as Ricciardo did), you’ll have to go very wide to save it, and there will be no more “it was just an inch” discussions :-)

      The stewards penalizing off-track driving is a good change in my book, but ideally the track itself should penalize (or at least discourage) such driving. The more stuff that can sort itself out without the stewards’ intervention, the better.

  13. I think FIA have been to far with Grosjean on Massa in Hungary and incorrect with Hulkenberg on Perez in Singapore.

    Gravel is the best option, as in Suzuka. For obvious reasons we also need tarmac run-off but it should be completed with rubber that penalises, just as in Paul Ricard.

    Just let them drive!

  14. drmouse (@drmouse) said on 21st October 2013, 14:03

    Personally, I believe that is a driver leaves the track and is not naturally penalised in an obvious way*, they should be penalised by the stewards. This should apply to every instance. This is the only way I can see of forcing the drivers to stay on the track. There should be none of this “did they gain an advantage”, it should be “did the move punish them, or do we have to do it”.

    I do think, though, that to do this they would need a more fine grained penalty system. IIRC they are bringing in penalty points next year, which would be suitable for this. They go off the track, the penalty can range anywhere from a single point up through the entire gamut of drive through/stop & go etc.

    * By naturally penalised, I mean they lost ground on what would have happened if they did not leave the track, and by obvious I mean the spectator at home can see that this has happened, not just someone looking at fine-grained timing data. That way, it becomes a fairly simple discision, and the drivers know from the outset that they must not leave the track

  15. RBAlonso (@rbalonso) said on 21st October 2013, 14:14

    My view on track limits is pretty simple: treat the white lines of the circuit as a Monaco style guardrail. However, at most high speed circuits it is more practical to simply allow the drivers to put two wheels over the line. For years many overtakes made with two wheels on the grass were seen as being bold and brave as taking to the grass is obviously a risk. Nowadays however, if the track run-offs are made of tarmac there is no skill in placing two wheels over the line. Taking the Ricciardo incident for example, if we imagine that the run-off was gravel the move would never have been attempted, therefore he deserved to be punished. In 130R the solution can not be gravel as that would be a step backwards in terms of safety but looking at the Vettel 2011 Hockenheim example there is really no need for there to be tarmac run off there. Any incident is going to happen long before where the move took place. Therefore the circuits are encouraging the drivers to cheat in the hope of gaining an advantage which in turn diminishes the credibility of the sport. We want to see drivers challenged; not race in large car parks where there is no penalty. My solution would be to make all medium speed corners to have gravel ie esses at Suzuka and high speed corners to have the Paul Ricard style surface which penalises errors. Thankfully, we have seen huge improvements to track safety over the years but we should not unnecessarily remove the challenge that makes the sport great.

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