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

  1. TMF (@tmf42) said on 21st October 2013, 14:17

    I think it’s a non-issue if you give them 1 or 2 more seasons and FIA continues to penalize it. Currently they are at the beginning of the learning curve but once drivers and teams figure it out then this discussion will go away.

  2. Rigi (@rigi) said on 21st October 2013, 14:17

    the margin between “leaving the track and gaining an advantage” and “leaving the track to avoid a collision” is not that small, considering how the penalties for hulkenberg and grosjean were recieved and it pains me to see stewards (which supposedly know what they’re doing) failing to make the right decision.

    • @rigi well, if you’ve attempted a move and have to abort to avoid a collision you should abort and give the place back. I can fully see the steward’s logic there.

      Same applies if you’re forced wide, although that then brings up the new point of have you given them the car’s width they are entitled to – that’s a complete seperate issue though.

  3. Welington Leal said on 21st October 2013, 14:31

    They have to teach F1 drivers be overtake.

    Often they defend the position over the limit.

    Making the faster driver go off the track

  4. PeterG said on 21st October 2013, 15:24

    I don’t think gravel should return & think things should stay as they are as tarmac is not only safer but also better for the show.

    Do we really want to go back to situations where 1 tiny mistake or where been pushed off track by another driver completely ruins the race?
    I remember Hungary 2002 where Juan Montoya got forced onto the grass by Kimi & suffered aero damage that ruined his race & took a contender out of the running which made the race more boring for fans.

    Austria 1998 Schumacher makes a tiny mistake & runs wide & rips his car apart which turned a thrilling race into a boring one as we had a great scrap for the win going on between he & Hakkinen.

    Grass/Gravel is also far more dangerous. Zonta’s flip at Eau Rouge in 1999 was caused by gravel, He flipped over the barriers in a 2000 Silverstone test because of gravel.
    Burti’s big crash at Spa in 2001 was made worse by gravel damaging his front suspension & taking away his brakes & Allan McNish’s Suzuka 2002 crash was made worse by the grass/gravel launching his car a little.

    Look at Le Mans, They have gravel & often when 1 car goes off & spreads gravel all over the track we see a load of punctures over the next few laps caused by the gravel.

    Cars stuck in gravel takes contenders out the race, means prolonged yellow flags which hinders racing.

    Also look at other categories such as GT/Touring & Sportscars where cars get stuck in the gravel much easier & are often much harder to retrieve which has a big impact on races with often more safety car periods.
    Gravel often flipped formula ford cars much easier so tarmac is much safer for them.

    Im glad to see the back of gravel, Its safer & better for the racing as it doesn’t damage cars, doesn’t get them stuck & this makes for much better racing with more competitors remaining in the race which is better to watch for fans.

  5. wsrgo (@wsrgo) said on 21st October 2013, 16:13

    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.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Vettel passing Button at the time, and not holding him off?
    Regarding off-track limits, I feel a blanket is unnecessary. It should be looked as a case-by-case basis. Grosjean and Hulkenberg were clearly hard done by. But while Grosjean’s penalty is still acceptable (harsh, but ultimately fair), Hulkenberg clearly did not go off track to gain an advantage, but to prevent a collision. I missed the Suzuka race, and haven’t seen Ricciardo’s off, so I don’t know about it.

    • @wsrgo I think you’re correct: he took a wide line (obviously) and so could carry a lot more speed, so he used the run-off to accelerate past him.

      Although I personally think that was a case of the FIA should have told him to give the place back.

      • Dizzy said on 21st October 2013, 17:27

        Although I personally think that was a case of the FIA should have told him to give the place back.

        Don’t think there was enough time left in the race to properly review it to make that judgement.

        From memory they ended up looking at the telemetry & timing data as well as the video & getting verbal accounts from both drivers before they made the decision to penalize Seb as the stewards initially felt it was a very close call on if he purposely drove off to gain an advantage or was simply avoiding a collision due to Jenson lighting up the rear tyres a little.

        I think thats always something to consider, Sometimes from the TV angles incidents look black & white, But when you look at the extra data & have the opinion of the driver steward you may well have a totally different view.

        I’ll use the Alonso/Vettel incident at Monza last year, Seb got the penalty & from the outside it didn’t look that different to the year before when Alonso didn’t get a penalty. However the stewards had an in-car angle which showed Seb looking in his mirrors & they also had telemetry data which showed Seb steering into Alonso’s path even as Alonso was alongside & this was why they gave the penalty.

  6. Mads (@mads) said on 21st October 2013, 16:22

    I find the use of tarmac run-offs excessive in places, but it’s there for safety, and other racing series also has to be taken into account.
    My main problem is how they enforce the rules. The Hulkenberg vs Perez duel in Singapore exposed a massive weakness in their system.
    Had Hulkenberg not moved off the track, then Perez would have crashed into him (evident by their near contact, if not actual contact) that would have put Perez at fault because he came in too deep and Hulkenberg would just have held his line. But because Hulkenberg takes evasive action and avoids a crash, by using the run off area, he is at fault.
    If they punish drivers for going off track, then they need to be just as hard on drivers who force other drivers to go off track. Those two things go hand in hand.
    Right now, they are rewarding the “do or die” overtaking style. And then what is all the nice and safe tarmac run off areas worth if it rewards the drivers for acting like lunatics on track?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st October 2013, 19:20


      Had Hulkenberg not moved off the track, then Perez would have crashed into him (evident by their near contact, if not actual contact) that would have put Perez at fault because he came in too deep and Hulkenberg would just have held his line. But because Hulkenberg takes evasive action and avoids a crash, by using the run off area, he is at fault.

      Not exactly – he did have the option of ceding the place to Perez and not going off the track.

  7. Strontium (@strontium) said on 21st October 2013, 16:31

    People complain that the drivers cannot push the cars to the max with the current tyres, etc., but when we have the tarmac run offs we see more pushing.

    But ultimately, the track is the track. You stay on and it’s not a problem. Cases like Grosjean’s were unfair, but the case with Ricciardo was reasonable, as it was with Vettel in Germany.

    I think a drive through is very harsh though. The FIA could do with finding another way to make it less punished, as a drive through is a lot of time to lose.

  8. kpcart said on 21st October 2013, 16:42

    Ricciardos pass off track at 130R is proof drivers are exploiting the run-offs. in previous years where there was no tarmac outside 130R, Ricciardo would be counting his lucky stars if he made it out alive. Ricciardo thinks he did not gain an advantage and didn’t deserve a penalty, yet he gained an advantage because he went off track and lost no time, position, and had no damage – that is an advantage because on other racetracks such a move could have seen the biggest of crashes – he exploited the track run-off for his benefit, and he couldn’t even hand back the position when he was being investigate. This I believe is because there is no danger element for the drivers on most racetracks now, that danger element used to keep them within the track limits. going off a track is a simple driver error in most cases, and in all forms of motor-racing, a mistake leads to a penalty (time loss, position loss, damage, retirement) – yet in f1 on some race tracks, f1 drivers do do-or-die passing attempts with the knowledge they will not lose time or position because of a run-off. it contributes to “artificial racing” and is another factor which makes it harder to compare current era f1 and its drivers with previous generations of f1 – current era drivers are artificially higher in the standings in comparisons – like the comparison Keith made a week or so ago with the points system – because they have so much more reliability and their mistakes are not penalised as heavily.

  9. Ed Marques (@edmarques) said on 21st October 2013, 17:11

    Arnoux and Villeneuve would have been arested on these days.

  10. ‘Discretion’ = more power for the bureaucracy. From stuff like this to stewards and Whiting not meeting the press like team managers and drivers. Bureaucracy’s first priority is enhancing their power not ‘sporting’ considerations. (And of course we can all be sure with large sums of money hinging on their decisions they’ll act with honor and consistency… So why afraid to meet the press??)

  11. Chad (@chaddy) said on 21st October 2013, 19:31

    Why not impose a 2 second penalty on someone who can no longer give the place back, instead of a drive-through (or some other amount of time)? The drive through can be very excessive, especially when someone goes off track in the interest of safety, as Vettel did on Button.

    • @chaddy because they might have gained 20 from not being stuck behind the car. It’s too subjective to “just” give a 2 second penalty, and they need to be applied consistently so a drive through is the only reasonable option (although a post-race 10 second penalty may suffice).

      • Chad (@chaddy) said on 21st October 2013, 19:43

        Usually a driver can give the spot back unless the passed car pits, but in that case, the driver gained less of an advantage by being ahead because he would have been held up a short amount of time. A time penalty could be an improvement over an excessive drive-through in these situations. I am confused why you don’t like my suggestion, but then offer the exact same one– perhaps I wasn’t clear that the penalty is post-race. Maybe 10 seconds is better than 2, but perhaps stewards get more discretion there as well.

        • Mads (@mads) said on 21st October 2013, 20:07

          Usually a driver can give the spot back unless the passed car pits, but in that case, the driver gained less of an advantage by being ahead because he would have been held up a short amount of time.

          That depends on the strategy. If it is right around the time both of them has to pit, then going off track to overtake could mean he doesn’t end up behind him for the next stint.
          What that could potentially cost is incredibly case dependent, and sometimes a 2 seconds penalty might be fair, at other times a drive through might be the only fair option.
          Say, Vettel this year in Hungary. He spend ages behind Button loosing tonnes of time.
          Even a 10 second post race penalty might have made it profitable for him to just cut the chicane and then build up a gap, had he done so just a few laps after he got stuck behind him.

  12. Grass is the answer. I was fortunate to have attended the 2009 Belgium gp in 2009 and we sat at les Combes throughout the weekend. If you went off, it wasn’t the end of the world if you just tried to steer through it with no pedal, but those who did try to accelerate we’re punished. Punishment is part of f1 but its been taken away unfortunately. No to gravel on safety grounds.

  13. Colm Lynn said on 21st October 2013, 20:20

    Hello Keith I hope this posts, just want to say that I love the website and really appreciate the work, time and effort you put into the site all year round. I would be interested in submitting a guest article or two in the future possibly.
    I just wanted to ask if you could recommend a website or two for viewing racetracks, with regards to track length, downloading race maps, length of straight , gear changes etc. Thanks

  14. Moshambles (@moshambles) said on 21st October 2013, 20:24

    I fear that the circuit owners whom have made the switch to tarmac and the newer circuits will have realized the benefits of having virtually maintenance free run-offs. Shame.

  15. Michael Brown (@) said on 21st October 2013, 20:59

    I agree with the comments to add a car width of grass to the outside of a corner, and then have the rest of the runoff as tarmac. In addition, I don’t see why the exits of slower corners have massive runoff areas as well. Why does there need to be runoff area on the exit of the hairpin in Hockenheim? I can understand the entrance of the corner, but the exit.

    Also, I think the stewards should take a look at cars forcing others off the track. The 2012 rule clarification regarding overtaking only applied to straights, not braking zones or corners. Yet Perez does this multiple times and gets penalized once. Why is forcing cars off in a corner allowed, like Perez and Hulkenberg in Singapore?

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