Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, Singapore, 2013

Drivers respond slowly to FIA track limits crackdown

2013 F1 seasonPosted on Author Keith Collantine

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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Images ?? Red Bull/Getty, Sauber

94 comments on “Drivers respond slowly to FIA track limits crackdown”

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  1. 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?

    1. @mads

      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.

      1. @keithcollantine
        Theoretically yes. But I doubt that even Senna could have bended another driver into that sort of submission.
        Hulkenberg was at least 2/3rds of a car ahead of Perez by the time Perez forces him wide and off the track.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Arnoux and Villeneuve would have been arested on these days.

    1. I see your point, and kubica/massa fuji

  5. ‘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??)

  6. 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.

    1. @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).

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

    1. Thanks Colin! Most of the information you’re looking for can be found here:


  9. 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.

  10. Michael Brown (@)
    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?

  11. There was mention of a possible solution in the Anthony Davidson article linked to yesterday; a four metre grass verge then Tarmac. (Well worth reading if you haven’t already.)
    In my opinion safety should be the most important factor but I do agree that there needs to be some sort of ‘punishment’ for overtaking off the track. I am certainly not one of the types of fans Anthony refers to who watches in anticipation of a crash and I think there has to be some room for error. A solution whereby track conditions rather than fear of a penalty from the stewards would work better anyway.

  12. But he felt he had been sufficiently far ahead of Sutil entering the corner not to need to give the position back.

    If that was his thinking; and he got away with it; then whats to stop all the drivers from dive-bombing the inside of the track to get “sufficiently far ahead” always knowing theyd never make the corner? Thats PRECISELY why the rule was implemented, Daniel!

  13. I remember one race in Austria where they replaced the turn 1 gravel trap with tarmac and drivers were running as wide as they dared to get the best out of their lap time. Just imagine if the FIA had clamped down on track limits then?

    I’m just disappointed with the FIA’s stance to penalise drivers for racing each other hard and going off track – Why the hell did they design the circuits like that in the first place? We wouldn’t have had the farcical end result of Belgium 2008.

  14. Aaron Devaney
    21st October 2013, 21:57

    While all of these decisions by the stewards irked me it was the hulkenburg pass that made me switch off the tv. He could have made the corner but ran wide because perez wasn’t giving him much room. When the defending drivers get more used to this new situation they could just force passing drivers off track and regain the place.

    They have fake gimicks like drs yet deter natural overtaking. Precedence for the legality of these types of overtakes has existed since motor racing existed, it’s only now there deemed to break the rules.

  15. I definitely agree that the run-offs on today’s tracks are far too forgiving, but I can also see the side of the issue that takes safety into account. Having grass and gravel is likely more dangerous than tarmac runoff but it eliminates all punishment for going off track. I don’t want to see anyone get injured, but I would still rather see sand, grass, or gravel over tarmac.
    This is likely a far-fetched idea, but with all of today’s technology, I think they should be able to design a system within the cars that will cut down engine power for a certain amount of time when they go past the white line. If a driver goes over the white line with all four tires, a computerized system activates and lowers their engine power down to half for a few seconds to simulate the effect of being slowed down by grass or gravel. Far-fetched, I know, but I think its cool. lol

  16. The difference in attitude between grass/gravel trap and asphalt/tarmac/concrete runoff is this:
    Grass/Gravel: your driving line is primarily at the middle of the road, with margins decreasing steadily the more you move outside. The margins stop completely after white lines, you’re going on luck then. Driver will take risk every time he tries to use the whole width of the road and he knows it, the throttle is modulating much earlier.
    Tarmac etc: The margins START from whiteline. The grip decreases steadily the more you go off-road.

    I’ve done a few pretty popular sim tracks with both types and when observing player behavior, the tarmac runoff corners are always considered as easy, going on and over the limits is a non-event, happens every lap for everyone on the grid. With track made so that every off-track event is 50/50 DNF, drivers are sticking to the middle of the road, taking a risk is really taking a risk. Going on the whitelines makes the heart bounce, it’s a real thriller and only the best drivers can do it lap after lap. And even they tend to not to do it without a valid reason..

    Grass produces more suspense and drama, unpredictability that teams hate so they’ve slowly convinced everyone that it’s more safe and “cost effective” to use tarmac. Tarmac runoffs also promote new school, Vettel/GP2 style of drivers and the classic high risk runoffs promote drivers like Raikkonen who very rarely plows off road if it wasn’t a serious mistake.. Vettel drives like there is no safety concerns in the world, 20 years ago his seasons would ended in multiple DNFs due to too much risk. He drives on the limit with a full confidence that if something happens, it’s at max 2 second mistake.. Vettel also stays very consistent because of that, he rarely makes mistakes. If you put grass everywhere on season 2014 and i’m most certain that he would do 3 races like nothing, then three DNFs in a row and loss of pace in the rest of the season..

    But there’s nothing that anyone can do to bring back the nature, tarmac runoffs are here to stay, forever. Every track will have them before 2020.

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