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.

2013 F1 season


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Images ?? Red Bull/Getty, Sauber

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94 comments on Drivers respond slowly to FIA track limits crackdown

  1. arki19 said on 21st October 2013, 21:08

    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.

  2. d3v0 (@d3v0) said on 21st October 2013, 21:30

    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!

  3. 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.

  4. Aaron Devaney said on 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.

  5. Irejag (@irejag) said on 23rd October 2013, 2:58

    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

  6. SquidCap said on 13th February 2014, 14:48

    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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