F1 may look at using more grass and gravel run-offs

2017 Mexican Grand Prix

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Formula One could use more grass and gravel run-offs on new circuits in response to complaints from drivers about penalties for abusing track limits.

During the drivers’ briefing ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix Romain Grosjean complained about the replacement of grass and gravel run-offs with asphalt. “Spoon corner [at Suzuka] being Astroturf and Tarmac is a bit less sexy than it was,” said the Haas driver, who urged F1 to reconsider using grass or gravel.

“I think it’s something we could look at,” race director Charlie Whiting told the assembled drivers. “When designing new circuits now I think we’ve got to think carefully about enforcing track limits which has never really been a big issue in the past.”

However Whiting expressed reservations about replacing existing asphalt run-offs.

“I know some you talked yesterday about going back to grass or gravel,” he said in the Friday meeting, “but honestly I don’t really think that’s an option.”

“The circuits are not designed for that and we all know the shortcomings of those two things. Grass gets worn away, and circuits can never keep it in good condition, and gravel gets all over the track.”

“When we did all the research back when the accident data recorders were first put on the cars in the mid-nineties, we looked at all the accident that happened and the conclusion that was drawn was that asphalt was twice as good at slowing a car down, in very broad terms. That’s why we started going to asphalt run-off areas.”

Sebastian Vettel suggested more tracks should adopt the kerb design used at the Nurburgring instead of the increasingly widespread ‘double kerbs’.

“If you look back to Nurburgring exit kerbs where you just sit on the plank, it doesn’t damage the car but it’s slower,” he said. “That would be better.”

“The ramp is not that aggressive so you can go on them with two wheels but if you go further you sit on the plank and then you don’t accelerate. It’s completely safe but you don’t want to [run wide] because it’s slower.”

“Whereas the double kerbs sometimes it depends about what’s behind the double kerb and if you go off, even by accident, not trying to go faster, it damages the car.

2017 Mexican Grand Prix

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    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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    30 comments on “F1 may look at using more grass and gravel run-offs”

    1. “The circuits are not designed for that and we all know the shortcomings of those two things. Grass gets worn away, and circuits can never keep it in good condition, and gravel gets all over the track.”

      What on earth are you talking about man?!! THAT is the reason why we don’t see grass and gravel anymore and not safety concerns?! Good Lord…. Get that man a lawnmower and broom asap!

      1. exactly.

        Grass gets worn away

        As if that would worry me.

      2. @jeffreyj I think he means that the room available as run off would not be enough with grass or gravel because it’s been designed with tarmac run offs in place. Also he’s right that grass is harder to keep tidy and if it rains it could create big puddles of water.

        Gravel being put in the track should t be too much of an issue really. If it gets too dirty there’s always the option of a VSC or SC to clean it. But we hardly see gravel being right on the edge of the track like we used to do.

        1. @fer-no65 you’re right in saying gravel is never at the edge of the track. There’s almost always a buffer of tarmac or grass.

          However, I do believe that even with modern tarmac-designed tracks there is enough space for grass and gravel (see my comment below).

        2. @fer-no65 I don’t care that grass is harder to keep tidy. What kind of argument even is that man?! Come on now.

          As for room available as run not being enough to replace it with grass/gravel on the newer tracks…. have you seen the outside of T1, T10 and T19 at COTA?! You can re-create the entire Monaco circuit 1:1 out there. Twice!!!

          1. @jeffreyj, I think that it was fairly clear that Whiting intended this remark to be a throwaway remark, and that his concerns about safety were highlighted further down when he talked about how tarmac was found to be, in general, twice as effective as slowing the cars down as gravel.

            I do not mean to cause any offence, but to me it does seem that sometimes people do focus on these sorts of details when they are often peripheral to what is being discussed. It reminds me of the time that Whiting was discussing the changes to the skid blocks, where he went into a discussion about how the technical and safety changes that would result – but that was mostly ignored because he made a throwaway comment about how the change in skid block material would also result in more sparks, and most of the attention seemed to focus solely on a comment that was made just in passing.

          2. What means is it’s harder to keep safe.

            For example – a driver slides off through grass in the wet. It pulls up lots of turf (I seem to remember seeing this in Korea a few years back).

            How do they make it safe again with a red flag and an emergency call to Alan Titchmarsh?

            Saying that, i’d love to see the FIA give the green light to more grass/gravel. Issue is as well, from a fan perspective, grass/gravel means grandstands/fan zones must be moved further back, something i’m sure the FIA/promoters aren’t particularly keen on. Gravel and asphalt run-offs actually have two different calculations, so if you were to reverse engineer the asphalt run-offs to once again be gravel, you should technically really be moving the barrier further back to compensate for this, which isn’t exactly ideal.

            I think there’s a compromise to be reached – AstroTurf track verges, with real grass sat behind them, in the areas of concern. It could just about be enough to make drivers think twice.

    2. Circuits like Singapore, Baku, and Montreal are considered quite safe with hardly any runoff.

      The impacts are always relatively safe if the deceleration at the point of impact with the wall is quite low. Run-off areas do this by slowing the car down in advance, but at the street circuits this is generally achieved by having much thicker, absorbant barriers.

      Use more layers of barrier at regular circuits and they can return to grass and gravel.

      1. True, but most corners at those tracks are terribly slow-speed. Also, particularly Singapore and Baku (Russia as well) have a few corners that seem to have unnescesarry curbing on the inside to make the even corner slower (and really tempting to just cut entirely whenhever I’m player F1 2017 haha)

    3. petebaldwin (@)
      30th October 2017, 15:37

      All they have to do is make rules that if you go all 4 wheels of the track, you get punished. 3 strikes in the race (providing you don’t already lose 2s+ in that sector) with the lap being deleted in quali or practice.

      If you overtake whilst of the track, you either have to give the spot back within a lap or you have to do a drive-through at the end of that lap. Sensors can tell if you left the track so there is no use in complaining – like goal line technology in football.

      1. @petebaldwin Wouldn’t it be terribly expensive to take a technology which covers a few square metres on a football pitch and multiply it over the vastly larger expanses of F1 tracks which can measure up to seven kilometres?

        1. This is a sport where millions are made, and spent, every race. I’m sure they could afford it.

          1. With accurate GPS you could monitor if the car went to far off track

    4. What about the abrasive run off strips used at Paul Ricard?

      1. I don’t think they actually worked particularly well.

    5. tgu (@thegrapeunwashed)
      30th October 2017, 17:01

      Karun Chandhok has it right: a ribbon of grass of gravel behind which is an expanse of tarmac – the cars will slip off the circuit but then have a chance to slow on the tarmac. Going wide should result in a natural penalty, not a steward’s enquiry.

      1. This. Its such an easy decision.

    6. Also at the briefing, RIC came up with using astroturf, but Charlie said, they can’t use astroturf because of motogp…
      Remember, FIM was also the cause for making the Parabolica a car park.

    7. I think they should use a 1.5 car-width wide strip of the roller floors they use to move cargo around. put it on the outside of areas where drivers would be loose about keeping it inside the lines. end result is like a banana from mario kart but safer.


    8. The lack off gravel and grass on sides off track effects how drivers behave. Take alonso and Palmer in monza. If grass or gravel had been there no way would Palmer cut the courner but also alonso knowing this he would have not have put him in that position because it could have caused a crash taking him out.

      1. They’ve solved that problem by getting rid of Palmer.

    9. Just put a big inflatable/foam advertising board on the spot where the drivers are pushing the track limits. Soft/light enough that safety isn’t an issue if someone hits it, but will deserve a replay on the coverage if they do.

      Make it so that the driver responsible for taking it out has to wear a cap featuring that particular sponsors logo at the next race weekend. Watch as the team principals enforce track limits on their drivers.

      It opens up an advertising opportunity, too. “The inside of turn 9, sponsored by DHL”

      1. And if it is inflatable anyway, fill it with feathers and make it easily puncture. Best of both worlds: softning the impact and a VERY worthwhile addition to the show :-)

        1. But only once per area per race.

      2. Exactly! With some creative thinking and innovation, we should be able to find a solution. How about spraying a 20cm line of glue outside the white line?
        Surely there must be more options beside tarmac, grass, gravel and astroturf?

    10. Other people use the circuit Grosjean !!! It’s not all about F1

    11. I posted this a couple of weeks ago.

      I think it was in the 80s drivers started pushing for tarmac as run off. The issue was if I remember correctly that the teams did not like the gravel traps as it damaged the cars. Grass or Astro turf was diabolical in the wet they actually picked up speed.
      So they changed over to asphalt, the reason being that the brakes on F1 cars are so good the drivers could stop before hitting something most of the time.

      But hey lets go back and see it all over again.

    12. “…we looked at all the accident that happened and the conclusion that was drawn was that asphalt was twice as good at slowing a car down, in very broad terms”

      Not in wet conditions it doesn’t. As an example – Schumacher’s qualifying crash at Spa 2011 – the car barely slowed down until he reached the gravel.

      1. I think in an ideal world we’d flip the asphalt run-offs and have a gravel run-off on the other side of it, and flip them to suit the conditions! Because you’re right – gravel does tend to work a little better in wet conditions.

    13. Could be an idea since VER is going to be in F1 for the next 15-20years…

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