Drivers want more gravel traps but they’re “not the solution everywhere”, says Masi

2020 Tuscan Grand Prix

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Formula 1 drivers say they want to see more gravel traps on circuits following their experience at Mugello last weekend.

However F1 race director Michael Masi said it’s not possible to use them throughout the permanent road courses which feature on the F1 calendar.

Mugello differs from many modern and recently upgraded F1 circuits in that is still uses gravel traps at all of its corners. Many other circuits have replaced gravel with extensive asphalt run-off areas. Following Sunday’s race some drivers said they would like to see gravel more widely used in Formula 1.

“I want gravel,” said Charles Leclerc. “At the end we are drivers and this a bigger challenge for us drivers.

“You know that if you do a mistake you pay for it more than just going wide and coming back on track 50 metres later. So I prefer gravel.”

Lecler’s team mate Sebastian Vettel agreed. “As a driver you prefer the fact that if you go off, it gets penalised. It makes things a lot more straightforward.”

Asphalt run-offs can slow cars down more effectively than gravel in some situations. This can allow barriers to be brought closer to the track, creating better viewing opportunities for spectators.

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Vettel suggested a mix of the two may be a worthwhile solution. “You have to balance also the gravel against the asphalt in terms of when things go wrong,” said the Ferrari driver. “There were a couple of incidents in the weekend and if you get it wrong the gravel doesn’t really slow down the car.

“Maybe we can have an intermediate solution where you have a gravel strip initially, and therefore there is no point to go wide, but after that have asphalt for the benefit of having less run-off, bring the spectators closer to the track and also make it safer for us so the cars slow down if you lose control or whatever.

“It’s not an easy one, but for sure with all the asphalt around in some tracks it just sort of takes away the character and makes it a little bit too easy to do a mistake.”

Formula 1 race director Michael Masi said it wasn’t possible to reintroduce gravel traps on the permanent road circuits the championship visits.

“No, we can’t have them everywhere,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all.

“We need to come up with appropriate solutions with each of the circuit owners and operators and we’ll continue working through that. We’ve already discussed it with the drivers. So I think it’s a bit much to ask and it’s not the solution everywhere, let’s put it that way.”

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46 comments on “Drivers want more gravel traps but they’re “not the solution everywhere”, says Masi”

  1. Gravel traps are great until your favourite driver/s, minding their own business are punted off into them by another and beached ending “the show” and “anticipated duel”

    1. Not to mention what feedback you get from rich people paying for track days when their expensive cars get stuck, or damaged by the gravel traps. Or the people who have to tend to the gravel beds all the time.

      1. Ah but rich people having their cars repaired is good for the economy

    2. @blik ..and then needs a safety car to get out, negating the whole race (sport) until then.

      If only this was a sport with technical innovation and good funding where a solution could be found that going off would automatically slow down cars to simulate a penalty similar to gravel traps, but I guess that’s way too advanced..

  2. They do take cars out of the race don’t they @blik, also as Lance demonstrated they’re not always that good at slowing cars down before they hit the barrier.

    1. He walked from a 170mph off. Its not the only safety device they have to help them, tech pro barriers, though that wasn’t one, the car itself, the HANS device and so on. Lets not forget people were keeping their foot in at Eau Rouge when they went ‘off’ because it was just tarmac

      1. Are you arguing that, as he got away with it, and there are other safety devices, the rate of deceleration across runoff doesn’t matter?

        And that tarmac on Eau Rouge was a factor in Hubert? He bounced back into the track, after someone else lost it on a kerb! Or are you saying if only there’d been gravel they’d all have been racing more slowly, just in case? Or what? If there’s tarmac at Arriabata there has to be tarmac at Eau Rouge?

        Why not do it properly lol and tell us how drivers used to get thrown clear to safety, back in the good old days when it was all proper honest to goodness gravel, before they got trapped in the car by seat belts?

    2. And what do you think tarmac would have done to slow him down? Absolutely nothing.

      With F1 limiting itself to 10 teams, numbers are low as it is.

      1. Tarmac slows the car down faster, more consistently and without launching or tripping the car. FIA have researched it. That’s why, as the article says, with tarmac they can make the runoff smaller and have the crowd closer, for any given level of risk.

        1. Yes, the FIA research team… They miss quite a lot of tricks, don’t they?

          When it is wet and we do get some running, most tarmac run-offs do zilch in stopping a car. A car with 1-2 wheels disabled? Just slides along. Tarmac works when a car is in control. When it isn’t, it hardly scrubs speed.

  3. If it were practically feasible, the intermediate solution sounds appealing. I wonder how much gravel would be needed to appropriately penalise a driver for an excursion?

    1. @bookgrub a lot would depend on speed, ride height, and mass of the car. Heavier car would be more impacted by the gravel.

  4. Is this Masi an idiot or am i just reading too much into what he us saying? Obviosly permanent road tracka cant have gravel traps that should not even be mentioned. The drivers are talking abojt race tracks

  5. Right now, I think I’m less concerned about gravel vs asphalt, and more about how do we stop a growing trend of barriers needing extensive repairing.

    1. Yes it’s more fakery isn’t it @eurobrun. A rubber conveyor belt gets torn when a racing car touches it, omg red flag! Red flag, restart, excitingness!!

      1. Yeah we didn’t need the red flag at Monza. We did at Mugello because Stroll’s car caught fire, but the Monza situation should have been a SC

        1. At Mugello they shouldn’t have needed any red flags, they contrived them too. The first one the pileup was caused by race control turning the SC lights off late, to have an exciting bunch restart, and the second one was supposedly to repair the barrier, which was intact with 4 layers of tyres in position just with the conveyor belt torn – which when you weigh up the risks of a start against it was much better left alone.

          I don’t think the car fire was too huge an issue, even if they weren’t great at extinguishing it. It just needed a lap or two of VSC really, to clear the car away. But it’s any pretext to have a restart, for the show.

          So instead of an intriguing race with Lewis trying to get past Valtteri and everyone working on tyres and tactics, we got a muddled mess with huge interruptions, a lot of cars not even in the race, dangerous debris, a dangerous pileup, and generally more risk. And the feeling it’s all being manipulated.

    2. Some circuits use mobile concrete walls, which are essentially 4m long concrete blocks. These are designed to have some give in them, and are generally quicker to repair.

  6. This is where I agree with drivers. Gravel traps are great.

    Say what you will, maybe it was true that Verstappen was stuck in one, guy that would make the race interesting.

    But still gravel gives a much more serius punishment, no need for enforcing track limits then. Going off track instantly hurts your laptime and potentially ends your race right there.

    1. Gravel traps punish the innocent too.

    2. @jureo however, it’s not great if you’re the one being asked to then have to try and recover said car from the gravel trap afterwards. Because the cars easily get stuck, you’ve guaranteed that you’re going to need to use heavy lifting plant in order to recover the car – you’re now making it a longer, slower and riskier process to remove that car from the side of the track for the marshals.

      1. Yes, it would take more time and muscle to recover a stuck car. However, this is a situation for a VSC (this is why they have this in the first place). Secondly, it is not a guarantee that cars will get stuck when they go in them and we won’t need to be guessing about tack limits anymore.

        The other thing to note is that, asphalt does NOT slow cars down when it is wet, gravel will no matter the weather conditions. See Hockenheim 2018.

  7. Mugello was highly likely a one off… but on the other hand we will have Zandvoort next year. It could offer a lot of Mugello-ness I guess. Fast flowing, some elevation changes, banked corners and 1 straight with passing opportunities. And: gravel traps! I suppose the drivers will love it

    1. The drivers are just implying that they’re the best and will never fall foul of the gravel while everyone else is rubbish ;-)

  8. The compromise solution of having a little bit of gravel the edge of the tracks beyond the curbing doesn’t seem bad and should be doable.
    Asphalt or tarmac slows down cars almost twice as quickly compared to gravel, according to the late-Charlie Whiting in 2017.

    1. Provided that the cars still have 4 tyres on the ground, yeah.
      When the wheels are no longer attached or the car is upside down, gravel washes off that inertia much faster.

      1. But sometimes tarmac doesn’t help such as Mark Webber’s crash at Valencia. And the doughnut kerb at Parabolica caused a horrific accident in F2

        1. Webber’s front right was flailing around on the end of the tether and both rears were flat. The car’s floor was on the ground, so yeah gravel would have been better in that instance.
          And that kerb at Monza was nothing more than a disaster waiting to happen. It was F3, BTW.

    2. @jerejj It is useless, in terms of slowing cars down, when wet though!

    3. This is something i’ve believed in for some time – on slow to medium speed corners, a few meters of gravel at trackside would be more than enough to deter the drivers from exceeding track limits. No one’s a fan of waiting to hear if someone’s got a penalty. I think the fans want a natural, instant penalty.

      Ideally, 3-5m of gravel at trackside, followed by asphalt.

  9. The safety aspect is only one part of the reason why we see more and more asphalt run-off at race tracks. The other one has to do with how the race tracks make money.

    Most of them offer ‘track days’, where you bring your own car (mostly rich people with fancy sportscars) and race it on the circuit. Obviously, these people don’t want their unique cars to get damaged by driving through a gravel trap, so they’d go to a place where there are none of them. This means that all the other circuits, which are in a similar financial situation, have to put asphalt run-off as well in order to be competitive.

    Places like Mugello don’t have that kind of problem, because their owner is a racing team and one of the most famous car brands in the world. They don’t need the extra money.

    1. Very good point that I never thought of. Add to the “not damaging the car” is the higher chance of cars getting stuck and therefore more track support staff and equipment to remove them quickly.

    2. The solution has to be something that won’t cause damage, can be removed easily (and cheaply) if required and will be a serious deterrent to drivers.

      For me, the options are either a specific type of kerb that can be removed or sensors so that when you run wide, you lose 20% of your ERS performance for the next lap (for example). The idea of slowing a car down by a large amount could be dangerous but making them lose a little performance over a lap or two would cost them a second or two in a reasonably safe way.

  10. Use the solution that Zandvoort implemented for this year, it’s not that hard.
    For those that don’t know, there’s a straight asphalt runoff if you brake late (I think on 3 points of the track), but when the turn actually begins, there’s a gravel trap around the corner, and the asphalt runoff goes around that (but that’s only about one car’s width), so they lose a lot of time rejoining.

    I mean the intermediate solution Masi is proposing isn’t that bad, but with a miased braking point I think the gravel can lift the car, so it’s not great. I’d rather prefer the tracks to be lined with grass in that case, but Zandvoort is even better.

    1. @hunocsi sounds like a plan.

  11. How about a cars width of gravel, some shallow water, a strip of grass, then tarmac. The only danger I can then see is families picnicking.

    1. families picnicking

      a.k.a. crash barriers

    2. And wild geese…

  12. A strip of very slippery astro turf about1metre wide should do it. With the tarmac behind would hopefully save cars from crashing. Can’t see it being hard to install or develop.

    1. How do I upvote this comment for COTD!

      Astro-turf or even just 2 metres of eco-friendly grass bordering the track the whole way round? If a wheel goes onto the grass its likely to cause a spin onto the run-off without ending the drivers race while giving them a non-artificial time penalty.

    2. The trouble with that is that if a car went into a spin because of the slippery astro and someone got hurt (or worse), the FIA would potentially have to stand in front of a court and argue why used something that increases the risk to drivers rather than using computer technology to police track limits. It certainly wouldn’t be a comfortable conversation for them.

  13. Slightly off point, but still relevant, one thing I noticed from last weekend. When Mick was taking is dads Ferrari round the track, Mugello no longer looked too narrow for F1. If the cars were the same size as they were in 2004 we ‘probably’ wouldn’t have had all the bumping and crashing we had in turn 2 on the first lap of the race.

  14. One thing confuses me a bit here… They say that they like gravel because it punishes mistakes which is absolutely fair enough but the FIA aren’t keen on gravel from a safety point of view and track owners prefer asphalt because it’s better for track days etc which are also fair points…

    An obvious solution would therefore be to have kerbs like they had in Austria where they can be removed where necessary, don’t pose a risk if cars spin off at high speed and pass over them and punish drivers if they go wide.

    So why at Austria did drivers continue to run wide, cause damage to their cars and then complain about it? They seem to want to be punished for running wide and then complain about being punished when it happens…. If you went wide and ran over gravel every lap, you’d damage your car but it wouldn’t be the gravel’s fault so why is it the kerb’s fault when they are in place?

    1. @petebaldwin
      I think the issue with those ‘baguette kerbs’ is, that they can easily cause a suspension failure, which not only ends the driver’s race, but might also cause a serious accident.
      Gravel traps on the other hand may cause the driver to spin or damage the tyres, but in most cases it doesn’t cause a serious accident.
      I think that’s why the drivers prefer gravel traps.

  15. Gravels are great they’re should be a penalty for going over the limit

  16. Asphalt is fine to me, make the white line the white line and the penalty is ALWAYS there for going over it. 4 wheels over, stop and go, every time. Technology is easily there to track that and hoping what we have seen so far at Monza in qualifying is a test to be applied to all corners at all sessions of all races eventually.

    It’s crazy me the drivers need to feel the need to straddle gravel. If Vettel feels it easy to essentially cheat just because there’s asphalt on the other side of the line then that’s on him, there are plenty of racers out there who will then rise. There are more honest drivers out there that would probably never go 4 wheels over the line (other than for safety and would then slow down appropriately because of it.)

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