Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020

FIA and circuits realising error of removing gravel traps, says Sainz

2020 F1 season

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Carlos Sainz Jnr believes the FIA and F1 circuit operators have started to realise replacing gravel traps with asphalt run-off areas was a mistake because it prevents track limits from being enforced.

The Spa-Francorchamps circuit ¬in Belgium has recently announced gravel traps at several corners which were removed over a decade ago will be reinstated in a forthcoming €80 million redevelopment. Lax enforcement of track limits during the qualifying session for last week’s 24 Hours of Spa led to some bizarre lines being driven around the circuit.

“What the guys were doing, the track they were driving has nothing to do with the Spa track that normally we get to drive,” said Sainz. “So it just shows that the circuits, in my opinion, have gone too far.”

Sainz suspects Spa will not be the last track to bring back gravel in order to prevent drivers running wide. “I really think a lot of the circuits that we go to are going to end up realising that, together with the FIA, they made some wrong choices by getting rid of gravel, getting rid of grass, getting rid of the natural things that are on track [preventing] the drivers pushing the limits too far and running wide.

“I hope that Spa serves as an example for the future tracks that we go to that you cannot keep going in the direction that they were going up until now.”

F1 raced at the Autodromo do Algarve in Portugal last weekend which has asphalt run-offs at several corners. Track limits were policed in some areas by timing loops which detected whether drivers had run too far wide. These were adjusted between Friday and Saturday to define the limit of the track as the edge of the kerb rather than the white line around the outside of the track.

Sainz said the revision was “much better” for the drivers to be able to judge how wide they could run. “The white line is too much of a narrow thing for us drivers to calculate at 300kph.

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“We simply don’t have the extreme capability of nailing every corner into the white line. There’s always going to be a mistake and you’re going to go a bit further than the white line.

Old tracks like Mugello had more gravel traps
“While the red and white kerb is a lot easier for us to calculate and to spot in the track when we’re doing 300kph to keep one tyre on the kerb, because it’s a wider line, it’s a wider kerb and it’s easier for us to calculate.”

Formula 1 race director Michael Masi agreed there is room for improvement in how the sport polices track limits.

“There’s been various solutions that have been looked at over time, be it the current day with loops, be it different types of kerbs, different types of run-offs, so it’s not a simple solution,” he explained. “If I recall correctly, going back a few years, the debate was about why people weren’t using the track and were exceeding track limits all the time.

“So is the solution that we have here and now ideal, with timing loops? No it’s probably not ideal. But is it the best in the circumstances that we have? It seems to be doing the job quite well.”

One advantage of the timing loop system is “the manner in which it’s been applied is consistent to each and every car” said Masi. “We have always said we will only do it in such a manner that it can be consistent and repeatable with every car going through.

“So it’s an ongoing review of technology, physical solutions, whatever it may be. It’s not necessarily over the European winter that it will be looked at, it’s something that’s already been looked at and is continually being looked at.”

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29 comments on “FIA and circuits realising error of removing gravel traps, says Sainz”

  1. The detection loop at the final corner (T15) was entirely pointless as no one was going to go wide and off there on dry conditions anyway due to the slightness of the turning angle. The most useless corner of choice for this purpose, hence, was only done for the sake of it. Not a single case of a driver going off there in any session – 0 all event, so I still don’t understand the rationale behind including this part of the track.

  2. Thing is, when F1 goes to circuits which have gravel traps, you don’t see the drivers constantly going off and getting beached. They simply stay on the track. Same as when you go to Monaco – suddenly nobody seems to have a lot of trouble staying within the confines of the track.

    I don’t want to put on a tinfoil hat but I do feel like the trend of moving to asphalt runoffs is less to do with safety and more to do with creating big spaces around the track where you can paint sponsor logos.

    1. Not really. its more about who uses the track. Bikes have different requirements, and no track that has track days is going to want to spend half the day on red whilst they recover Joe Publics old banger. Paul Ricard accommodates a variety of test tracks on basically one lump of concrete.

      1. I can see what you’re saying but I don’t think it’s quite correct. Looking at some of the tracks that are most popular for trackdays in the UK, Silverstone aside, basically all of them are surrounded by grass and gravel. Brands, Donington, Snetterton, Anglesey, and on and on. All of them host trackdays, all of them host bikes, none of them have seen the need to put tarmac everywhere.

        1. Yes, my point was they do not put concrete there for advertising purposes; as you confirm with the smaller tracks. And although I havent been there for a while Brands does have a concrete band run off after the first turn that then goes to gravel to stop you before hitting the barrier. And I think the first turns on most tracks will always have plenty of run off, for the same reason you dont get punished on the first lap. They need to get as many cars as possible through that first corner on the first lap for the show.

    2. I checked six tracks (Yas Marina, COTA, Bahrain, Nürburgring, Hockenheim and Monza) and there are no sponsor logos in the permanent layout, despite flags or just the name of the country. So basically they are just painting ads on places which would otherwise be asphalt-grey. Furthermore I want to add that tracks like Bahrain or Hockenheim with multiple layouts are better off by using asphalt as a runoff to enable – good – racing on all layouts, without random and potential dangerous gravel traps. Therefore I am not sharing your feeling about the move to asphalt runoffs to generate more spaces for sponsors around the track.

      1. Sponsor logos like Pirelli and Rolex wouldn’t be permanent since they’re only there for the F1. Clearly they wouldn’t be there all the time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not useful advertising space – certainly a lot more visible that trackside hoardings.

    3. Most of those adverts that you see on TV are not really there, instead they are overlaying them digitally.
      That could still happy with the gravel traps.

      1. This is my understanding too. I have seen a person using fake backgrounds in a church Zoom meeting, so I’m guessing it isn’t difficult to superimpose adverts over the gravel trap.

  3. Well what is the point of having run off area’s, when you don’t do and don’t want to do any real life ontrack testing whatsoever.

    F1 and the FIA should really do some research before they introduce changes, cause most the time their changes do not bring what as hypothesized. And it seems like change for the sake of change, not for the sake of benefit.

  4. As much as I love gravel traps, I don’t think tarmac is a bad solution, it just it was badly implemented.

    Take the Red Bull Ring for instance. You see on a satelite shot that there’s tarmac all around the corners. The first corner for example, that bit of tarmac along the outside kerb on the exit of the corner is pointless. No one leaves the track there because of an accident., which is the main purpose of this solution (to be able to slow the cars down faster if all 4 wheels are attached ofc), but rather it widens the track. That’s all it does.

    Same in the second to last corner, there are 90 meters of tarmac alongside the outside kerb before the last corner, measuring with google maps. Absolutely pointless.

  5. The race track is as fundamental a part of the sport of motor racing as the golf course is to the sport of golf.

    What has happened to modern F1 tracks over the past decade or so is akin to golf courses removing bunkers, water hazards, trees and long grass then replacing these with zones marked by white lines where players receive a penalty stroke if they land in them more than three times. Sure you could argue ‘it’s the same for everyone’ or ‘they should be good enough not to hit the ball there’ but that would miss the point entirely. It takes away all the excitement of playing, and the spectacle of watching, the sport.

    Racing is all about finding the limit of your car on a given track at a given time and the simple truth is when that limit is not bound by something physical, then the spectacle of this challenge is lost. Circuits like Monza and Spa are a mere shadow of their former glory, completely emasculated with most of the challenge long gone.

    Grass and gravel can’t come back soon enough.

  6. Personally i think that the whole issue has been clouded by ambiguity. There is a white line. That line defines the track limits so why look for excuses to deny that? Surely it would be better to paint a white line that follows the line taken by so many drivers that currently exceeds the existing white line. The rules should be simplified. All four wheels over the white line and you get a 10 sec.penalty. Do it twice and you get a drive through and three times you get a black flag.No messing around with different lines at each and every race. As another poster has said, no one exceeds track limits in Monaco because the penalty is so severe.

  7. Sainz said the revision was “much better” for the drivers to be able to judge how wide they could run. “The white line is too much of a narrow thing for us drivers to calculate at 300kph.

    “We simply don’t have the extreme capability of nailing every corner into the white line. There’s always going to be a mistake and you’re going to go a bit further than the white line.

    Really? When it is a wall, you’ll nail it every lap.

    1. you see the wall and that is your focus (to not hit it offcourse) as it is quiet big so you see it much beter.

      1. So make the white line wider. Put in a yellow line with yellow “cat’s eye” markers 2 metres beyond the white line, and if you touch the yellow line or hit yellow markers then you’re regarded as being off the track. Time and again we get all these excuses as to why cars are going beyond the track and how difficult it is to police. It isn’t difficult to police, it just needs effort and willingness to punish, e.g. if you go off the track at any corner without good reason then you go through the pitlane at the first opportunity. It doesn’t help when the Race Director gives tacit approval of cars going beyond the track limits at some corners and not others. If the Race Director doesn’t like where the white line is then do what I’ve seen my city council do when they don’t like their existing white road markings and want to put down new ones, and I suppose every other city council in the world does this, which is to paint over or water blast off the old white line. See how easy that is!!! No anguish, no pain, just paint!

  8. From memory it wasn’t just the FIA or circuits that were pushing for the more widespread use of Tarmac as it was something the GPDA was also keen on at the time & I think it was the drivers who were pushing for it’s use in certain places more than the FIA in some cases. I also recall quite a few in the media (Specifically broadcasters) were quite fond of tarmac run-off at the time it was starting to be adopted as it was felt drivers not getting stuck in gravel & been able to get back into the action was ‘Better for the show’.

    I’ve always felt that the track limits issue isn’t so much the tarmac run-off but more how flat many of the kerbs have got & how in a lot of cases now there is nothing behind the kerbs/white lines other than a painted green strip. If you had Kerbs that drivers didn’t want to run over too much (Like the one’s at Bahrain, You never see drivers use much of those & track limits on corner exits has never really been an issue at Bahrain) & if you had a 2m strip of actual grass next to the kerbs/white lines track limits wouldn’t be an issue.

  9. The kerbs used to be hard limits at first to prevent drivers cutting the track and protecting the grass on apexes. As such the kerbs were tall and not meant to be driven on. Of course it was found that such harsh kerbs can cause issues when a driver can lose control of the car simply by touching the kerb. Or damage their car. So the kerbs were made lower and drivers started using them. Kerbs became wider and had another concrete or tarmac bit next to them. Kerbs were being designed to be driven on.

    Cars were being designed to handle going over the kerbs. Remember when toyota had problems at monza because their car was bad over the kerbs. Then a new type of kerb was added called runoff on exit of a corner where the cars are meant to be driven on. See exit of last corner in canada for example. Then naturally these materials need to be grippy because you don’t want to drivers to lose grip. And then motorcycle racers started wanting flatter kerbs for safety reasons.

    What was at first to be a deterrance turned into something that can be abused and then later into something that was just an extension of the track surface with different colors. The next “issue” was that there was still grass and gravel in some places so naturally it followed that if kerbs must be flat then why not make the grass and gravel into flat tarmac as well.

    There is another dimension to this too. Back in the day the track was tarmac and the not-track was not tarmac. Nowadays track and runoff is the same stuff but corners are just defined by kerbs sitting on top of tarmac. Like a slalom track in car park. Making the issue worse some corners are designed in such an artificial way that not only is it intended to use the kerbs fully but they have even set up routes you must take if you miss the kerbs.

    What follows is that drivers then push the limits as deep as they can. Carrying more speed through a corner by taking a longer route using all the kerbs and some runoff is basically always faster. The more runoff is added the more the limits are pushed. If you watched the spa 24 hour race the cars were going way off the track in some corners where they could. Same thing at circuit of americas when gt cars race there.

    In some ways it is a joke but in some ways it is going back to the old. It is a joke because the white lines are meaningless and it looks silly because the cars are literally going off the road. But it is also going back to the old as the track is again fully defined by the walls and the grass just like it used to be. Tarmac is tarmac and if you go too wide you end up in wall or on grass.

    (joke) In the end the f1 tracks don’t need to remove the runoff tarmac and replace it with grass or gravel. Just repaint the lines next to the edge of the tarmac. Magically the the track limits are once again suddenly defined by walls, grass and gravel. Go wide or cut too deep and you are not on tarmac anymore. (/joke)

    1. Yes thats a nice summation of the timeline of kerbs and track surroundings. Id agree, in a way, let the natural limit of a corner be the fence or the wall or whatever is going to reduce a cars forward motion. However the corner speeds would go up so much we’d have to move the crowds even further back. I remember in the 80s we used to complain that gravel ruined some battles as one mistake and they were beached on the gravel. Cant win.

  10. Maybe the halo takes away a lot of the danger of flipping in gravel trap and the airbox getting stuck in the gravel.

  11. If I remember correctly, and as @stefmeister points out above, it wasn’t necessarily the track promoters who were pushing for paved run-offs, but the drivers, who 1) argued it was much safer, and 2) started to take advantage of that extra asphalt almost immediately. The race track are only stuck with the cost of these new trends…

  12. Very glad to see this happen. I actually prefer the hands-off approach the 24 Hours of Spa took, compared to the “police the white line” approach. Quite interesting to see the creativity of the drivers and the lines they take to exploit all the runoff. But of course, the gravel can’t come back soon enough.

  13. What baffles me the most is that there is absolutely no talk of an electronic solution to this.

    I bet if F1 didn’t have to consider other series using the same tracks, there would be gravel traps all over so they can throw more safety cars.

    1. I agree, a lot of people make out that it is so difficult to police a car going into the run off area, but a brief use of a search engine (DuckDuckGo) produced two companies that sell a range of products for applications such as policing a run off area. For example I saw one website that claimed to be able to count vehicles via a video camera, and that it can count vehicles in zones, so you could have the race track as one zone and the area exceeding the track limits as another zone. Assuming that website is reliable, how difficult would it be to install a fixed camera at each corner and link that to a computer running the appropriate software? It could be F1 already have a fixed camera at each corner amongst their hundreds of cameras all around the circuit, in which it shouldn’t be difficult to connect a camera monitoring a run off area to a computer with the appropriate software. There are also RADAR based systems, systems that measure the change in the earth’s magnetic field, piezo electrical and inductive loop systems built into the road (or in our case the run off area), and of course they have track marshals at every corner who could be trained (with a couple of respectable souvenirs, a cup of tea, and some biscuits) to spot a car exceeding track limits. It’s just extraordinary that a technology based championship finds it so hard to use an internet search engine to answer this age old problem.

  14. Reading all the opinions it strikes me that there are really no simple solutions. Why even bother about painting a white line at all if in the end it means nothing!!! The simple solution is to do away with track limits entirely and let the drivers do whatever they like….maybe then we’d see a change in the pecking order.

    1. Or just enforce the white line as the track limit all the time. Then the drivers need to respect it and make allowances for it.

  15. No, the FIA and f1 have realised f1 is not safe enough for asphalt run offs only. track limits is a niggle, real issue is that tracks must spend money on safety, pick gravel or modern barriers, racing without either measure is too dangerous, gravel and tyres has lower maintenance than tec pro or safer barriers.

  16. There are plenty downsides to gravel though. I’d say putting gravel back is a mistake. Which will probably be rectified after an incident or when it’s clear that thrown up dirt on the track or lack of overtaking opportunities become apparent.

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