Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, Imola, 2021

Why one driver says there’s no easy solution to F1’s ‘messy’ track limits problem

2021 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

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The debate on track limits policing rumbles on into the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix after the controversy of last month’s Bahrain Grand Prix where an off-track overtake for the lead between two drivers who were already warned over track limits abuse caused confusion.

Drivers using run-off for a small gain in lap time has been a bone of contention in Formula 1 for many years, but particularly since 2017 when cars became wider and larger tyres enabled better handling over kerbs and made track limits violations easier.

In Bahrain FIA race director Michael Masi’s pre-race notes on track limits advised drivers the exit of turn four would be policed for lap times in qualifying but not the race. However in the grand prix Lewis Hamilton and then Max Verstappen were warned for gaining an advantage by running wide.

In Thursday’s Emilia-Romagna press conference, the drivers were frank about not only Bahrain but also work on solutions.

“They were really quite clear in the drivers briefing before the race, they said it you can do your bit with the kerb, with the track limits in qualifying, and obviously if somebody gains a clear advantage, then they have to look into it,” said Grand Prix Drivers’ Association director Sebastian Vettel.

“But then in the race, they said they weren’t policing it,” Hamilton said in response, explaining why it was a surprise he then became one step away from a black-and-white flag.

Verstappen, who lost out on Bahrain victory to Hamilton, didn’t mince his words.

“It’s either you can go wide, or not,” he said.

“But if you know you cannot gain an advantage by doing so, going wide overtaking, why are you allowed to do it on your own? That’s what I think is not correct. So we’ll talk about that with the drivers and of course also with Michael [Masi] about it. We’ll see what comes out of it. I think it was a little bit messy in the race.”

Previous discussions between drivers and the FIA outside of standard weekend briefings have so far resulted in little change. Vettel was asked about whether the FIA had fed back on his idea for gravel strips to replace bumps.

“No,” was his reply. “We’ve talked so much in the last couple of years about run-off areas and solutions and ideas, so I think it came up a couple of times.”

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But his former Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen isn’t convinced simply adding detection loops or more gravel will solve a problem which affects sports beyond F1.

“It’s been going on for so many years and I don’t see it’s ever going to stop,” Raikkonen said. “Yes, if you put grass or sand around the track everywhere, it would be more easy to police and you will lose more when you go off. But then, how it’s been for a long time there are other cars and bikes that are using the tracks.

“Some motorbikes run some different run-off areas than us, and it needs to fit for everybody otherwise it makes no sense for the track. So, I think the rules were very clear what we can do, what not, in the last race. I don’t think there was anything that I didn’t understand. It was a big story afterwards, but we all knew what we can do or not.”

The race director’s notes for Imola say every session will be policed in the same way this weekend, and the location of track limits enforcement will be the exit of Piratella (turn nine), the apex of the turn 13 left-hander and the exit of the Variante Alta (turns 14 and 15). In addition, the run-off areas at the latter two have been revised to include more bumps as a further disincentive to run wide.

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2021 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

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Elliot Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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34 comments on “Why one driver says there’s no easy solution to F1’s ‘messy’ track limits problem”

  1. Physical deterrents (small is enough and at least temporary, if not permanent) at slow-speed corner exits.

  2. Just penalise them for going 4 wheels outside of the white lines.
    They’ll soon stop it.

    Why complicate such a basic issue… So F1.

    1. This. Just like in the Codemasters games. How hard can it be?

      1. The difference is, at most games, the decision is automated, and is done by a relatively simple, in most-case-satisfactory algorithm, because for single player mode, public servers, and casual races that is enough, while more servious gaming events having their own stewards if they are considering themselves serious enough. Imo the game’s solution for this is intentionally simplified a bit, because it’s simplicity and effectiveness taken into account at the same time is likely better than a much more perfect algorithm, which likely would be too hardware demanding for a game which intends to be real time.

        Just like this simulator of Mercedes, where you can see at 0:59 that the tyre is clipping the wall, but the collision seems to be not registered :
        Gutierrez around Vietnam track

        Imo it is good enough for them because these drivers are very rarely crashing, so it is pointless to polish the colliders (objects which take part in collision detection, they are simplified to simpler geometric shapes -like cubes, cylinders… the less rounded ones the faster the calculation is- instead of their visible counterparts, and the whole underlyingmodel of the objects that can collide,like the car or the track is assembled of those). And similarly not just these objects are having simplified geometry, but continuouos collision detection is also simplified, most often implemented by projections, interpolations, extrapolations between discrete moments of time, because a truly continouos one would be incredibly resource hungry. So it is working for them, at these high speeds, some glitches, like objects seemingly going through anothers is sometimes happening, but it not destroys the usability of a factory simulator. Likely modeling the grip level of the asphalt, the tyres, the bumps, kerbs, and giveing the drivers a general learning opportunity of tracks is much more important.
        For worse, if a game or simulator has to have multiplayer as well, the similar has to be done to fill in the gaps with
        projections, interpolations, extrapolations maybe at client and server side as well (to converge what can be “seen” at those two sides as much as possible), because most often data travels in packages, instead of continouosly, and those packages will not even arrive with the same frequency, they may pile up, some of them might be lost forever.
        They have not overdone the graphics here as well, but engineering-wise the Mercedes simulator is likely good enough, huh I would like to have such at home :)

        While IRL, there could be some similar algorithm, I guess, initially based on GPS data, and projections of possible trajactories, to decide whether the driver could have kept it inside, and with the output the stewards could be hinted. There is Amazon for F1, one of the largest IT giants, such ones are currently being fed by the whole world’s data, if they can not do it for a part of the billions currently being involved at F1, then who can? :) I think many third or second tier IT companies would happily try to come up with a solution in this case for a few M$. I am on the side of implementing such, and I don’t think that for example giveing VAR some rest at football, is a sure sign of saying farewwll to it, imo it just needs maturing, and evolving, and maybe they are working on it at the background, just they do not want to take the fans negative critics before it evolves a bit more. The hard thing is with implementing a strong hinting for stewards about the the cuts, whether they can be reasoned with safety concerns, thus the penalty should not applied, or not, is likely harder to have at the speeds of F1 compared to the much lower speeds at football.

        But it is not impossible at all:
        see this robot goalkeeper in action, vs world class footballers
        Here the speed is lower, but the system not just has to do analysis, but has to move as well. Moving parts are obviosly slower than the flow of the signals in hardwares, or via radio waves. Electric signals can travel almost at the speed of the light through hardware parts. Given the money involved at F1, and the partners like Amazon, it is just a matter of time if they want to invest into it.

  3. I know I’m a broken record here, but I strongly support a modern solution where sand traps, grass strips, walls, or curbs are not possible/desirable: loops with instant automatic impact on PU performance (as if you hit low traction grass or gravel bit).
    And to make it crystal clear to the drivers and aesthetically pleasing to the spectators I would paint them as either grass or gravel.

    And I’m not convinced that it’s dangerous to have an automatic instant impact for the following driver; at least not more instant and dangerous than hitting an actual piece of grass/wall/gravel/etc.

    1. Until there is a rear-ender at 250kph, sending the front car nose-first into the wall, and creating a pile up of the following 10 cars.

      Suddenly reducing acceleration in an acceleration zone is not a safe option.

      1. It’s not any different from now with a car going off track onto gravel/grass and immediately losing some traction and having slippery tyres when rejoining the track.
        How often do you see rear-enders when a car rejoins with slippery tyres?

        1. Pretty easy to see when a car has gone all 4 wheels onto the grass.
          Not so easy if they took an extra 2 inches over a white line in a tarmac carpark. Especially if you’re only 1 car length behind.

    2. This is getting into WipeOut (on PlayStation) territory. Unfortunately for obvious safety reasons it’s a no-go, but also it would mean a ton more Amazon graphics tacked on to the current placings on the left – say an “energy bar” counting down the slow-down time or similar with the net result that we’ll be watching a bunch of Amazon ads with vestigial info on cars we can barely see a sliver of on the right side of the screen…

      1. You only need to reduce PU power for a few seconds.
        Missing some traction out of a corner will hurt the full straight, not too different from going slightly off track now.

  4. I still don’t see the problem (but I’m no Will Buxton), race control did change tack under a little political pressure mid race but they gave Hamilton adequate warning and he stopped. Nobody thinks you can gain a place advantage off track.
    But clearly drivers need to be punished to keep the mob happy – a transponder under the bitumen and an accumulating series of mild electric shock under the pants on the next straight.

    Reply moderated
  5. Maybe I’m just thick.

    But I don’t understand all the fuss that was made after the last GP. Doing an overtake off the track is different to gaining a tenth on lap time by running wide at the same corner. This seems blindingly obvious to me, but clearly I’m an idiot.

    Reply moderated
  6. We have a track limit – its the white line – it needs to be backed up by stewards with the cojones to enforce them. White lines and enforcement work in many other sports in the world, why not F1.

  7. Anyone know why the red line is the limit in places at Imola, and not the white lines everywhere?

    This is hardly any better than last time.
    As I expected.

    1. Is that what Masi’s directive says? I’m guessing it’s because at Imola, for some reason, at a lot of corners, the kerbs aren’t placed adjacent to the white line, they’re placed adjacent to the red line. There’s the white line, then about a metre of painted tarmac, including the red line, which is where the white line normally would be, and then the kerbs.

      1. @markzastrow Nah mate. The white line is always the first line nearest to the centre of the track.
        Doesn’t matter where kerbs are, if any, because they are outside of the white lines – and therefore, off the track.
        I’ve known this track for 30+ years, and there’s never been a white line out that far that defines track limits.

        Suggest you read up on Article 27.3.
        I suggest the FIA do the same, and stop making Notes that contradict it.

  8. the location of track limits enforcement will be the exit of Piratella (turn nine), the apex of the turn 13 left-hander and the exit of the Variante Alta (turns 14 and 15)

    Why? Why do they need specific rules only for certain corners? Surely the track limits should be enforced at every location of the track. It will never make any sense to me at all. The rules are clear as day in the regulations, all the stewards need to do is enforce them.

    1. I think this is quickly becoming the most frustrating aspect of F1 for me, recently. Even more so than the ghastly engine regs and disgusting aero.
      There’s not even a slight problem in adhering to the white lines, but they keep creating a major one by complicating it and using a red line, and/or announcing that they won’t be monitoring limits at all in this place, but not that place…

      For goodness sake, F1 – just stop it. Who is benefiting from this?

    2. My reaction exactly

    3. All the race stewards need to be fired and replaced by people with a brain imho. This over complicating of something as basic as ‘staying within the white lines’ (I mean, it doesn’t get ANY simpler than that) is a structural-cultural problem within F1 stewarding.

  9. Part of the issues seem to stem from them not wanting to penalise a driver who runs wide and loses time through understeer or a late brake. Imagine your favourite driver is leading the race pushing the car to the very limit, snatches a brake and runs wide, loses a second getting back on the track and then gets told they’ve been given a further 5 second penalty thus putting them back to second. That would be ridiculously harsh.

    The problem is how you determine someone running wide due to pushing a limit and slightly missing it and costing themselves time and those who do it deliberately time and time again to get an advantage. The FIA’s answer has been this method of penalising certain corners harsher than anywhere else where they know an advantage can be gained.

    Some people see this as inconsistent and want people punished without exception when 4 tyres leave the track. In order to do that fairly though there will be a lot of very bad situations to steward. What happens when a lead driver pushes another wide in a overtake, not only do they not gain a place but they then take a 5 second penalty for exceeding track limits. Add drivers going for the last of the late braker moves who find themselves then running wide and not making the move stick. They have not only not made a place they’re now 5 seconds worse off. I guarantee that strictly enforcing the track limits without some common sense will result in worse racing and more penalties and positions decided in the stewards offices.

    The current solution is indeed far from perfect but that was more about the lack of clarity from the FIA. As long as all the drivers are driving to the same rules then there is no issue. Clearly last racethe issue was they stated they would not monitor track limits in some of their pre race information and then decided that they would. It was a farce and easily fixed if they just make it clear they will be watching for track limits at all corners and repeated violations will result in a penalty. Make it so there is no ambiguity and the drivers know up front what the consequences might be if they try their luck.

    This isn’t the only issue over the last couple of years either whereby the FIA have shot themselves in the foot with race weekend instructions that are not written correctly with too much room for interpretation. Perhaps they need to think about changing how these are created. The ambiguity rarely existed in the past so you have to ask what has changed?

    1. I get all you’ve said here – but moving the track limit from a white line to a red line a little further out doesn’t actually address the issue – all of these scenarios can play out out there too.

      I stand by what I’ve said above (enforce them strictly with the promise of penalties and the drivers will stay on the track) plus what I’ve said before (3 strike rule – black and white flag on the 2nd, 5 second penalty on the 3rd, 5 second penalty on each breach thereafter).

      Obviously there are times when, in battle, drivers may be pushed out or lose time from mistakes/hard racing – and those situations clearly negate an automatic, uncontrolled solution (such as immediate power reduction).
      But that doesn’t mean allowing them to drive around without track limits is the correct solution. No rules is not a solution.
      There are plenty of staff in race control and around the track capable of flagging and forwarding a situation that requires investigation to the stewards.

      1. The problem with enforcing strictly is it then becomes down to subjective interpretation what exceptions are allowed and you will get complaints about them being not enforced consistently. If you allow no exceptions then you’ll get some very harsh penalties.

        I’m not saying you’re wrong, what I’m saying is too many people oversimplify the track limits issue by just saying rules are rules. If you’re happy with seeing harsh penalties for bad luck and drivers driving more within their limits for an entire race to reduce risk then fine but suggesting that there will not be other unintended complications from changing the rules is disingenuous. The benefit is drivers will certainly make more effort to respect the limits with zero tolerance. The flip side is it will cause drivers to drive differently and not necessarily to the benefit for the races and fans.

        To be honest I’d rather they trialed these sorts of changes (zero tolerance) than qualifying races as clearly this is an issue that has bothered many fans for years. Ultimately though we must remember that the drivers themselves a few years ago stated they wanted less penalties and that steered some of the leniency we see these days.

        1. I do allow exceptions – 2 of them. And further ones (on a case by case basis) for when hard racing is taking place, when someone is forced out unfairly.
          Leaving the track by choice or by driving error should not go unpunished. It wouldn’t if there were gravel, grass or walls, and it shouldn’t on tarmac. The track limit is the track limit, regardless of what lies beyond it.

          Yes, harsh penalties are fine. Harsh penalties are a deterrent as well as a punishment. And it wouldn’t be changing the rules, because that is already how they are written. We merely see selective enforcement, currently.

          I don’t see how drivers ignoring track limits is beneficial to the viewer. It takes skill to stay on the track, and it takes sacrifice. Sacrificing corner speed and potentially making more mistakes can lead to better racing, and certainly leads to more jeopardy – something F1 lacks now. It applies to all competitors equally, so no one is better off than the rest.

          Honestly, I don’t think they need to trial consistent and strict enforcement of track limits. They just need to do it, because the sporting regs already include it.
          If the drivers want less penalties, all they need to do is stay on the track.

    2. Coventry Climax
      16th April 2021, 12:43

      And some people lack the ability to think straight. What’s your problem with clear rules for everyone, fully known beforehand and enforced when broken? You spend a lot of words saying nothing, except creating vague problems where there are none, @slowmo. Actually, you’re advocating anarchy.

      1. Pretty sure I didn’t say nothing Coventry Climax, you can certainly disagree with what I wrote but I clearly expressed an opinion.

        noun: anarchy
        1. a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems.
        2. absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.

        That is the definition of anarchy.

        This statement I wrote clearly shows I don’t support a stance of absolute freedom for drivers so you’d be wrong that I was advocating it.

        It was a farce and easily fixed if they just make it clear they will be watching for track limits at all corners and repeated violations will result in a penalty. Make it so there is no ambiguity and the drivers know up front what the consequences might be if they try their luck.

        Reply moderated
  10. So, I think the rules were very clear what we can do, what not, in the last race. I don’t think there was anything that I didn’t understand.

    So Kimi is saying that everybody knew what was a cheat or not. Hamilton cheated clearly and got away with the favour.
    After the race his face was painted red by everybody, but he didn’t care because they allowed him to do this cheats. Next time you will get a penalty… Hehehehehe like MM in the motorbikes, next time he does a cheat, will be again on the next time when he’ll be sanctioned, so in the end this proteged people will never be sanctioned and they allow all the cheats they want to do. If you don’t like turn off tv they’ll say to fans and matter is over.
    Cheaters always win, Fair people always lose. As simple as that, and later people will ask why they have to use enhancement substances, or enhanced automobiles with mass dampers, flexible wings, double steering system, exhaust blowers etc etc etc. Becuase cheats come cheap and will over be one step ahead of the rule.

  11. Surely all the collective engineering brain power in the sport could come up with some sort of surface or combination of surfaces that slows cars down outside track limits without ending their race. Maybe something like a wide strip of gravel followed by asphalt runoffs…? Fundamentally the only way to truly stop drivers from taking advantage of more track than they’re allowed to is to physically reduce the track they can take any advantage from.

  12. Why not just reduce the cars engine power for running off track, that’s technically possible. Create virtual gravel traps/curbs that reduce the engine power by the equivalent of encountering a physical trap. As soon as it’s no longer an advantage to leave the track they will stop doing it.

    Plus rather then having tedious rulings on track limits made during a race by highly inconsistent stewards, the penalty is dealt immediately and in a way that fairly decides which car ends up ahead in a scrap. You cut a corner and there’s good chance the following car will pass during the acceleration phase as you have reduced power, the bigger the infringement the bigger the power drop.

  13. If curbs would be curbs in F1 and not just painted flat asphalt extensions and white line as limit for the rest, we would might have no problem… and in Paul Ricard and RedBull Ring we have this coloured run off thing that increases grip to slow down cars and kill tires… what about that?

  14. I think it is as Russell said the other day and that sometimes there is just a natural path at some corners that tends to send the cars wide. I think of Bahrain’s turn 4 that way. I want the drivers to have a little freedom this way and do not want to see ‘walls’ or the laser eye equivalent so restricting the drivers from being a bit creative. For me I had no issue with the drivers being allowed to go wide in Bahrain during the race, other than you can’t pass someone as Max did. Although he does raise a good point that it doesn’t entirely make sense to be able to gain an advantage on one’s own but not when passing.

    But for me I’m fine with not being able to pass as Max did, and the only problem was that somehow it was unclear to Max/RBR going into the race that doing what LH was doing was ok, and to me LH should never have been warned to stop doing what he was doing after doing it for most of the race. All the drivers should have known clearly at the start of the race that they could go wide at turn 4, but not pass such as Max did. They should have never changed their mind with LH mid-race. They should have been more clear to the drivers and teams such that there shouldn’t have had to be debate over the radio with LH and his team, and Max and his, as to what they could or couldn’t do at turn 4. I don’t blame Masi for allowing cars to go wide at turn 4, bit I entirely blame him for poor communication ahead of the race, and for changing his mind halfway through.

    1. The ‘natural path’ – so you’d like all corners in F1 to be a constant radius? No late apexes or tightening exits?
      I’ll be honest, that sounds more than a bit silly, to me.

      And Turn 4 at Bahrain – that’s just as mad. Hamilton ignored Article 27.3, but everyone else respected it.
      Surely you must see sense in just having the same track limit at every corner of every track that F1 ever goes to?
      There can be no confusion or debate, and no double standards about what is allowed and what isn’t at any particular place.

      Inconsistency creates confusion and controversy. There’s always a white line…

    2. This for me is wrong as that running wide is faster so that makes it impossible to overtake. Or can you defend going wide or pushing someone wide like Hamilton did?In the case of turn 4 they should just make it 1/2 cars width wider – the resulting high speed corner would make for more passing into the next corner.

      That is the other unspiken rule that needs to change that a car along side can be pushed wide if you are on the inside. If the other car is along side you should always leave space!

      Reply moderated
  15. I don’t understand the fight against the white line as a rule.
    The stewards can do it at Cadwell park in the areas it’s needed why can’t this be done in F1!!
    There will always be areas that gravel or bumps increase the danger at a corner and can’t be changed – so out of the 100’s of people analysing everything in F1 3 or 4 could be dedicated to track limits.
    Is this just noise??? I’d like to see more and better reporting of whats actually happening on track and with the cars.

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