Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2021

Teams to debate track limits rules as drivers call for consistency

2021 Spanish Grand Prix

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Formula 1 team principals will discuss how track limits can be enforced more clearly and consistently following a spate of controversies in the opening rounds of the new season.

Drivers have voiced complaints about the varying standards being applied at different corners and tracks, which sometimes change from session to session.

“I think what’s the most important is to keep the same rules as much as we can, which is what we want,” Charles Leclerc said yesterday.

“We want stability all over the season and we know what we can do, we know what we can’t. But if we start to change it from one corner to the other, then it becomes quite tricky.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2021
Leclerc called for more consistent enforcement of track limits
Max Verstappen, who lost the bonus point for fastest lap and his quickest time in Q3 due to track limits infringements last weekend, believes the current system causes confusion. He wants greater use of physical boundaries at the edge of tracks.

“It’s just sometimes a bit confusing from the outside where some places you run onto a kerb [and] some places are policed with a white line,” said the Red Bull driver. “I think we can make it a lot better by making sure that there is a hard limit when you go off a kerb or whatever.”

Red Bull CEO Christian Horner said the subject will discussed by the teams today.

“It’s just a consistency from track to track, corner to corner,” he told Sky. “If it’s difficult for the teams to understand I’m not quite sure how you’re supposed to explain it to the fans.

“So for us [we want] to have a white line or a situation where you’re either ‘in’ or you’re ‘out’ like in other sports, rather than saying, ‘well it’s okay this corner but it’s not okay at that corner’ [which] is terribly confusing. And I think there will be more discussion tomorrow between the team principals on it.”

Horner explained why Verstappen ran outside the track limits during the final lap of the race in Portugal. “They’re pushing like hell and it’s very difficult to judge where that white line is when you’re actually in the car,” he said. “It’s not like you’ve got a rumble strip or anything like that.

“Max was absolutely on the limit, which is what you want, and it was the smallest of margins that obviously he missed out. But it is what it is.

“I think there’s plenty to learn from it moving forward, not just for us as a team, but also for the circuits and the FIA.”

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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...
Dieter Rencken
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46 comments on “Teams to debate track limits rules as drivers call for consistency”

  1. why cant’ the gravel trap be the natural track limit?

    1. I think it has to do with the other use of the track for the remainder of the year. Motorbikes are not keen on gravel and probably some others categories neither.

    2. @barkun The physical deterrent of choice at (slow-speed) corner exits wouldn’t necessarily have to be gravel, but for example, the surface material used in Bahrain (T10, 12, 13, 14 + shortly after the T4 exit). That works well, so perhaps the most effective option.

      1. ian dearing
        7th May 2021, 13:27

        Not for a biker, apart from grating him, the surface needs to be as smooth as possible to stop riders barrel rolling which is an issue with the airbags.

      2. yes I said gravel, but could be anything else that slows down the car, higher kerbs maybe or sausage kerbs.

    3. Issue is the calendar can’t just cater for F1, sadly. Track days and motorbikes don’t like immediate gravel trackside.

      1. @ecwdanselby But the physical deterrent of choice could even be temporary, i.e., place it for cars, take off for bikes, and back.

        1. I think that’s why they’ve been looking in to different types of kerbs, more than anything. You’re able to bolt down certain types and remove.

  2. I think the sport needs to stop thinking of track limits like the boundaries of a football field, where you are either ‘in play’ or ‘out of bounds’. Motor racing doesn’t work like that in any sense. F1 is continually in motion and the race continues whether you go out of bounds or not.

    Track limits are vital to the sport because it is in these exact areas where the challenge of the sport lies, ie where drivers attempt to ‘find the limit’. That limit has to provide a natural challenge, like the golf course does for a golfer, or a mountain does for a rock climber or the weather does for a yachtsmen. If you sterilise track limits, you sterilise the entire sport.

    It’s often said that a Grand Prix is supposed to be the biggest global sporting event behind the Olympics and the Football World Cup. I doubt this is actually true but a Grand prix remains a major international event that generates serious money in tourism, branding, advertising, tv rights and many other sources (that this site documents often). Surely a small amount of this money can be set aside to ensure tracks are presented for three days a year in a format that allows a Grand Prix to do justice the drivers, the cars, the competition and the history of the sport.

    1. That limit has to provide a natural challenge, like the golf course does for a golfer, or a mountain does for a rock climber or the weather does for a yachtsmen. If you sterilise track limits, you sterilise the entire sport.

      @aussierod I wish I could upvote this 1000x, and couldn’t agree more. The heritage of motorsport is racetracks whose environments present drivers with a natural challenge.

      It is striking to me that so many people on this forum do favour this sort of sterilised, law-and-order approach to track limits. The language is interesting; they want to see drivers respect the limit and maintain that if they fail to do so it, it makes the sport look “amateurish. If we “punish” the drivers harshly enough, they’ll eventually fall in line.

      I don’t want to see drivers respect the limit; I want to see them push the limit. I want to see them live in that grey area where they kick up some gravel, drop a tyre in the grass, brush the wall, and flirt with natural consequences — not a five-second time penalty or lap deletion or some other artificial punishment.

      1. Here’s two photos of basically the same thing.
        One gets the hair on the back of your neck standing up with a small dose of adrenaline.
        The other one won’t ever achieve the same response no matter what the rulebook says.

  3. What is the problem? Football does not have varying limits across the length of the field.

    Always white line marks the limits, as it should be. The moment all 4 wheels are outside the white line, lap should not count, and where overtake was made, position should be returned.

    All tracks all conditions.

    1. What this fails to deal with is things like Hamilton’s use of the T4 exit in Bahrain. Sure, all those laps could be deleted and not count for FLAP, but he is still gaining not-insignificant amounts of time by doing it 29 times during the race.

      1. This is what black and white flags are for

        1. Yeah I do agree with this. If they stuck to doing it after 3 infringements like they did last year and not after 30

    2. @jureo If always only white lines, countless laps would get lost, so curbing is a clearer reference.
      @randommallard Nothing was wrong with Hamilton’s driving as the message beforehand was that track limits won’t be monitored for lap times, i.e., going off is okay as long as it happens without passing or maintaining a position.

      1. @jerejj Then the problem became that no sooner did RBR point out to Max to go ahead and go wide like LH had been doing every lap, they then told LH to stop it. So ultimately LH’s driving became a problem three quarters into the race, seemingly by the stewards discretion, and as LH put it they changed their minds mid-race. Max’s pass on the outside is a different story and universally agreed to be unaccepted.

        1. ian dearing
          7th May 2021, 13:55

          It became a problem because Horner decided to make a smart a comment that the Race Director had to respond to. If Max had woken up earlier to the advantages he was offered by the rule, Horner would have kept his trap shut.
          And he wouldn’t have had to come up with a multitude of reasons and excuses since to explain why Max can’t keep it on track when it matters.

          1. ian dearling Nice try but that’s not how it works. If LH wasn’t doing anything wrong as proved by the stewards inaction 29 times, and by the apparent clarity on that before the race, then LH wasn’t doing anything wrong, end of. So why would RBR pointing out to Max to go ahead and do something legal be ‘the problem?’

            Nor has Horner come up with ‘a multitude of….blah blah blah’

          2. ian dearing
            7th May 2021, 14:42

            Well thats the opposite of what I said, but good try.

      2. Okay. But T14 at Portimao wasn’t being monitored for lap times in the race, but Max still lost that one. The Race Director’s notes still say Article 27 or whatever of the International Sporting Code apply, so he can’t gain a lasting advantage, which he surely must have done otherwise he wouldn’t have done it 29 times.

        (I do believe the deletion of Max’s FLAP and making him hand back the place in Bahrain were the right decision, but my point is that Race Control have been so inconsistent with their decisions it’s becoming laughable)

  4. They’re pushing like hell and it’s very difficult to judge where that white line is when you’re actually in the car

    So, Mr.Horner, you are saying that if the white line will be considered the “border”, your drivers will still drive over it, because they are pushing like hell and can’t judge where that border end?

    Nice.

    *big fat sarcasm and facepalm*

    1. I think he is. I’m not sure about anyone else but I for one would definitely struggle to see a 100mm white line at 150+ mph when you can’t even see the front of your car. That’s why many drivers prefer using the kerbs, because they can feel where they are due to the vibrations through the car.

      1. And they still can use the kerbs, but only with 2 wheels.
        Not all 4.

        1. @S Of course they can use it with 2 tyres, but I think @randommallard’s point is that drivers would prefer the kerbs to use as the reference of the track limit.

          The kerbs give progressive feedback, since the profile of the serrations increase along their width. So if you already have 2 tyres on, it’s not that easy to tell when your other 2 tyres come on. Whereas if you fall off the outside edge onto flat tarmac, there’s much more of a step change in feedback.

          I think it’s worth noting that some of the biggest track limits controversies of late have all been in places where there are no kerbs at all, and only the white line, e.g. Vettel at the Parabolica; Verstappen at Bahrain. The same thing came into play with Norris’s lap deletion at Imola, where there are kerbs at several corners but they’re placed so far beyond the white line that there’s no useful feedback to be had from them.

          I think that should really give us pause in considering the absolutionist approach of only using only the white line all the time. This is not tennis or football. There should be some form of physical feedback for the drivers to denote track limits.

          1. Yeah that was pretty my point @markzastrow. A 100mm white line is, I suspect, very difficult to see from the position of an F1 driver at 100+ mph, especially if it’s a corner or corner exit that doesn’t follow a consistent line/radius, such as Bahrain T4 or the Parabolica, as it makes it even harder for the driver to anticipate where the limit is. From my experience from visiting Silverstone, the drivers should be able to feel the kerbs much more because of the serrations Mark mentions.

            Of course fitting these kerbs at some places would be difficult (the outer loop at Bahrain comes to mind), but I think the solution is to give the drivers some kind of feedback to tell them where they are relative to the track limits. That could even be through some kind of magnetic loop system in the car depending on the price of course

          2. *pretty much my point

          3. Okay – again, they can feel the kerbs when 2 wheels are on them.
            I can assure you, running onto a kerb in a stiffly sprung race car is not a small sensation – there’s no way that 2 wheels is not enough.

            If they can’t drive on the track without exceeding it, it’s clearly a problem with either:
            A) the driver’s skill level and/or approach to driving, or
            B) the lack of sufficient incentive to stay on the track.

            We know full well that these drivers can stay on the track when they want to (as the presence of gravel/grass shows) – so the FIA obviously aren’t providing sufficient reason to.
            Staying on the track – whatever method it is defined by – is all part of the skillset required to be a racing driver. Frankly, being unable to do so in F1 shows not only a lack of respect for the rules, but makes the entire series look utterly amateur and pathetic.

          4. I can assure you, you can’t feel kerbs when there are no kerbs there.

          5. S

            Firstly, as @markzastrow says you can’t feel the kerbs when there aren’t any (such as Bahrain T4, or Parabolica). Additionally you say that two wheels is enough to know where the car is. That is partly correct. It is enough to know where two wheels are, but not the other two.

            I don’t think there is a perfect solution to track limits because so many different parties want so many different solutions

  5. The surface material used in Bahrain (T10, 12, 13, 14 + shortly after the T4 exit) works well as a physical deterrent at slow-speed exits, so perhaps the most effective option.

    1. I’m all for this. As long as it doesn’t cause as many headaches as Paul Ricard

  6. I’ve always had the view that the issue isn’t so much the tarmac run-off but more what is placed before them.

    If you had a 2m strip of real grass behind the white lines/kerbs or kerbs that acted as more of a deterrent then drivers wouldn’t want to run wide enough to get onto the primary bit of run-off be it gravel or tarmac.

    I’ve always felt that the style of double kerb that is used at a few places around Bahrain (Exit of turns 8/10/15) & Interlagos (T4 for instance) works quite well as drivers tend not to want to run on to them too much because when they do the kerbs seem to pull the car wider into the run-off which costs them time.

    1. You look at Imola in 2006 for instance. There was a large strip of astro-turf at Piratella & real grass at the first part of Acque Minerali before the tarmac run-off which acted as a deterrent so track limits was never an issue as it was last year & this year where it was just a white line/flat kerb with nothing before the tar-mac.

      https://youtu.be/OXQ89_8UOfw?t=36

    2. This sounds like a sensible idea tbh. However, I’m not a bikes expert but I get the feeling that the FIM and bike racing in general don’t like having too many changes of surface, as it can increase the risk of injury if there is a small bump or divot etc between surfaces, which can especially be a problem with actual grass.

      But yeah this does sound like a good solution that could be investigated by the FIA

      1. @randommallard The physical deterrent of choice could even be temporary, i.e., place it for cars, take off for bikes, and back.

        1. I can imagine that getting difficultly expensive for some circuits. Constantly having to switch between tarmac/grass/gravel while doing it to a safe and acceptable standard could cost a lot of money. But it is an option if it can be viable

  7. I’m sure they’ll get together, talk about it for a while and disagree as usual – leaving it all up in the air for months and months.
    Either that, or they’ll come to a ‘solution’ that is even worse than the current compromise.

    Of course – they could just apply F1 Sporting Regulations Article 27.3, as it is already written and present…..

    1. ian dearing
      7th May 2021, 16:24

      Well Max is going off track at the exit of T5 and gaining time, so I’m sure someone has spotted that.

      1. Exactly like I said they would. Turns 8, 9, 12, and 14 too.
        There is more than a car’s width outside of the lines in many places around the circuit. If it’s there, they’ll use it. And they wouldn’t use it if it wasn’t faster…

  8. Here’s a simple suggestion

    What if the track organizers spray water / soap water on the tarmac run-offs before races and qualifying? If a driver goes off-track, the wet surface won’t give him the traction and he will lose time automatically. Will that cause a safety hazard? Don’t think so.

    1. Well, it would be completely unnecessary – but I’m sure Bernie would like it.
      There are a thousand things they ‘could’ do – but at the end of the day, they just need to provide a greater incentive to stay on the track.

    2. It’s a clever idea and like S says Bernie would probably approve. But I think it would potentially provide a safety issue. Do you remember Germany 2019 with the slippy runoff at the final corner? I still dread to think what would have happened if Charles was still stood in the runoff when Hamilton slid off next to him.

  9. On and on and on this stuff about track limits

    In Dragon’s Den style, I’m out

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