Working group tackling F1’s track limits problem

2021 F1 season

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Improvements to how track limits are policed in Formula 1 are being worked on within the sport, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has said.

Disputes over track limits were at the centre of a series of controversies during the first three races of the season. Max Verstappen was involved in some of the most notable cases.

The Red Bull driver had to surrender the lead of the Bahrain Grand Prix to Lewis Hamilton after passing his rival off-track. During the Portuguese Grand Prix Verstappen was surprised to lose the bonus point for fastest lap due to a track limits violation.

However there were few track limits infringements at the Circuit de Catalunya last weekend. Grass and gravel mark the edge of the track at the majority of corners, preventing drivers from gaining an advantage by running wide.

Horner, who said in Portugal his team had suffered some “brutal” calls on track limits, held up the Spanish circuit as an example of how boundaries should be enforced.

“Obviously it wasn’t an issue at this track because of the layout,” said Horner. “I think that tells you something, doesn’t it?

“So why wasn’t it an issue here and it is at other venues? It won’t be a problem next race either and probably not the one after that.”

Teams discussed the ongoing dispute over track limits last weekend. “There’s been some healthy discussion, there’s a working group being created,” said Horner. The track limits working group, which reports to the circuits commission, was formed last year.

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“We just need to come up with something that’s simple, clear and understandable for drivers, fans, teams, et cetera. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”

Formula 1 race director Michael Masi said he would be happy to incorporate more physical boundaries but explained it isn’t always possible at every track.

“Ideally we would love to have a hard limit everywhere,” he said. “But the facts are with the circuits that it’s been an ongoing evolution process.

“There’s some places that are track limit issues one year, aren’t the next and vice-versa. So it’s an ongoing evolution that we’re working together with each of the circuits. Obviously it requires significant investment from them from that perspective.”

Masi agreed the upcoming two races on street tracks are unlikely to see a repeat of the disputes which occured in Bahrain, Imola and Algarve.

“In one sense it would be lovely to have walls everywhere, as we’ll see in a couple of weeks time in Monaco or in Baku. But obviously we’re racing at different types of circuits all the time, when we look at everything from a safety perspective, we need to find the best balance of everything in each and every situation. And each corner’s different, each circuit’s different.”

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51 comments on “Working group tackling F1’s track limits problem”

  1. Adam Carrick
    12th May 2021, 7:39

    In my opinion the teams shouldnt be involved in this it should be a FIA determination. Use the white line of the track and that’s it.

    No other sport allows you to move outside the track, pitch or court. I don’t understand why F1 has to be different

    Reply moderated
    1. Coventry Climax
      12th May 2021, 22:54

      Agree, but I’ll make a prediction for you: “Race Control: No further action required.”

  2. ”There’s some places that are track limit issues one year, aren’t the next and vice-versa.”
    – But how could a corner that wasn’t a problem in season x suddenly change for the next in this regard?
    For example, if going wide at Hungaroring’s third-to-last corner was disadvantageous in 2019, how could the story realistically have been different with 2020-spec cars, given the corner and track didn’t change at all between 2019 and 2020 Hungarian GP weekends? The same with many other corners that suddenly became a target for lap time invalidation after Masi’s first season as the race director?
    In general, I again suggest the surface material at Bahrain’s T10, 12, 13, and 14 corner exits + shortly past the T4 exit as that works effectively as a physical deterrent.

    1. Masi has made a dog’s dinner out of most the issues he has been tackling.

      I almost get the impression he wants to be the centre of attention…

      Reply moderated
    2. It reminds me of the the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix where Felipe Massa received a drive through penalty for a pit entry infringement. In all the previous years of coming to Interlagos, the pit entry was never enforced because it was deemed to be the racing line, but in 2013, it suddenly became a problem. 2013 featured some of most contentious stewarding throughout the whole year and Massa’s penalty was the worst of it.

  3. Dan Rooke (@geekzilla9000)
    12th May 2021, 7:58

    There should be absolutely no ambiguity over track limits, it’s not fair on drivers/teams. There should be a single rule, be it white line, red line, whatever.

  4. How convoluted can you make an issue?
    The rulebook is very clear about tracklimits so why does Masi make the rules so arbitrary?
    How can the limit of the track is the white line be so ambiguous?
    Even upholding the white line is simple with modern technology.

    Reply moderated
    1. Jockey Ewing
      13th May 2021, 14:46

      Yes, simple, at any level of strictness:
      The better drivers can keep it inside more ofthen than the worse drivesrs, so the better drivers will end up in the front, while the worse dirvers will end up in a worse position, no matter what is the the proportion of invalidated laps / all laps meanwhile.
      So with a modern solution for a 100% strictly everywhere policed, nothing would change (probably there would be some drivers who can not set a laptime at some quali sessions, but I would not mind that). It would not change the spirit of racing, it would not introduce any kind of artifical randomness. It would introduce a higher spread at the individual results, quite much correlated with the driver’s agility (and the quality of the car). Is not it very natural, compared to the many artifical things we yet had to see?

  5. Simple rules: When a driver goes over track limits with all four wheels:
    – Lap time deleted.
    – No overtaking within (for instance) two corners, if the driver was trying to overtake someone.
    – Position has to be given back, if the driver overtook someone.
    – Position has to be yielded, if the driver was defending his position.
    – The driver gets a warning for every time they go over track limits during the race and after (for instance) three warnings, the driver gets a time penalty for every subsequent violation of track limits. No warning or time penalty, if (for instance) the driver was pushed out or they were trying to avoid a collision.

    I’m sure there needs to be some tweaking to the rules above, but I don’t think it needs to be much more complicated than that. The drivers can keep their cars within track limits in Monaco, I’m sure they can on other tracks too.

    1. @hotbottoms

      No warning or time penalty, if (for instance) the driver was pushed out or they were trying to avoid a collision.

      There you go already with a major exception.

      And what about Verstappen who’s car snapped and ended up off the track by a gust of wind in Q3 at Portimao? Which cost him time actually. Hardly fair to delete a time for an incident which costs time.

      Why bother making such a fuss of track limits anyway? Just let them get on with their job. I don’t think it needs to be more complicated than that.

      1. @f1osaurus If we’re going to just let them get on with their job and not worry about track limits, can they therefore overtake and defend when going off track? Similarly, can they also cut corners like Verstappen did at COTA or would the inside of corners be an exception to the rules? If someone goes well off like Hamilton did at turn 1 in Mexico a few years back and he gains a second, is that ok also?

        I don’t think you can have a “just let them get on with it” mindset because there are too many variables. If you have no rules, the drivers will exploit that to its fullest and then we’ll start having exceptions pop up everywhere and we’ll get back to where we are now.

        1. @petebaldwin Overtaking off track and having an off and then coming back on are both not related to this track limits discussion. So no.

      2. This is the first time I tend to agree with you ;-). Either make a smarter design or let them race as quickly as they can, its not like they are cutting off the track by going through the forest or something. Its all the same and equal for everyone. It makes no sense at all to govern track limits other than when overtaking.

    2. @hotbottoms How about: If you go off track and your lap was faster than your previous full speed lap, it’s deleted.

      Full speed is full lap, all green.

      Probably need some of your caveats for the laps without a previous full speed lap (e.g first lap after start/restart).

      1. Jockey Ewing
        13th May 2021, 15:00

        Initially I had some similar idea too, but became a bit unhappy with that, because:
        It is not puntative enough, as with going invalidated they loose nothing more than the gain, so that would be just a nullification (at the race), instead of a punicment, so no entrant would care, they would push, and at worst they would have an invalid lap.
        Imo if they would apply your idea it would be more proper to take the average laptime of the entrant based on all previuos laps at free practices and qualification (probably let’s exclude the laptimes of FP1 from the calculation of average for the later FP and quali sessions). And the do the same at the race but, restart calculating the average from the first lap of the race (as quali pace and race pace is still different). If that is still not puntative enough, then I am still on the side of adding some more penalties, which are more severe or at least more instantly executed than the current time penalties.

        1. Jockey Ewing
          13th May 2021, 15:11

          And of course compare the average laptime to the laptime, when the driver made the cut, and use it as a simple solution to “calculate” the gain of the cut. (instead of comparint it to the Previous full speed lap.) Comparing to the previous full speed lap would be almost ok at the race, as that laptime relfects the stage of the race and the state of the car and the tyres of course. But what is a full speed lap, by itself? F1 already has many flexible, and overly fluid definitions. Imo that would also be the result of some kind of calculation inluding some filtering and comparison, so a bit huh, if it comes to appealings, stewarding, and objections and being easily undertood by fans and participants.

          While some critics for my average laptime stuff: probably a median of ranges would be better. Or a rolling average of the last 5-10(?) laps by the entrant, filtered out the laps slower than a certain (or another kind of averaged laptime?). Huh I quickly got to a point where there are a bit too much calculations too.

  6. It should be electronically monitored with automatic reduction/loss of ERS for next corners/lap.

    Rear lights blinking fast to show everybody the transgression and penalty to come.

    Such a tech solution would fit F1’s image, and also add an element of excitement to the races.

    1. A bit “Mario Kart”, but not the silliest of ideas. However expensive for the whole track, could probably just pick any corner with a runoff that could gain time.

      1. @justrhysism Embedding a strip of transmitters at key corners shouldn’t be expensive at all, especially in F1 terms

        1. @balue who’s paying for it?

          Just line the offending corners with water-filled barrels for the race. That’ll keep them on track.

  7. In athletics you get DSQd if you cross the white line. We also have the black flag in F1.

    Reply moderated
  8. Put grass or gravel where the track ends and stop monitoring track limits.

    1. @paeschli, couldn’t agree more. It could be just a 1 meter wide strip of grass or gravel right after the white line/kerb.

    2. @paeschli And then we get the unending litany of complaints that so and so’s quali lap was ruined by such and such going off at that corner before and strewing dirt all over the track. Because that’s what happened a lot when there was still grass. Or we see cars taking to the sky/wall/other cars when a driver loses control and they hit a hole in that grassy area. Also happened quite often in the past.

      1. then we get the unending litany of complaints that so and so’s quali lap was ruined by such and such going off at that corner before and strewing dirt all over the track

        Track conditions evolve, that’s part of the sport. If you go for a quali lap late and it started raining, tough luck. It’s the same with gravel being brought onto the track.

    3. So a nice big gravel trap at the exit of the many blind corners at Portimao? That’ll work out well.

    4. Tell that to turns 1-3 at Mexico. They have grass there (between the tarmac T1 runoff and turn three) but it is still faster to cut across ala Hamilton.

      Yes grass and gravel may help at most corners but it is not a be all end all solution… unless you are happy for everyone to do cut Mexico turn two every lap as long as it is the same for everyone?

    5. @paeschli most tracks aren’t used for F1 alone, so this is completely impractical.

      1. Yes, exactly. Otherwise it could easily be solved by putting gravel everywhere a track limit needs to be enforced

  9. I hope the working group realises the track limit problem is not just about having a clear and consistent set of rules. It’s about having physical, tactile limits that challenge drivers and cars and produce the sort of spectacle that drew fans to the sport in the first place.

    To me this discussion is as fundamental to the sport as discussions on future chassis and engine regulations.

    1. @aussierod Add a wall of tyres or water filled barrels. Physical barrier; not permanent (keep circuit owners and MotoGP happy). Won’t want to touch it! Race-ending otherwise.

    2. Yes, to me too but you forget not to FIA. Their interests lay somewhere else…

  10. Or just let them use all the circuit as long as it’s not making the lap shorter. They’re racing drivers, let them find and use different lines as they see fit.

  11. The trouble with just having a line instead of grass is there is no real punishment for going wide. Sure, you lose your lap time but you don’t damage the car.

    It changes how you drive in a fairly fundamental way. Instead of finding the limits and pushing as hard as you dare, you just go over the limits and then try to reign it back from there.

    It’s like tight-rope walking on a line on the ground instead of a rope 100m in the air. You’ll do it quicker on the ground because if it goes wrong, there are no consequences and you just try again and again until you get it right. You can run hoping a part of your foot remains on the line and everyone else has to do the same otherwise when you get it right, you’ll beat them. In the air, you have to take it slow and build up confidence and bravery to get faster without pushing too far. If someone tries to run, they’ll fall and then it’s game over for them.

    1. @petebaldwin

      Sure, you lose your lap time but you don’t damage the car.

      They often enough do though.

      Like in Spa when Vettel kept banging over the kerbs at Radillon while Hamilton and Rosberg were told not to because of cuts in the tyres (Rosberg blew a tyre in practice). So Vettel ended up with a burst tyre. He ended up doing exactly the same in Silverstone a few years later.

      Or in Austria 2020 when Verstappen was trying to keep a gap to Bottas and then broke his front wing. Or Stroll who was in the lead in Turkey 2020 but broke his front wing. Or Hamilton who broke his front wing in Imola.

      Sure when it’s just a simple flat area where there is nothing to hinder them then it’s not really detrimental. Especially when pretty much all cars go off track and it’s essentially part of the racing line, but then why would there be such a need to enforce track limits there?

      Agreed that it could help in separating the boys from the men, but we already have tracks like Monaco, Baku and to some extent Canada for that.

  12. 1. Allow everything as it was already decided in 2016 I think.

    1.1. If you don’t want the cars to go everywhere don’t make it faster to leave the track.

  13. Haha, this is so typical. Fixing an effect rather than the cause

  14. Now we need a Working Group to solve the F1 Working Groups’ problem.

  15. Use simulations to figure out delta gained by racing outside the limits. Penalize 2x delta for each limit violation at pit stops or end of race. This is in addition to penalties for other out of limits transgressions such as gaining a position. So the driver would need to give the position back and incur the time penalty.

  16. Grey stuff good, off grey stuff bad

  17. Track limit=White line 25 cm wide (the with of a concrete wall). On the inside of the line, flexible flags (like they use in slalom skiing). The flag flutters : you’ve brushed the wall, penalty: maybe lift for one second. The flag momentarily disappear: you rolled over it, you just hit a wall, you are missing a wing and punctured a tire (wall of shame style) penalty: stop and go (you have to make repairs). One exception: you push someone over the line YOU get the penalty. Make a Monaco out of all circuits (in term of unforgiveness not passing ability)

  18. This is a joke, as is most of the comments section.

    Either enforce Sporting Regulations Article 27.3, or write a new one to replace it.

    Without consistent application of clear rules, any sport is nothing more than a game.
    It is the challenge of obeying and competing within those rules and boundaries that elevates it.

  19. The FACT that they changed most of the runoff to pavement and lowered the high curbs over the past 30 years because a few big names ended their races too quickly can now be forgotten! Everything about F1 these days is the same nonsense now that it is run by business people trying to make a tv show. Get rid of all the nonsense and race again! Blue flags? DRS? Team orders? What The F1 is it?

  20. Russell Finch
    12th May 2021, 15:10

    So on that photo above, what’s the green area actually for ?

    1. It’s a runoff area so they don’t end their race in the gravel with a small error. And/or to prevent drivers throwing gravel on the track every time they go a bit wide.

  21. F1 loves to engineer their way to the most complication solution possible, so I throw this idea out to them free of charge. It seems the main complaint is that drivers can not see the white line when racing and so need the tactile feedback from kerbing to tell them when they are at the track limits. If this is really the reason that drivers exceed track limits at some corners, then I propose a feedback system in the steering wheel to let the driver know they are approaching the track limits. My road car can tell me now when I am about to leave the lane I am in with both an audible warning and shaking the wheel. Why can’t the power steering system of an F1 car do the same? Mimic the effect of kerbing where kerbing can’t be installed practically because of the myriad reasons tracks say they can’t install kerbs everywhere.

    This may be a case where technology from a road car makes it’s way back to F1 rather than the other way around.

  22. Russell Finch
    12th May 2021, 16:37

    But it just invites track limits issues – they should be in the gravel when they run wide. If the width of the red/white kerb plus the green bit equalled the width of car, then track limits are basically self-policing.

  23. The above article has been revised – it originally stated the working group was “new”, however it was in fact set up within the last year as the revisions make clear.

  24. “We just need to come up with something that’s simple, clear and understandable for drivers, fans, teams, et cetera. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”

    It’s not Christian Horner, stick to the white line at the edge of the circuit. What can be more simple?
    If driver goes over the line, no DRS and ERS for 1 lap.

  25. Curbs used to be much narrower. Just replace all that green concrete with real grass.

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