Matias Zagazeta, Formula 3, Bahrain, 2024

Track limits penalties twice as tough for F3 drivers in opening race

Formula 3

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Formula 3 stewards doubled the severity of penalties for drivers caught exploiting track limits in the first race of the new season.

During Friday’s sprint race, Luke Browning and Matias Zagazeta were hit with 10-second time penalties for leaving the track and “gaining a lasting advantage.” Track limits infringements typically attracted five-second time penalties in the series last year.

The stewards described the sanction applied in Browning’s case as a “baseline penalty” for a driver who had overtaken a rival by exceeding the limits of the track.

Browning was penalised for overtaking Christian Mansell when he left the track at turn four. “Once entering the corner, Car 14 attempted an outside pass on car 23 [Browning], left the track and re-joined in front of car 23 [Mansell],” the stewards noted.

They ruled that because Browning’s “front axle was not alongside the front axle of car 23 at the apex of the corner or the exit” he “was not entitled to be given room by car 23.”

“The stewards determined that car 14 left the track and gained a lasting advantage by exceeding the track limits and impose the baseline penalty of a 10 seconds time penalty,” they concluded.

Zagazeta was found to have gained a similar advantage when he passed Tom Smith at turn eight in the same race. In this case the stewards ruled Smith had correctly left enough room for his rival, but Zagazeta had failed to use it and instead gone off the track.

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“Video evidence showed that car 22 [Smith] was alongside car 19 [Zagazeta] at the apex of the corner and it was driven in a safe and controlled matter throughout the manoeuvre (entry, apex, and exit),” they noted. “In addition, the images clearly show that car 22 left enough room to car 19 between his car and the white line.

“[The] driver of car 19 explained that he was side-by-side of car 22 at the exit of the corner and decided to run wide to avoid the kerb at [turn eight] and any potential damage to his car.

“The stewards concluded that car 19 left the track at [turn eight] and maintained his position by exceeding the track limits. Therefore, considered that car 19 gained a lasting advantage and decided to impose a 10-second time penalty.”

Zagazeta later retired from the race, meaning his penalty had no effect. Noting this, the stewards said they said they “decided not to impose a grid place penalty on the driver for the next race due to the non-dangerous nature of the incident.”

The stewards’ decision to impose tougher penalties follows criticism of the leniency of five-second penalties for track limits violations in Formula 1 last year. Drivers pointed out situations could arise where they had more to gain by overtaking a rival illegally and taking a five-second time penalty than by trying to execute a legal pass.

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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...

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4 comments on “Track limits penalties twice as tough for F3 drivers in opening race”

  1. That’s great and all – but in won’t happen in F1, which is where they need to penalise for track limits breaches the most.
    A quick discussion about the ‘ethereal’ image of the ‘pinnacle of motorsport’ and how much the drivers complain about everything in the media these days will see any chance of increased penalties off before the idea even hits anyone in F1.

    1. It’s happened now. Magnussen dived into the inside of a corner and made a pass by going off track. Didn’t get it back – and the penalty is 10 seconds.

      The commentators don’t like it

  2. When a driver has overtaken by going off track, and doesn’t give the place back, I think 10 seconds rather than 5 is positive.

    Previously, if “stuff happened” and you accidentally overtook off-track, the benefit of being past a car is often worth 5 seconds, so the rational move was to drive off.

    Hopefully with it being 10, it makes more sense to give the place back.

    Two caveats:
    1. Is this coming to Formula 1 as well as Formula 3? (I’d like it to)
    2. Sometimes it isn’t clear whether the move is considered okay, and by the time there’s been direction from the stewards, the driver is down the road. This will work a lot better if the stewards can communicate more quickly that yes, and advantage was gained, so you give it back or take 10. It should be possible to give an initial non-binding view within (say) 90 seconds.

  3. A welcome development, but it’s still not clear to me why the stewards have taken such a role in this. The F1 regulations state that that ‘At the absolute discretion of the Race Director a driver may be given the opportunity to give back the whole of any advantage he gained by leaving the track.’

    Wittich probably delegated the task of flagging track limit violations to the stewards, but it still seems like it’s his job to handle these things. If nothing else, to determine the ‘whole’. It seems rather unlikely that this is always exactly five seconds.

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