Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc, Silverstone, 2024

“Common sense” urged on track limits to avoid races being won on penalties

Formula 1

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Both Sunday morning races in Formula 1’s junior series at Silverstone were decided when the winner on the road was handed a time penalty.

Will Formula 1 avoid a repeat in the main event? It came close to seeing exactly that in the previous race.

Lando Norris was attempting to pass Max Verstappen for the lead in Austria last weekend when he was given a five-second time penalty for repeatedly exceeding track limits. Had he succeeded in passing Verstappen, Norris could have lost his win for an infringement many drivers thought was questionable.

Norris exceeded track limits on three occasions earlier in the race and was warned that a further ‘strike’ would result in an automatic penalty. He collected his fourth while trying to pass Verstappen at turn three on lap 59.

The stewards do make allowances for track limits strikes and do not count them against drivers if they rule they were forced off by a rival. Although Norris claimed Verstappen’s movements in the braking zones caused him to go off, the stewards counted the track limits strike against him. The fact Norris immediately ceded the advantage he gained was also not taken in mitigation.

Alexander Albon was among those who found the decision to count Norris’ fourth time off-track towards his tally “strange”, and said the stewards should use more “common sense” about similar decisions.

“I got ‘track limits’ in turn four when I went off in Barcelona,” he told media including RaceFans. “I was in the gravel trap and I lost nine seconds. So there’s some rulings that we have which is just common sense in some ways that just needs to be understood.

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“At the same time, I understand where the FIA come from. They want this super-clear, very black-and-white ruling. But I don’t think that’s racing, really. I think we’re all pushing it to the edge. There’s always a lot of question marks around some certain situations and things like that. It does seem silly.”

Although the enforcement of track limits has been reinforced at several of Silverstone’s corners this year, there are several points on the track where drivers can force rivals wide onto asphalt run-offs. This happened several times in the support races and Albon expects more cases during the grand prix.

“It will be an issue,” he said. “You can go wide, you can lift off, but they’ll still strike you. So then it’s a bit like, ‘where is the rule?’

“We argue it and we say to them ‘we lifted off’ and whatnot. But that’s still a very grey area. So it’s tricky.”

One of the penalties which decided this morning’s support races was issued to a driver who was ruled to have overtaken outside track limits. Past occasions where F1 races have been decided in this way proved highly controversial, and the conditions are ripe for a repeat today.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown warned F1 would have faced a critical reaction had Norris successfully passed Verstappen on the track only to lose his victory over a contentious track limits violation.

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“Had Lando won the race, got the five second penalty and lost, I think people would have gone bonkers over that result,” he said. ‘Track limits’ [violations], for me, is enhancing your lap time, getting an unfair advantage in qualifying, blah, blah, blah…

“To chuck it up the inside, get it a little bit wrong, run wide, go over kerbs, give the position back, have a slower sector – you’ve just been penalised. To then get a five-second penalty on the back of that, that doesn’t feel right.

“So I do think there needs to be some adjustments to what the regulations are, because I think that as an example should not be deemed a track limits [infringement]. Otherwise you’re going to discourage drivers from taking any risk in passing.

“He gave the position back, it was a slower sector, he runs over a kerb, potential damage to the car, and you get a penalty. So I think that needs to be addressed, as an example.”

Previous F1 races have been decided by contentious penalties, notably in 2019 when Sebastian Vettel lost victory in the Canadian Grand Prix when he was penalised for unsafely rejoining the track in front of Lewis Hamilton.

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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 ““Common sense” urged on track limits to avoid races being won on penalties”

  1. There is no ‘common sense’ in F1. They think they are too smart for that.

  2. I’m sounding like a broken record but the most obvious solution is: drop all track limit penalties. It will fix everything.
    Sure, keep that completing a move while going off (defending or attacking) makes you lose a position. Otherwise, you’re good

  3. One of the penalties which decided this morning’s support races was issued to a driver who was ruled to have overtaken outside track limits.

    Well, good job. That’s an obvious bogus move that should always be penalised. It’s very easy to overtake people who play by the rules when you’re not. But that’s not the point of the game. Nobody would be impressed if a football team won having shown up with 14 field players.

  4. Anybody watching Indycar at Mid-Ohio?

    After white line there is strip of grass and then comes gravel trap.

    There are no issues with track limits. If they go off, drivers are “punished” by the track itself. Simple and effective.
    No need for policing track limits.

    But I guess that is not a common sense solution for F1.

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