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OPINION: Track Limits - Has the FIA Taken it Over the Line?

Written by Benjamin Crundwell, Edited by Meghana Sree

Track limits are the bane of most F1 tracks. You’re watching a great qualifying, but suddenly your favourite driver's lap gets deleted as they went over the white line. Elsewhere others have been “noted” for doing the same thing, but it won't be investigated until after qualifying has ended. The whole thing seems inconsistent and unfair. What is the problem and how can it be changed?

Image Credits - RacingNews365

Tracks such as Qatar, COTA, and Paul Ricard are surrounded by white lines, with few gravel traps in sight. These lines are hard for the drivers to spot accurately at such high speeds, causing them to go over, and create the scenario described above.

A slew of drivers end up getting investigated, thus ruining the race, as a viewer is aware the outcome may change later. 

Weeks after the 2023 American Grand Prix, Sergio Perez was being investigated for a track limits violation from that race, and it almost felt like a joke to be looking into a race that far behind in the past.

Furthermore, not all drivers receive the same consequences. Some get warnings, some get ignored, and others get five second time penalties. If the FIA wants to continue with white lines, then they must develop a stronger system to regulate it.

However the advantage of a white line is that negligible consequences to going off motivates the drivers to push harder, and it is also the safest option. 

One alternative to address this issue is to use sausage kerbs, which are measures that have been introduced in the previous two decades. They are effectively speed bumps parallel to the circuit, the idea being that contact with one will unsettle the car and force the driver to slow down, and in extreme cases, damage the underbody of the car.

As you can imagine, this works as a suitable motivation for drivers to keep their cars on the track. These are most commonly found in Monza, Silverstone, and Austria. While sausage kerbs are usually effective, the downside of them is that they can be extremely dangerous when hit.

This was illustrated below when Alex Peroni hit a sausage kerb at high speed in the Parabolica and dramatically flipped into the catch fence. Although it is considered a “freak accident”, other similar crashes have occurred, for example when Max Verstappen was launched on top of Lewis Hamilton's car, or Sophia Floersch’s horrifying Macau crash. 

Image Credits - Autosport

The final alternative to white lines are gravel traps, which were the traditional method of keeping drivers inside the track. They have other purposes too, such as slowing down cars headed for the barrier.

They penalise drivers who make mistakes or push over the limit, and when this happens, it can look (and probably feel) extraordinary if the driver keeps their foot in - think George Russell at Mugello 2020.

On the other hand, while it should be a safe option, it can increase the magnitude of some crashes, the most recent example being Zhou Guanyu in Silverstone. As he hit the gravel trap, his car flipped and the car cleared the barriers to hit the catch fence. 

Each of these options have their disadvantages, and while white lines are the safest of these, they create too much confusion.

Sausage kerbs are good at keeping drivers away, but they are also good at launching cars in the air, and gravel traps are handy for slowing cars down, but they can be considered too punishing.

The truth is that all three are needed in appropriate places, but in my opinion, gravel traps are most important, as the drivers who push too hard get punished immediately, foregoing the need for long-drawn investigations either during or weeks after the race.


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