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Track Limits Issues in F1

Written by Owen Bradley, Edited by Alexandra Campos

Credit: XPB Images

Track limits are very much an issue in the modern era of racing, because we have data to show whether a car has extended or cut a corner, and gained an advantage because of it. It’s in this new modern era of technology that we have VAR (video assistant referee) in football, and we really are perhaps over-policing sport. But that is a topic for another day.

Track limits have posed a large issue because they are different at each track. They also are corner dependent, as well as car or bike dependent. For example, GT World Challenge Europe raced in Paul Ricard, France a little while ago and they were legally allowed to extend the turn eight, 90 degree corner mainly because it is the first corner to come after a massively long back straight. Chances are that people would extend it anyways, because of the overspeed they would potentially carry into the corner.

This made the corner look like an absolute joke, and not to mention the fact it actually would ruin the kerb work, because the cars are constantly running over it so this would furthermore increase the cost for the track itself, to repair any damages caused by these cars.

Credit: Clive Rose

Of course, Formula 1 when it reaches Paul Ricard, is a different story, and they make sure (generally) to enforce the idea that the white lines are the track limits.

However, historically, some Motorsport categories say that the kerb is actually where the track limits are, like Paul Ricard did with the GTWC.

Formula 1 arrived to Austria, and there were 43 track limit extensions, and the FIA even decided to give four drivers penalties for these incidents. The rules work as follows: you exceed track limits in a minor way, you get a warning, if you do it once more, then you are given a second warning. After this, if the driver exceeds again, even in a minor way then they are referred to the stewards to make a decision on whether to penalise a driver.

The problem is that these track limit extensions have been so minor, and yet drivers are hit with five-second penalties, which greatly impact their finishing position.

Max Verstappen said something on this matter, “It sounds very easy, but it’s not. When you go that quick through a corner and some of them are a bit blind, you have a bit more understeer, tyres are wearing, and it’s easy to go over the white line”.

Therefore, when your reigning World Champion is saying that it is difficult to keep the car in the white lines because of the tyre wear, and the car becoming lighter at the end of the race due to the fuel load being reduced throughout, it becomes quite clear that drivers have had enough of this.

When four drivers are being penalised, and 43 cases of track extending have happened, surely the FIA would rethink their approach to track limit policing.

Of course it is important to enforce rules and regulations in sport, but a little bit of common sense would allow drivers to actually race each other, with nothing held back rather than have to consider how much they can push into a corner. Perhaps more tracks should introduce gravel, so that there are physical limitations for the driver, and so that they can actually make sure they don’t overstep the mark when it comes to track limits.

Of course, if they abolish track limits, then you have other problems, like when Michael Schumacher extended the first corner, again in Austria 2003, to get pole position

And this isn’t even just an issue for car racing, but for bikes too. Currently, and for a long time as well, Ducati have had the quickest bike in the straights, which makes it more difficult for them to hit an apex for a corner. With bikes, the tyres are also much thinner and as a result, the margin for error is even smaller.

However when drivers are being penalised for going the slightest little bit off the white line, and when it is multiple drivers - you know something is potentially wrong with the system.

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