The FIA, in conjunction with F1 teams, are looking at finding a new way of deterring the drivers from exceeding track limits and potentially gaining an advantage.
The issue of track limits in Formula One has yet again been thrust into the media headlines after Round 11 at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, when drivers were seen to be regularly exceeding the track limits of the circuit. Pirelli stated that this was part of the reason why several tyre failures occurred over the weekend of the Belgian Grand Prix.
The track limits debate has been one of frustration as the FIA seem to have rather inconsistent policing on the rule as most drivers have been seen to have exceeded track limits and not been penalised. Article 20.2 of the FIA Sporting Regulations state that:
"Drivers must use the track at all times. For the avoidance of doubt, the white lines defining the track edges are considered to be part of the track, but the kerbs are not. A driver will be judged to have left the track if no part of the car remains in contact with the track. Should a car leave the track the driver may re-join, however, this may only be done when it is safe to do so and without gaining any lasting advantage."
Here at RaceDepartment we take track limit abuses very seriously and enforcement of these rules are a vitally important aspect in maintaining clean and fair driving etiquette in our clubs and leagues. Our league regulations surrounding track limits state that:
"Drivers must always, whilst being in control of the car, remain within the track edges and thus over the track surface with at least two wheels. When a driver takes a shorter, off-track, route through a corner, the move is considered as cutting. Cutting is forbidden at all times."
Before the first Friday running at Spa, the FIA decided to place a flattened sausage kerb along the top of Raidillon in an attempt to dissuade the drivers from taking liberties with the track limits in order to get the best possible run down the Kemmel straight. However, this kerb was removed after drivers raised safety concerns about the potential to be launched and perhaps create an even bigger accident. However, this appeared to be a mistake as in the third practice session, drivers quickly began exceeding track limits at Radillon and this time with zero consequences.
Romain Grosjean breaking the rules and not being penalised.
Drivers are competitive animals, hardwired to grab a mile after being given an inch. This often means that they're driving illegally by exceeding track limits as they attempt to make the race track as straight a line as possible. In my view, this needs to be cracked down upon because cutting the race track is a choice, not a mistake. When a car is exceeding track limits, it's usually because the driver is choosing to drive harder than the car can legally take a corner. Unless it is blatantly clear that a driver has lost control of the vehicle, then they should be penalised in some form.
Various methods have been proposed, such as a "strike system", whereby the drivers are allowed a certain number of warnings before they're either given a penalty or thrown out, however, this can be tactically used by the teams and drivers by saving them for the end of a race if they're being pressured from behind, which will also come with a fair amount of hysteria if a driver is disadvantaged because of another drivers cutting.
In years gone by, drivers were unable to exceed track limits because a gravel trap would be waiting for them if they did. At the majority of circuits, this is no longer the case as vast expanses of tarmac run-off are present at almost every corner, meaning the drivers can exceed the track without any consequences. Take last weekends Italian Grand Prix for example, several drivers were seen to be running wide at Parabolica after the FIA decided to pave over most of the gravel trap on the exit of the corner.
In my opinion, the FIA has the rule stated clearly enough, they're just not enforcing it consistently. If they had gravel traps at every circuit, then they wouldn't need to enforce it as the gravel traps themselves would do the enforcement. However, safety concerns have been raised surround cars potentially rolling over after digging into the gravel, and this does have some merit, however, now that most gravel traps are resting in peace under a thick layer of asphalt, the FIA needs to take a more authoritative approach to enforcing the limits of the race track, else drivers will continue to take liberties.
Do you think the FIA need to address the track limits more vociferously? And what measures would you take to ensure that drivers were driving legally within the track limits?