Alex Albon, Williams, Red Bull Ring, 2022

Why F1’s new, no-nonsense approach to track limits is only a partial success

2022 F1 season

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When the FIA announced Formula 1 race director Michael Masi was to be replaced and his role shared between two new appointees, it was clear the sport’s bold new era in car design would be matched by similar changes in officiating.

The appointment of former DTM race director Niels Wittich and World Endurance Championship and Le Mans 24 Hours race director Eduardo Freitas was supposed to restore some badly-needed credibility to the role – and F1 itself – following the deeply controversial conclusion to last year’s championship in Abu Dhabi. By sharing the role between two established figures, the idea was also to lighten the load on those tasked with carrying out duties throughout the season.

In motorsport, only the race stewards can hand down penalties to competitors – but the race director is the one who determines how the rules will be interpreted every race weekend. The new regime introduced one of its most significant changes at the first race of the year.

Over recent seasons the rules around track limits in Formula 1 varied from circuit to circuit, corner to corner and even from session to session. But from the start of this year it was announcement that track limits would simply be defined by the white lines on the outside of the racing surface. No ambiguity. No exceptions.

F1 got tougher on track limits from round one
This no-nonsense approach to track limits was warmly welcomed by many fans of the sport, hopeful that it would put a stop to the seemingly endless debate over this particular rule of racing every weekend. The impact of this new approach has certainly been felt so far in 2022.

Across the first 11 races of the championship, exactly half the season, the FIA’s panels of stewards have deleted a total of 233 lap times from competitive sessions – qualifying, sprint races and grands prix – after 196 track limits offences. The most regular offender was Williams driver Alexander Albon, who has committed 16 track limits infringements this season. Lewis Hamilton was second, tallying 14 breaches.

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Track limits infringements through first half of 2022 Formula 1 season:

RankDriverTeamTrack limits infringementsTotal lap times deletedTime penalties
1Alex AlbonWilliams16171
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes14170
3Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri13161
=Kevin MagnussenHaas13160
=Sergio PerezRed Bull13130
6Sebastian VettelAston Martin12161
7Lando NorrisMcLaren11141
=Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari11130
=Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri11130
=Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo11131
=Fernando AlonsoAlpine11110
12Mick SchumacherHaas10130
=Nicholas LatifiWilliams10110
14Max VerstappenRed Bull9120
15Lance StrollAston Martin8120
16Charles LeclercFerrari780
=George RussellMercedes770
18Daniel RicciardoMcLaren680
19Esteban OconAlpine220
20Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo110
21Nico HulkenbergAston Martin000

The effects of this zero tolerance approach reached a peak in the last round at the Red Bull Ring. Under Masi, the Styrian and Austrian Grands Prix held at the track last year saw a total of 31 track limits transgressions across both weekends over qualifying sessions and races. No times were deleted for those who ran outside the white lines at turns one, seven or eight.

However this season, between just Friday’s qualifying session and Sunday’s grand prix, drivers committed 64 total track limits offences – over twice the amount of the previous two race weekends at the Red Bull Ring combined.

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Track limits infringements across last three Red Bull Ring weekends:

YearRoundTurn 1Turn 7Turn 8Turn 9Turn 10Total infringements
2021Styrian Grand Prix0004610
2021Austrian Grand Prix00071421
2022Austrian Grand Prix*1111173464

*Figures exclude sprint race

By the time the chequered flag flew at the end of the race, four drivers – Pierre Gasly, Lando Norris, Zhou Guanyu and Sebastian Vettel – had all been handed five-second time penalties by the stewards for exceeding track limits four separate times. Three others – Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz Jnr and Sergio Perez – were also officially warned by race control with black-and-white flags after committing three offences.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Red Bull Ring, 2022
Norris was unimpressed with his penalty
After the race, Norris questioned if it was necessary to apply the rules equally strictly across all corners on the circuit.

“The last two corners, I completely understand,” Norris explained. “There, you run wide, you pretty much gain an advantage.

“I had one in turn one, or wherever I got my penalty, where I’ve just locked up the front tyres, I’ve hit the sausage [kerb], I’ve lost like a second up to the hill and then I get track limits for that? I’ve been punished enough, because I’ve lost one second. So it’s a bit stupid, some of them.”

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The McLaren driver conceded his complaints were fully consistent with what he and his fellow drivers had asked of the new race directors before the season.

“We’ve also said that we want it to be strict since last year and we want it to be the same every time and so on,” Norris admitted. “Us drivers always want something different and something better and so on. It’s just a difficult track to always judge the limits so finely.”

Even Norris’s team principal, Andreas Seidl, said that he was happy the rules appeared to be being applied as claimed at the start of the season – despite one of his drivers copping a penalty.

“In terms of track limits, all teams and drivers were screaming for consistency or more consistency in the past,” Seidl said.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Red Bull Ring, 2022
Ocon kept it within the lines all weekend
“In the end that’s why we ended up with a black-and-white rule which is ‘you need to stay within the track limits in any place on the track’, which means you need to stay within the white line. To be honest, even having a penalty, for us I’m quite happy with that because it’s easy to understand for everyone.”

The sheer number of times deleted over the course of the Austrian race weekend was remarkable, but by no means the entire field that struggled to stay within the margins. Counting all three competitive sessions – Friday’s qualifying, Saturday’s sprint race and Sunday’s grand prix – there were two drivers who successfully navigated the weekend without any deleted times: Esteban Ocon and Valtteri Bottas.

With Ocon taking a strong fifth place finish and Bottas only just missing out on points from the back of the grid after being passed by Ocon’s team mate Fernando Alonso on the final lap, it’s clear that keeping within the lines did not slow down Ocon or Bottas enough to compromise their races too negatively. Arguably this is proof there’s no excuse for drivers not to stick to the limits of the track, especially in the supposed pinnacle of motorsport.

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But if Formula 1 and the FIA are to insist on this strict approach to track limits, the very least that drivers should be able to expect is that the rules will be applied at every track, at every corner. However, for some drivers, that clearly has not been the case.

(L to R): Sergio Perez, Red Bull; Charles Leclerc, Ferrari; Silverstone, 2022
Thrilling Silverstone scrap sometimes exceeded the track’s limits
The closing laps of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone reignited debates about how track limits rules are applied for wheel-to-wheel racing, with various incidents involving Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen and Mick Schumacher all not considered worthy of investigation by the stewards. Drivers were again confused about what would be considered acceptable when using the perimeter of the circuit to both attack and defend. Ahead of the Red Bull Ring weekend, Alonso was the most vocal critic among the field.

“We have been told that it was very clear to police the white lines,” Alonso explained. “Other things – the stewards’ decisions – can be changeable between race tracks, opponents or whatever. But the white lines will be this year very clear – and it was not in Silverstone.”

Alonso’s concerns over the way the rules were being haphazardly applied would not have been helped during the Austrian Grand Prix itself, when he spent the opening 12 laps of the race stuck behind the Williams of Nicholas Latifi, which he claimed left the circuit six times before Latifi eventually pitted in front of him. Latifi was deemed to have breached track limits three times in the race, but did not receive a black-and-white flag from race control.

But if Formula 1 was hoping for a race weekend without track limits being a major talking point, then Paul Ricard may possibly be the worst circuit that could have followed next on the schedule.

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With the Le Castellet track little more than painted lines within a side sea of asphalt, there is little in the way of natural deterrent to discourage drivers from taking liberties with track limits of the exit of corners. With more asphalt run-off around the circuit than at any other venue on the calendar, drivers are encouraged to keep their foot hard on the throttle if they run out wide, rather than pre-emptively lift off to avoid running onto grass or into gravel and lose more time in the process.

Paul Ricard’s run-offs are extremely generous
In last year’s French Grand Prix, only one driver, Antonio Giovinazzi, had a single lap time deleted for exceeding track limits in the race on the exit of turn six – the only corner where drivers were warned race control would be actively monitored during the race. This weekend, it seems a safe bet that the tally will be a lot higher.

Whether Formula 1 and the FIA agree to continue with this new ‘one size fits all’ approach to enforcing the confines of the track, the drivers themselves seem to have the greatest influence over whether they draw the eye of the stewards or enjoy a race free from the threat of time penalties hanging over them. But while the drivers themselves may no longer have any excuses for staying on track, finding a way of ensuring the current system is applied consistently is now a matter of necessity.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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  • 38 comments on “Why F1’s new, no-nonsense approach to track limits is only a partial success”

    1. So, do I read right that the ‘why’ is: because the FIA, especially the stewards, seem to not adhere to those rules at all times?

      Which means it is actually a potential success but with the note that, like many times last year, it shows the way the stewards work really does need work so they are all on a similar page of the same (rule) book?

      1. Great point there @bosyber. And yes, it highlights that the biggest thing to be adressed is for the FIA to ensure a far more consistent stewarding so that we can rely on the rules being interpreted the same every weekend instead of going from super strict to almost completely opposed “let them race” wishy washy the weekend after that.

      2. The problem at Austria was that there weren’t any cameras in a lot of corners

        1. I’m pretty sure they can find a technical solution, which will be quicker, (almost) non debatable, and saves us from the embarrassing Perez situation.

          I’m happy though that we finally see some consistency. This was the biggest problem last year throughout the season.

          1. My understanding is all the cars are fitted with Global Navigational Satellite equipment. While GPS has a normal accuracy of about 15 metres, there are ways to increase that accuracy down to between 1 and 3 centimetres. I think that sort of accuracy is better than what you could get with a camera. I don’t know how expensive it would be to monitor off-track deviations via the radio transmissions sent from each car, but with the right software it could be the Stewards are notified of a track excursion before the driver has time to tell the team about it.

    2. The key difference to Red Bull Ring numbers is doing lap time invalidation outside the only two corners where off-track excursions can be advantageous in the first place. We’ll see how the situation will be at Paul Ricard HTTT.
      Three corner exits (2, 5, & last corner) have small bumps that kill off acceleration speed, so the incentive for going wide is lower.

    3. They really need to automate track limits so it’s completely consistent and immediate. It’s easy enough to do!

      I’m all for strict enforcement, football, tennis, rugby etc.. All have very defined boundaries and so does F1. They should be enforced, always. Every corner, every track. Some leniency/review for wheel to wheel racing might need to be written into the rules because quality racing should come first and drivers do get squeezed and we don’t want to force drivers to be too cautious around other cars.

      1. Totally agree.
        We need as many regulations to be implemented as fairly and quickly as possible.

        Put sensors in the track. Breaking limits triggers either:
        – cancelled qualy lap,
        – 5% drop in ERS for next lap or
        – no DRS etc.

        Main issue is that there needs to be some fairly and reliably reaction to rule breaking or it becomes meaningless.

      2. I would prefer an automatic time penalty to be added to a driver’s lap time for each track excursion, e.g. half a second or 1 second. It just seems silly to tell a driver their last lap time was deleted during a race, but they don’t have to do an extra lap.
        I’m not sure how practical it would be to administer such a system during a race, for example how do you tell a team they can’t work on a car for half a second, but those times could easily be added to the finishing result.

        1. @drycrust i can understand this. I’m increasingly wary of time penalties though, as they mean different things at different times – a safety car finish could mean loss of multiple places where as during an event free race many time penalties might add up to no penalty at all… More scope for technical abuse of penalties and i think we see a bit of this already.

          I think 3 freebees isn’t a bad way to go. Drivers aren’t infallible and to keep perfect concerntration for 90+ minutes is a huge ask, even for the best of F1. I don’t think it’s the perfect solution but i view it as good enough for now. I’ll happily support other ideas if they can do it better.

          I guess the deleted laptime during the race is only saying you can’t have fastest lap for this lap??

    4. There’s been a small improvement over previous years’ joke of track limits enforcement in F1 – but it’s still a joke.
      As the saying goes – nobody exceeds track limits at Monaco. The same (or equivalent) consequences should apply everywhere, every time.

      1. Nobody successfully exceeds track limits at Monaco

        1. Bingo.
          Nor should they at Paul Ricard.

    5. No times were deleted for those who ran outside the white lines at turns one, seven or eight.

      I’d be interested to know how many times drivers got away with it last year compared to this year. With these corners included, the difference would likely not have been as high.

      1. @eurobrun Effectively none because going off at those corners is automatically slower than staying on track.
        Yes, some drivers did go off last year (& before) too, but indifferent since they didn’t gain anything.

        1. That’s not what I’m asking.
          I’m asking for purely statistical reasons. Ie: would the numbers this year sound so dramatic if the numbers had been recorded by the same method last year.
          It’s not up to you to decide when running wide is advantageous or not, it’s a simple rule that should be obeyed. Wide at T1 can definitely be faster if you have the correct line to avoid the sausage kerb, as you can carry more speed with a wider apex and have the advantage up the hill. But I’m not bothered about that right now.

    6. I hope they double down on track limits this weekend in the French Grand Prix. Just like in football and tennis, white lines have meaning and consequences. Everywhere. It is a constraint that is part of the game*. It contributes to the challenge and excitement.

      (*) It’d be great to add a penalty graphic next to the driver’s name during the race, e.g. Norris + 5, or Albon +15.

    7. After the race, Norris questioned if it was necessary to apply the rules equally strictly across all corners on the circuit.

      The rules have to be applied consistently on on all corners the drivers need to get used to it. More cameras under track sensors can make sure the rules are applied fairly to everyone.

    8. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
      19th July 2022, 11:13

      If the stewards were lax at Silverstone but then tightened up at Austria then they need to not miss one single track limit violation at Paul Ricard. The stewarding needs to keep improving in this way such that every driver will know for certain they cannot expect any leniency for leaving the track without a good reason.

    9. I am very pleased with the rule and would like to see it stick around. There’s already leniency in that it doesn’t yield an immediate penalty in races, and that’s enough.

      I do think though, that policing this should never have been a manual thing in the first place. There’s tech everywhere in these cars. Equip the white lines throughout the entire track with detection loops, put four sensors in the wheel rims at a set point. If all four sensors run at the wrong side of the detection loop for a set amount of time (i.e. .5 seconds), cut bhp by 20 for 10 seconds or alternatively, decrease throttle power to 90% of maximum for 10 seconds. Make it so that it’s enough of a penalty to allow for an overtake to happen, or for a lap time to be a few tenths slower in qualifying. And that’s your penalty and detection automated, without having to go through stewards or manual observation/protests.

      1. I agree that it should not be a manual thing. There are just so many ways they could make it an objective rule and use technology to take judges out of the equation. The pinnacle of motor sport can measure lap times down to a thousandth of a second, and yet cannot come up with a way of detecting when a car isn’t on the circuit.

        1. Agree, remember when they automated jump starts ? gosh so many penalties, ok maybe the system was a bit too sensitive in the beginning, but now the drivers know, the computer will catch you so now it’s rare. the same will hopefully happen with track limits. Take the interpretation out of it, “lasting advantage” and other vague terms need not apply. the computer says you’re out of bounds.

    10. The new rules ARE nonsensical and more nonsensical than they’ve ever been.
      Why? Because they impose a virtual reality onto the sport instead of leaving the sport in a physical reality.
      The cars drive on asphalt. What is asphalt is the race track, and what is grass, gravel or even asphalt – but one that is not favorable to drive on – is not the race track. There’s no interpretation needed, the physical reality doesn’t need to explain itself, because if you go off of the race track you’re compromised and you lose.

      But now they engage in that absolutely absurd, silly and petty process of externally imposing what is and what is not the race track by interpreting the paint on the asphalt.
      What’s next? Will the drivers have a beep signal in their cars to tell them whether they are still on the race track or not?
      Will we get info-graphics projected onto the live video to tell us that what we see is not actually what is happening?
      We see a race car on the track…. NO! The rules say it’s actually not on the track!
      We see a race car on the track…. NO! The rules say it has actually crashed into a virtual barrier imposed by the race director.

      It’s as absurd as current ski jumping rules, where the actual jump length gets re-adjusted for the wind speed. A ski jumper lands on the 120m mark, but we’re told he landed at 118.5m, because the result was re-adjusted as he had favorable wind that was faster than the set reference speed.

      STOP IT.

      1. What’s next? Will the drivers have a beep signal in their cars to tell them whether they are still on the race track or not?

        Probably, eventually. They already have beeps for gear changes, DRS activation, alarms, etc…

        The (individually owned) circuits won’t be reverting their designs too quickly – so it really comes down to track limits being defined by white lines painted on the ground (the exact same system which has actually been in place for many decades already) or having no track limits at all.
        Clearly, they aren’t going to have no limits as that would lead directly to damage, injury and possibly death – so, white lines it is.

        If ‘artificially’ designated track limits disturb you that much, you could always watch rally or rally-raid….
        Circuit racing, however, is based on the concept of a clearly defined circuit….

        1. S, the provision that “drivers must use the track at all times” and defining white lines as the track boundary appeared for the first time in the F1 sporting regulations in 2011 — hardly “many decades already”. F1 (and grand prix racing on closed circuits on public roads before it) did fine for many decades without defining and enforcing an artificial track boundary around the entire track surface, instead relying on the design features of the track to punish drivers — as Zandvoort still does, and Suzuka, and virtually every track on the IndyCar calendar.

          The idea that a circuit must be defined by a white line in all places is a modern response to the way that race tracks (and their economics) have evolved. I share amian’s sentiment: Circuits like Paul Ricard that rely on nothing but a white line and time penalties to deter a driver are a sterilized simulacrum of the sport that you see at places like Zandvoort, Suzuka, or Road America.

          1. Many series have used white lines for many decades even if F1 didn’t (although they did, even if it wasn’t specifically written in the sporting regs). It just makes complete logical sense to use them.
            Circuits have had white lines far longer than they’ve been used as regulatory limits, anyway. For safety reasons, unsurprisingly. Suzuka certainly has had white lines for a very long time. Pretty sure Zandvoort did before too.

            You may not prefer to see a track defined that way, and that’s fine. But a limit is a limit, regardless of what it is defined by.
            One of the fundamental basics of circuit racing is to stay within a defined track – how that track is defined and what lies beyond that definition is of little consequence, as it’s really only there for safety and practicalities anyway.
            Not for racing on.

            Indycar uses a very different set of regs to F1. They still have painted lines around all their circuits – they just often choose to ignore them, or use them merely as a very loose suggestion.

            And I totally disagree that using white lines as limits is somehow anti-sporting or sterilised in any way. It’s still down to the driver to find the fastest way around the circuit (within the circuit) and makes no difference whether they are avoiding grass, gravel, walls or paint. The challenge to the driver is exactly the same.

      2. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
        19th July 2022, 15:03

        With a tail wind a sprinter can cover more distance. A world record is determined by also taking wind speed into consideration if it is a following one. Some of your ramblings make no sense.

        To use the white line around the whole circuit has to be the most concrete regulation there is for track limits. There is nothing artificial about a solid white line.

        Racing circuits want to be bike friendly and if every corner is a wall or gravel I doubt it would be open for bike track days.

    11. Tim (@tsgoodchild)
      19th July 2022, 12:55

      Instead of making it a stewarding admin chore, install a sensor on the car and a perimeter sensor on a corner. If car goes beyond sensor, the wheel hubs on the car illuminate in some way. Do that 3 times and its a slam dunk penalty. The driver knows the limits, and no interaction from the pitwall.

    12. I think F1 overthinks things sometimes. With track limits, I wonder why they police it at all on the outside. They could just put a marker on the inside of every corner and say you have to be outside that marker, and how you use the track or run off areas is up to you so long as you don’t cut the corners. Seeing cars screaming round a corner and onto the grass or getting within inches of the wall is all part of the spectacle.

      So just designate the inside limits with markers. Go inside a marker and it is an automatic stop-go penalty. Better still, put rubber hedgehogs on there so that anyone cutting a corner is going to get front wing damage. And if someone cuts the corner enough to go completely inside the hedgehogs, make it a stop 10s penalty.

      I also think penalties like this should be served immediately, none of this nonsense about at the next pit stop or adding it at the end of the race, because drivers need to be able to see the effect of their error. And get rid of this “giving back the advantage to avoid a penalty” convention. Cut the corner, get a penalty, no excuses.

      I also think teams could self monitor. They all have onboard of their drivers. If they can see the driver has cut the corner, they can instruct him to take the penalty, and maybe have it as a simple drive-thru penalty if the team calls it, or a five second stop go if they take no action and the stewards have to enforce it.

    13. I don’t agree that this will really “discipline” the drivers. We may end up with a situation where every car will get to the maximum number of “foot faults” in a race without a penalty. That is the ideal number of fouls. But a lot drivers will get that one too many and we will end up with races decided on time penalties up and down the field which is bad.

      1. Of course they’ll use it strategically as much as possible, just like they do with every other rule.
        The point is that if they get it wrong (and they will) there needs to be a consistent and respectable punishment – something with sufficient scale and impact they they should try to avoid it, or it will cost them substantially more than merely driving more carefully.

        Ultimately – any driver who doesn’t respect and learn from such a system will only harm themselves and their team.

    14. Remember when they had the baguette curbs at the red bull ring ? No need to police track limits then but the teams said it was causing too much damage so now we have penalties for crossing the white line.
      If the drivers want to go back to “damage to the car” as penalty then sure do that :)

      I imagine they’d rather have a 5 second time penalty over pitting for a new front wing.

      1. I remember, there was one at austin they called “verstopper” following 2017 and the fun thing is it worked in 2018 by damaging verstappen’s car, making him start from the back, which made the race even more interesting.

    15. Scott, personally, I’d rather see them having to pit for new front wing than having a time penalty.

      1. Yep Neil, that’s exactly what I’d like to see more off. The excitement of F1 was the fine margin between brilliance and disaster, with no need for stewards to get involved.

      2. Amen to that.
        The excitement levels drop dramatically for circuits such as Paul Ricard, irrespective of how well track limits are enforced. Physical limits are needed to maintain the spectacle of the sport.

        As an aside, how refreshing to see those small, nimble cars dancing around nose to tail with no DRS.

    16. Ian Stephens
      21st July 2022, 16:57

      Bring back hay bales.

    Comments are closed.