The FIA insists there are no grounds for rethinking Formula 1’s track limit rules, despite the various controversies of the 2013 season.
Track-limit abuse returned to the headlines at the Hungarian Grand Prix, when Romain Grosjean was penalized for having all four wheels off the track amid a brilliant overtaking move on Felipe Massa.
When Daniel Ricciardo was punished in Japan for a similar indiscretion at 130R — while in India and Abu Dhabi drivers seemed free to run wide in qualifying — the matter became the subject of intense debate among fans, the media and the men in the cockpit. A high-level source at the FIA provided a better understanding of how the track limit regulations are interpreted and find out exactly what drivers are allowed to do.
DEFINING THE UNFAIR ADVANTAGE
Article 20.2 of F1’s sporting regulations states clearly when drivers leave the track (defined as the white lines at the track edge) they may only rejoin only “when it is safe to do so and without gaining any advantage.”
In races, that advantage is defined as gaining position, whereas in qualifying it is judged by lap time, and there is no way of proving as fact that a driver gained an advantage through running wide and off track at a corner. The FIA is adamant that getting four wheels off the track on corner exits does not confer an advantage due to the loss of grip caused by running on bumpy curbs or artificial grass.
“This view is based on gut feeling and driver feedback,” an FIA source said. “The fact that very few drivers go wide when it really matters in qualifying — when they’ve been told very clearly that there will be no consequences — leads us to conclude that our approach is right.”
TOTAL BAN WOULD PROVE FARCICAL
One argument is that drivers should be punished for running wide in qualifying just to discourage the practice, regardless of whether it offers an advantage. While that viewpoint may have some philosophical justification, in reality it would be impossible to police.
The FIA source said: “This would be very problematic as we would have to have observers for this specific function on every corner. This is totally unrealistic.
“Furthermore, there would be a deluge of miscreants before the stewards and they would be obliged to investigate every excursion. The whole idea is to build the tracks to ensure that no advantage can be gained by leaving the racing surface. We believe that to a large extent we’ve achieved that.”
There are, however, times when the FIA will impose restrictions at certain corners if it believes there are circumstances when drivers could gain an advantage. In Abu Dhabi, for example, drivers were told that they would not be allowed to deliberately use the runoff out of the final corner on an out-lap in order to get a slingshot benefit across the start-finish line starting their timed lap.
NO CHANGE LIKELY
The FIA is clearly comfortable with its stance on track limits, despite recent controversies.
Asked if there was going to be a push to look again at the rules and see if there was any need to improve them, the FIA source said: “No. We see no need for this.
“The current rule does not say a driver cannot leave the track, it says that he may not gain an advantage by leaving the track.
“Of course there will be differences of opinion over this, but that is the line we’ve taken for the past couple of years. Now that we have all the tracks how we want them, we see no reason to take a different approach.”