Certainly, without straining your memory too much, you may recall that the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix, held on Sunday, October 22, had effectively ended on Thursday, November 9. After the chaos erupted regarding repeated track limit violations, Haas had activated the Right of Review regarding the final race classification in Austin.
According to Gunther Steiner, the team principal of the American team, the application of penalties for exceeding track limits was completely unsatisfactory. The targets of the team powered by Ferrari were the Williams of Alexander Albon (9th), the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll (7th), and the Red Bull of Sergio Perez (4th). Sanctions for these cars would have allowed Nico Hulkenberg, finishing eleventh at the checkered flag, to gain some positions that would have brought valuable points to the Constructors’ Championship.
The FIA took all the necessary time – and perhaps even more – to then reject the “RoR,” leaving the race order unchanged, much to Haas’s dissatisfaction, which hoped that the prolonged analysis would lead to a different outcome than what everyone had anticipated.
F1: Haas Appeal Opens Cracks in the Track Limit System
Even when the appeal was rejected, the stewards had acknowledged the issues related to track limits, a problem that has haunted F1 for some time but exploded definitively in the 2023 season, especially at circuits like the Red Bull Ring and COTA. The current policy is considered highly unsatisfactory by drivers and team managers. However, the FIA has also taken a defensive stance.
The official statement that closed the Haas case stated: “Given that, despite the formal outcome of this decision, the stewards have seen individual evidence showing what appear to be potential track limit violations at the apex of Turn 6, it is considered that their inability to consistently apply the current standard for track limits to all competitors is completely unsatisfactory and, therefore, they strongly recommend that all parties collaborate to find a solution to prevent the recurrence of this widespread problem.”
“[…] Given the number of different circuits where significant issues with track limits have arisen this season, recognizing that the FIA, in collaboration with organizers, has already made great strides, further solutions should be found before the start of the 2024 season.” Thus, the Place de la Concorde communication concluded, and to date, less than two months before the start of the championship, there have been no communications from other involved parties regarding the decision-making process.
The message from the Federation was clear: this cannot continue. Why hasn’t the governance of F1 addressed and resolved the issue once and for all? What solutions should be implemented? The immediate thought goes to gravel, placed in run-off areas, which would act as a solid deterrent to certain practices.
But the solution is not as straightforward as it might seem. Safety considerations come into play in the reasoning. For years, the effectiveness of gravel in certain types of incidents has been evaluated, and evidently, it has been found that, in general, asphalt combined with ample runoff is the safest system.
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Moreover, there is also an aspect related to the spectacle: gravel is unforgiving. Even a small excursion could result in the car getting stuck, with clear consequences for the show and action: fewer cars on the track battling and much more time between safety car periods, track cleaning, and runoff restoration. These are all elements to consider to avoid falling into facile reductionism that doesn’t help understand certain dynamics.
F1, Hakkinen: Emphasis Should Be on Asphalt Run-Offs
In light of the above, one would expect that the movement to review track limit discipline be substantial and cross-sectional. While the currently active drivers seem quite united, an old glory from the past has distanced himself, highlighting a perspective that could explain why, ultimately, F1 has not taken the initiative to address and overcome the problem.
Mika Hakkinen, in his column for the Unibet agency, after explaining a series of technicalities about how to approach corners and curbs, argued that the drivers’ complaints do not have a consistent basis: “[…] Beyond the white line and the curb, there can be additional asphalt for several meters. In my time, instead, there was grass or gravel. Today, if the car slides beyond the curb or the white line, the asphalt slows it down before hitting the barriers. On the grass, conversely, the speed does not decrease at all, which leads to more violent impacts. It’s logical and a good idea, but drivers automatically think that going further outside at the exit of the corner makes them faster.”
This is where sanctions become necessary. Mika Hakkinen does not want to hear about returning to slowdown systems he considers less effective. Such a viewpoint is essential because the Finn experienced firsthand the season when F1 had many tracks with unsafe run-off areas. The current system, therefore, is valid, even if it needs refinement in sanctioning mechanisms.
“You can’t go with all four wheels outside the white line because at that point, you would receive a penalty, and the drivers know that. It’s difficult to respect this rule, but it shouldn’t be so tough precisely because the drivers are aware of it. Complaining that the rule is stupid makes no sense. Of course, it’s stupid if the drivers go beyond the limit in an attempt to go faster and then receive the penalty. With asphalt after the curb and no track limits, there would be new safety hazards. Rules are rules.”
These words align precisely with the safety concerns raised in the initial part of this writing. Therefore, insistence on the current format is necessary but with an attempt to improve it, as the FIA rightly demands. Other sports, potentially, could come to F1’s aid. Goal-line technology or Hawk-Eye used in tennis are established tools that offer immediate answers and guarantee that the observation outcome is correct, eliminating doubts and speculations.
Of course, implementing similar technologies on 24 tracks with many corners to scrutinize would have high costs, but Formula One is not in financial dire straits. An effort by Liberty Media would make the entire category more credible and transparent, with instant and indisputable verdicts. And above all, with drivers who do not hide behind sometimes childish excuses.
Source: Diego Catalano for FUnoanalisitecnica