There is always a talking point in the world of Formula 1.
Some are destined to change the face of the sport and I am thinking of the “halo driver” protection device and the new-for-2017 rule changes. Both are pivotal to the future of Formula 1 in appearance and performance.
Other talking points tend to go into the “spat” file and here I am thinking of the huge discussion that seems to be a race by race favourite — the debate around the “track limits”. To exceed or not to exceed, that is the question.
The paddock seems to be divided on that issue.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner: “My frustration is: come up with something that’s simple, and there’s a white line that goes all the way around the circuit, so one easy way of dealing with it is that, if you have all four wheels over that line, you’re out.”
Mercedes F1 team principal Toto Wolff : “If you start to analyse white lines, and whether a driver has put 2cm of his tyre on a white line and his lap time is going away, nobody understands anymore. This is not long jump, where 2cm makes the jump invalid, this is a 6km track and 2cm shouldn’t be changing that. Just leave the drivers alone, let them drive, provide spectacular pictures over the kerbs.”
Kimi Raikkonen is swarmed by Ferrari pit crew
So what are the opposing views?
The “for” limits camp point out the obvious, in that the white line delineates the track and if a driver goes over those limits he is driving off-track. Fair enough but the “against” camp says it is best for the entertainment that a driver can exceed the limits in order to get the fastest line through a corner.
The “for” camp comes back with a safety angle.
The run-off areas, now tarmac and not gravel, have been carefully planned in distance from the edge of the track to the wall so as to minimise any impact, and by a driver going off-track that distance will be reduced and any impact will have a greater effect.
The “against” camp now really doesn’t seem to have any more arguments apart from the entertainment and “let the drivers go where they want” views.
Occasionally, a driver will be forced wide on a corner or make a mistake and simply go wide but that is not the argument here, which is the deliberate tactic of going wide on some corners to gain an advantage, not every corner but some crucial ones, that allows the car to maintain momentum rather than having to take that corner slower. The evolution of that will be that the track will then be defined as the wider line, and no heed will be taken of the track limits. So, either there are track limits or not.
In almost every other sport that takes place in a specific area, soccer, rugby, athletics and even America’s Cup or aerobatic racing, there are limits and going over those limits results in a penalty.
In the World Endurance Championship, the track limits rule is rigorously applied and consequently respected.
Perhaps the answer is not to police them at all in Formula 1 but make it difficult or slower to go off-line by making bigger kerbs or some sort of gravel trap beyond the kerbs, about 1m wide.
If it is slower to go off-line or there is a possibility a car could be damaged by riding a kerb, the drivers will not go there.
Daniel Ricciardo says he treats the new kerbs as a wall.
Referring to the new kerbs at the Austrian Red Bull Ring track recently, Daniel Ricciardo said: “I’m honestly treating it like a wall, I know that if I hit it [the yellow kerbs] I’m going to damage my car ... at so many modern circuits us drivers complain that you can run off and not pay a price, so this weekend we are paying a price. Sure, the damage to the cars is quite severe, but it’s the same if you hit a wall on a street circuit.
“They’re visible, it’s not like we can’t see them.”
If a driver is forced by another driver to leave the track, as seen in a couple of incidents involving Nico Rosberg lately, then a penalty will be applied to the “enforcer”.
Making bigger kerbing brings other problems of course, many tracks are also used for motorcycle racing and a big kerb is definitely not what they want.
The circuit owners have built the circuits to the FIA’s seemingly ever-changing rules and briefs so it is not their fault that the reputedly best drivers in the world find themselves incapable of driving between two white lines, or that the cars run so close to the ground that running over an unburnt matchstick can damage a car’s floor.
Perhaps the FIA should make funds available to those tracks so that they can make kerbs that discourage a driver from going over them and then, when the motorcycle boys come along, more benign, flat kerbs are dropped in to replace them. That technology does exist. I am sure in this rarefied world of “money talks”, funds can be found.