Since uploading my piece yesterday about track limits, I’ve seen and received many responses regarding the wording of the actual regulation.
Article 20.2 of the 2015 Formula 1 Sporting Regulations reads as follows:
20.2 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. At the absolute discretion of the race director a driver may be given the opportunity to give back the whole of any advantage he gained by leaving the track.
A driver may not deliberately leave the track without justifiable reason.
I felt the need to go back and write today’s article because there exists a justifiable confusion over what is written and what is enforceable.
If we take the regulation to the letter, then it stands that track limits are strictly confined to the area within the painted white lines at the edge of the circuit. This is an area which does not include the kerbs.
As written, the only time a driver will be considered to have left the track, and thus be outside or to have exceeded track limits, is when “no part of the car remains in contact with the track.” In other words, all four off.
The problem for the stewards, as I see it, is that in the wording of the regulation there is no guidance provided for when such an infringement becomes punishable.
Indeed, and as highlighted in yesterday’s piece, only in the third paragraph is there any mention of what might occur in the instance of somebody flouting the regulation although, again, this is dealt with in an overwhelmingly vague fashion.
The wording essentially states that should a driver break the regulation by exceeding the limits of the track, all they have to do is return to the confines of the track in a safe manner and without gaining “any lasting advantage.” It is at the “absolute discretion” of the race director as to whether or not to give a driver the opportunity to hand this advantage back, should they be deemed to have gained such a benefit and not handed it back of their own volition.
There is, therefore, absolutely no explicitly defined offense in exceeding track limits. For while the regulation is worded that a driver must use the marked track at all times, the only time at which he will be adjudged worthy of punishment is in the event that he has done so, gained an advantage, and not rescinded the unfairly gained benefit.
As such, it is easy to see how both the stewards are hamstrung and the fans frustrated by a poorly worded regulation.
Were we to take the wording of this rule and attempt to apply it to other sports, we would immediately see its core problem.
Let’s take tennis as an example. Like Formula 1, we are looking at a playable surface within clearly marked boundaries. If a ball bounces outside those lines it is judged to be “out” and the competitor who played that ball loses the point. Simple. The advent of “Hawkeye” allows greater precision in the adjudication of which balls are within the limits, as being even slightly on the line counts as being “in.” Just as in F1, then, 100% of the ball just as 100% of the car needs to have exceeded the playable surface.
But if we were to apply Formula 1’s Article 20.2, then one could conceivably argue that so long as the opponent of the competitor who had played the foul ball was able to return said ball, then the initial competitor would have done nothing wrong as he or she had gained no advantage from exceeding the outer extremities of the marked court. Play would continue. Only in winning the point via a ball being played outside the legal limitations of the court and the opponent being unable to return it, would the advantage be “lasting” and thus the competitor lose the point for playing a foul ball.
If that seems ridiculous, it’s because it is. And yet it follows the very same logic which is at the basis of Article 20.2.
So how do we proceed?
Yesterday we talked of the possibility of a grass strip either side of the track, preceding as wide an asphalt run off as the governing body deemed safe before the barrier. It’s cheap, environmentally sound and would do the job.
Another option might be to place astroturf behind the kerbs and white lines. This should be a natural deterrent, as evidenced when Marcus Ericsson put his rear right onto the plastic grass at Pouhon during practice at Spa and was promptly spat out into the barriers. Then again, it didn’t stop drivers exceeding track limits at Turns 3 and 4 in Hungary this year, and it didn’t stop drivers exceeding track limits at Stavelot or, indeed, on the exit of Blanchimont.
What about the high abrasion run off we see at Circuit Paul Ricard? Run over that too many times and your tyres will get chewed right through. It would be an effective deterrent, but if it chews up tyres then it follows that it would also chew up bike leathers and human flesh in the event of an incident in two-wheeled competition and as such would be a hard sell to most multi-purpose circuits.
If determining the correct type of run-off is so hard, then perhaps it simply falls down to policing track limits effectively. Some have called for Formula 1 to embrace Britain’s strict MSA rules. Introduced in 2014 in direct conflict to the FIA’s own regulations, the MSA stipulated the following:
Regulation Q14.4.2: Drivers must use the track at all times and may not leave the track without a justifiable reason.
Q14.4.2.a The white lines defining the track edges are considered to be part of the track.
Q14.4.2.b A driver will be judged to have left the track if any wheel of the car either goes beyond the outer edge of any kerb or goes beyond the white line where there is no kerb.
First offence: Reprieve
Second: Black-and-white warning flag
Third: Five-second penalty
Fourth: Drive-through penalty
Fifth: Black flag
This system is black and white. To many it is too extreme. To others, it is absolutely correct. And its intention is clear. Using the kerbs is acceptable to a point, but track limits must always be respected.
Ultimately Formula 1’s problem falls down to a number of factors, from the continual extension of drivable run-off in the pursuit of greater safety and a driver’s nature to use whatever advantage he or she can to drive faster, the failure in the first instance of Charlie Whiting and the FIA in clamping down on the excessive use of this run-off when it first became an issue, to the fine line one can draw between a black and white enforcement of principle and the grey area that exists in the excitement derived from those who go over the limits to pull off bold and brave overtaking moves.
But at the root of it all is the Sporting Regulations.
Until we have a better written set of rules, with clear parameters of acceptable driving, what constitutes the racing surface and what punishments will befall those who continually flout the rules, Article 20.2 and the concept of track limits will have absolutely no meaning in the so called pinnacle of motorsport.