The popular gravel solution to F1's track limits problem

Last weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix provided a test case for a change that could address the ongoing track limits saga that has blighted Formula 1 in recent seasons.

The popular gravel solution to F1's track limits problem

At the Red Bull Ring’s Turn 6, the second part of the kerb was replaced by gravel, providing a well-defined edge of the circuit that made any judgement about limits redundant.

In contrast, Turns 9 and 10, where monitoring was carried out electronically and via CCTV, laps were deleted throughout the weekend. The loss of times, especially when it really matters in qualifying, is something that drivers and fans dislike intensely.

However, the FIA has to do something to ensure a level playing field and that an unfair advantage isn’t gained and, as long as drivers have an asphalt safety net, it’s inevitable that they will use it.

A return to gravel has been a regular point of discussion in drivers’ briefings in recent years, and the unexpected visits last season to 'old school' circuits like Imola, Mugello and the Nurburgring provided plenty of food for thought.

The acres of hard run-off at Spa have long been a point of contention, as drivers believe it makes the most challenging of circuits too easy. Last year’s news that gravel will return to La Source, Raidillon, Blanchimont, Les Combes and Stavelot as part of a major revamp at the Belgian GP venue was well-received by the drivers.

While Spa has been sorted, drivers still constantly request gravel traps at other venues.

Last weekend gave them and the FIA a perfect opportunity to see what difference gravel can make from one year to the next. The response of those behind the wheel was positive, and universal.

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

“It was good, it was a hard limit,” said Daniel Ricciardo. “If we have it our way, I would have every track like the exit of Turn 6, unless it's a wall, which [can be] nice as well. But I think Turn 6 was really good this weekend.”

Ricciardo’s McLaren team-mate Lando Norris added: “There's a limit, and it's who can push that limit the most."

Like his colleagues, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll sees gravel as adding a challenge that has been taken away at so many tracks.

“I think circuits should push more and more to do that,” he said. “Because it’s definitely what I think we all want to see instead of those silly double kerbs, which don’t make sense for track limits.

“I’m not saying every circuit has to redo the whole gravel trap, but let’s call it a three metre strip of gravel behind each kerb, instead of a double kerb, I think that could make tracks more interesting instead of messing around with these track limits.

“If you look at the Abu Dhabis and Paul Ricards, where you just see run-off or Tarmac as far as you can see, I think that takes away a bit of the joy.

“We go to places like this, and Imola, where a millimetre or a centimetre too far off the circuit, you touch the gravel, you pay the price.

“I think it gives the circuit a lot more character, which is what I want to see more of more often.”

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR21, Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR21, Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

The FIA is well aware that gravel is a good solution but, for a variety of reasons, it can’t be introduced at every corner where track limits abuse is currently an issue.

One of the main considerations is where venues are shared with two-wheeled racing, and kerb/gravel arrangements have to work for both.

“With regards to Turn 6, with the support of the circuit here we were able to do that following last year’s event,” F1 race director Michael Masi explained.

“And, yes, it obviously worked extremely well. But as we’ve said many times before, it’s not just the FIA side, it’s the FIA and the FIM working together on looking at each corner on a case-by-case basis and finding a solution that’s suitable, depending upon all of the various aspects involved.

“So yes, it’s something that in the case of the Turn 6 did work well, and we’re working together with our partners at the FIM as well as the circuit to try and see what solutions can work for all forms of the sport at both 9 and 10, which are - at this circuit - obviously the two areas where we still have ongoing monitoring of track limit issues.”

The bottom line is a driver would rather know straight away, from the stones clattering off his wheels, that he’s gone over the limit. Being told the bad news later by his engineer is F1’s equivalent of an impossibly tight VAR offside decision in football.

“If you go over the limit you’re in the gravel and then your lap is over,” said AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly. “I think that’s how it should be pretty much everywhere.

"Like this, we stop talking about track limits every single time. Ideally what they’ve done in Turn 6 is what we will need everywhere. It just makes life easier for everyone.”

shares
comments

Related video

FIA radio traffic has reduced since F1 started broadcasting messages

Previous article

FIA radio traffic has reduced since F1 started broadcasting messages

Next article

2021 F1 Austrian GP session timings and how to watch

2021 F1 Austrian GP session timings and how to watch
Load comments
The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career Plus

The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career

Emerson Fittipaldi’s decision to go racing with his brother led to him falling out of F1, but he bloomed again on the IndyCar scene. NIGEL ROEBUCK considers a career of two halves

Formula 1
Jul 31, 2021
Why Mercedes is pleased to be in the Hungary hunt at a 'Red Bull track' Plus

Why Mercedes is pleased to be in the Hungary hunt at a 'Red Bull track'

Mercedes ended Friday practice at the Hungaroring with a clear gap to Red Bull thanks to Valtteri Bottas’s pace in topping FP2. But there are other reasons why the Black Arrows squad feels satisfied with its progress so far at a track many Formula 1 observers reckon favours Red Bull overall

Formula 1
Jul 30, 2021
How Red Bull endured its second car crash in two weeks Plus

How Red Bull endured its second car crash in two weeks

OPINION: Red Bull was justified to be upset that Lewis Hamilton survived his British GP clash with Max Verstappen and went on to win. But its attempts to lobby the FIA to reconsider the severity of Hamilton's in-race penalty were always likely to backfire, and have only succeeded in creating a PR disaster that will distract from its on-track efforts

Formula 1
Jul 30, 2021
The ‘screaming’ F1 engine future that may not be out of reach Plus

The ‘screaming’ F1 engine future that may not be out of reach

OPINION: It wasn't just the Verstappen/Hamilton clash that had the Red Bull and Mercedes bosses at loggerheads at Silverstone, with the nature of Formula 1's 2025 engines also subject for disagreement. But hopes to have loud, emotive engines that are also environmentally friendly don't have to be opposed

Formula 1
Jul 29, 2021
The drivers that need to strike gold before F1's summer break Plus

The drivers that need to strike gold before F1's summer break

OPINION: Formula 1 is about to break up for summer 2021, with the title battles finely poised. But it’s not just the latest round of Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton that will be worth watching this weekend in Hungary, as plenty of drivers are eying big results to change the stories of their seasons so far

Formula 1
Jul 28, 2021
How Lotus F1 uncovered, then squandered its last ‘unfair advantage’ Plus

How Lotus F1 uncovered, then squandered its last ‘unfair advantage’

Cast in the mould of its founder Colin Chapman, Lotus was powerful and daring but 
flawed – as it proved through further soaring peaks and painful troughs into the 1980s. DAMIEN SMITH examines a game-changing era

Formula 1
Jul 27, 2021
The core problems Yas Marina’s long-awaited tweaks won't address Plus

The core problems Yas Marina’s long-awaited tweaks won't address

OPINION: Changes to the layout of Abu Dhabi’s circuit aim to reverse the trend of insipid Formula 1 races there - the promoter has even described one of the new corners as “iconic”. And that, argues STUART CODLING, is one of this venue’s abiding failings

Formula 1
Jul 26, 2021
How Ferrari offered Britain's next F1 prospect what Red Bull couldn't Plus

How Ferrari offered Britain's next F1 prospect what Red Bull couldn't

Last year's Formula 2 runner-up Callum Ilott could be on his way to becoming the first Briton to contest a grand prix in an Alfa Romeo since Reg Parnell in 1950. But, says OLEG KARPOV, the Ferrari Driver Academy protege is having to temper his ambition at the moment – outwardly at least…

Formula 1
Jul 25, 2021