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What are track limits in F1 and how do they work?

Track limits in F1 have proven to be a big issue for drivers in 2023 but what are they and how do they work?

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Track limits are a key part of a Formula 1 track and ensure that all the drivers stay within the boundaries. They’ve proven to be a controversial issue for drivers this season with multiple penalties being handed out for track limit violations.

What are track limits in F1?

Track limits are the white lines that run around the edge of the circuit and set a boundary that the drivers are not allowed to cross.

Drivers are not allowed to exceed these limits and can face a penalty if all four wheels are over the defined boundary. FIA stewards can serve the drivers with a penalty if they believe an advantage has been gained.

Why does F1 have track limits?

Track limits mark the edge of the track and, without them, drivers could use some corners to gain an advantage. As an example corners without grass or gravel on the entry or exit could be used to take a wider line through the corner, increasing a car’s minimum speed and allowing a driver to carry more speed through the corner, reducing lap time.

Why are penalties given for track limits infringements in F1?

Track limit violations can have varied penalties depending on which sessions the drivers are taking part in. During a practice session any violations will typically result in the car’s lap times being deleted, but the driver won’t be penalised with anything stricter, even if they exceed track limits multiple times.

During qualifying, drivers will also face their lap time being deleted, which can increase pressure on a driver as a lap time deletion could mean they lose places on the starting grid or, worse, miss out on getting to the next session.

On most corners of a track, exceeding limits will result in a deletion of that lap, however if a driver commits the violation on the final corner onto the pit straight, the next lap time will also be deleted.

During a grand prix, each driver is allowed three track limits violations before they are shown a black and white flag, which warns them that the next infringement will result in a penalty. A further violation will result in a five-second penalty and a fifth violation will see the driver given a 10-second penalty.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT04

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT04

At the United States GP there were 76 lap times deleted. Many drivers praised the quick response of the stewards but insisted that a longer-term solution should be found, with Valtteri Bottas saying: “It makes it slightly easier. There's just a bit more flexibility on the line.

“But still, the issue is it is a track that there's multiple corners where if you go wide, you gain an advantage, and everyone is pushing the limit. So there needs to be a hard limit, whether it's a gravel strip, or whether it's a sausage kerb. It’s the issue with the track.”

How is a sausage kerb used to reduce track limit violations?

Sausage kerbs were introduced in F1, F2 and F3 by the FIA at Monza in 2002 but weren’t fully implemented until 2010. They were placed on some corners in order to prevent drivers from crossing track limits. The raised kerbs sit on the edge of the track on fast corners and act as a deterrent to drivers who could damage their cars if they drive over them.

The kerbs have been heavily criticised by drivers, including Lando Norris who called for the FIA to remove sausage kerbs following big accidents in other series over the last couple of years. In 2019, Alex Peroni suffered a nasty crash after hitting a sausage kerb at the Parabolica in Monza which saw his car hanging upside down.

At the time, Daniel Ricciardo said: "It's weird and you would never think that that kerb there would have such an impact. Unfortunately, sometimes you need something to happen so that you realise the consequences. I'd never looked at that kerb thinking of it as a danger or a threat.”

W Series driver Abbie Eaton suffered two fractured vertebrae after striking a sausage kerb at the Circuit of the Americas in 2021. At the time the British driver called the incident “ridiculous” and said there was “no need” for the kerbs on the circuit.

At the 2022 F2 feature race at the British GP Roy Nissany forced Dennis Hauger off track, causing him to lose control and career towards a sausage kerb on the inside of turn 16. The kerb launched Hauger into the air, with the Norwegian driver landing on Roy Nissany’s car.

Nissany’s halo protection saved him from serious injury, but the safety of sausage kerbs were then called into question once again.

Which F1 tracks have the biggest issues with track limits?

2023’s Austrian GP saw the most penalties for track limits, with race control having to review over 1200 reports that drivers had committed limit violations, all of which came at Turns 9 and 10 at the Red Bull Ring.

The FIA handed out 12 penalties for track violations to eight drivers during the race, including Estaban Ocon who was given 30 seconds worth of penalties split between four reprimands. The penalties helped Ocon secure the record for most penalties incurred during a grand prix.

The FIA has said that it will push the Red Bull Ring to install gravel traps, like those used on Turn 4. The governing body said: “We note that while this is not a straightforward solution in relation to other series that race here, it has proved to be very effective at other corners and circuits with similar issues.”

Haas also placed a formal ‘right to review’ for track limits after the United States GP where Nico Hulkenberg just missed out on points. The team had identified cases where other cars had exceeded track limits that had not been identified by the stewards at the time.

The case surrounded onboard footage from Alex Albon, Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll and Logan Sargeant that showed the cars exceeding track limits at Turn 6. Stewards have acknowledged that CCTV on the circuit was poorly positioned and did not fully cover the exit of the corner.

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