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2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Friday - LAT Images

Finding the (track) limits

Are the current track limits necessary and inevitable?

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Max Verstappen’s overtake during the Bahrain Grand Prix and Lando Norris’ qualifying lap at Imola have caused considerable controversy surrounding the effective usefulness and fairness of track limits.

The Bahrain Grand Prix has everything to be a showstopper: different tyre strategies, two incredibly talented drivers challenging for the lead of the race and, most importantly, of the championship. The moment of truth is coming close as Max Verstappen looks set to conquer the position on track against Lewis Hamilton. A proper fight between the Dutch Lion and the King is what dreams are made of for Formula One fans. The fight will be bold, brave and daring as none will give up on the lead. At Turn 4, the Dutchman is close enough to go for it and you won’t need to ask.

One week later at Imola the qualifying is revealing a very competitive McLaren with Lando Norris. The unexpected seems to be happening: the Englishman can conquer the first row, maybe even the pole. As time is ticking, Norris appears at the second place on the graphics. A great lap on one of the most difficult circuits of the calendar, finally the spark many were waiting for from the young Brit.

In both cases, the excitement is real, the possibility of finally having a competitive season and the idea of seeing how far these drivers can go. But then both get stopped by track limits: Verstappen must let Hamilton pass as he gained “ a lasting advantage” by going outside of the track at turn 4. Norris’ time gets deleted for running wide at the Piratella. The heartbreak is not caused by Hamilton’ success nor Perez’s first row, but by what F1 fans are deprived of: the underdog performing better than the declared favorite.

When talking about drivers, the fact they will always try and gain as much as possible is to be taken into consideration. A limit is necessary, but most of the time at the moment it seems just a pure rule. If someone runs wide at the Piratella in Imola by centimeters as Norris did, he won’t gain anything and won’t put himself to risk. At turn 4 in Bahrain the defining limits are the artificial grass and the gravel trap as declared by race director Masi. The problem then shifts not directly to track limits, but to the wording of the rules. What is a lasting advantage? Is always running wide a lasting advantage? Probably yes, since it can gain up to 3 seconds per race, but this wasn’t punished. On the other side, what was punished was running wide after an overtake.

Free practice 2: Carlos and Charles fourth and fifth

 

Image credit: Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

The rules are lawful in a sport where the costs can be very high. Safety must always come first. However, it is necessary to point out the fans’ understanding of certain decisions is limited and end up in confusion and bitterness.

As no difficult problem has easy solutions, the controversy can be improved in more than one way.

According to Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, uniformity is necessary as “ the same rules are needed at every corner. It doesn’t matter if we use the white line or whatever, but there must be a limit”. This would help not only drivers, but also fans to have a visible and certain delimitation.

Moreover, natural track limits could be placed more often. Even Grand Prix Drivers’ Association chief Alex Wurz admitted to ORF “ Grass or gravel works much better.” Of course, not all circuits can have these since other series, such as MotoGP, might be racing there, but the F1 calendar should reward old style circuits like Imola and Mugello and try to keep to the minimum “oversized supermarket parking lots” as defined by Toto Wolff.

In the end, just let the tracks crown their own champions.

 

Headline Image: LAT Images for Mercedes AMG F1 Media Database

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