F1’s track limits confusion explained after Bahrain Grand Prix

One of the main points of discussion after the Bahrain Grand Prix was why Lewis Hamilton was allowed to abuse the confines of Turn 4 throughout the race, while Max Verstappen’s overtaking in the same part of the circuit was deemed a breach of the rules by race director Michael Masi.

A compilation of videos on social media shows Hamilton crossing the white line 29 times on the exit of Turn 4, before his race engineer relays a warning from race control that he must stay within the lines.

Later in the race, on lap 53, Verstappen passed Hamilton on the outside of Turn 4, but went off the track on the exit of the turn, to which the Red Bull pit wall gave him back his position.

Although the incidents occurred on the same part of the track and both involved abuse of track limits, Masi says they fall under two different rules.

Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday. Dan Istitenet – Formula One via Getty Images

Hamilton’s abuse of track limits was the subject of section 21 of the race director’s notes, which are published before each race and cover the specific rules for each circuit.

Verstappen’s incident concerned article 27.3 of the sporting regulations about overtaking from the track and is a general rule that applies to every race of the season.

There was some confusion due to a perceived rule change in the middle of the weekend.

During the drivers’ meeting on Friday night, Masi told the drivers that the restrictions on Turn 4 – with the cancellation of any lap time in which a driver deviates from Turn 4 – would be monitored during practice and qualifying, but that there would be no monitoring during the race in terms of lap time cancellation. The decision was recorded in the minutes of the race committee on Saturday morning as follows:

21) Track limits 21.1 Practice sessions
a) Lap times obtained during a practice session by leaving the track and cutting behind the red-white curb at the exit of turn 4 will result in invalidation of the lap time by the Stewards. 21.2 Race
a) The boundaries of the track at the exit of Turn 4 will not be checked for lap time purposes as the defined boundaries are the artificial grass and gravel at this point.
b) Drivers will be reminded of the provisions of Rule 27.3 of the Sporting Regulations at all times during the race.

The key point of Verstappen’s action is the reference to Article 27.3, which states:

Riders must make all reasonable efforts to use the track at all times and may not intentionally leave the track without good reason. Drivers are scored for leaving the track if no part of the vehicle remains in contact with the track. For the avoidance of doubt, all white lines delineating the edges of the track are considered part of the track and the edges are not.

If the vehicle leaves the lane, the driver can return to it, but only if this can be done safely and without prolonged benefit. At the discretion of the Race Director, the rider may be given the opportunity to regain the advantage gained by leaving the track.

Verstappen’s overtaking manoeuvre, for example, was flagged as gaining a permanent advantage, while Hamilton’s repeated infringements came after he had done so much in the middle of the race that the stewards felt it necessary to intervene.

Masi gave the following statement after the race: The two decisions regarding Verstappen and Hamilton] are clearly different and in line with the two notes and what was said and discussed in the meeting with the drivers: If there is an off-track overtake with the car that gives an advantage, a long-term advantage, then I will suggest over the radio to the team to give up that position immediately, and that was very clear.

In terms of tolerance of people going off the track during a race, it was made very clear at the meeting that this is not controlled in terms of lap times, so to speak, but always in accordance with the sporting rules, which state that there should generally be no long-term advantage.

Masi denied that the rules had changed mid-race, as Hamilton suggested over the team radio when he was told he would receive a caution flag and penalty if he continued to abuse the guardrail in Turn 4.

No, nothing changed during the race, Masi added. We had two guys in that area looking at every car every lap, and at almost every car you did the right thing, within what we expected in the general order. There was the occasional car that had a little momentum or came out, but it wasn’t a permanent thing.

However, the fans were not the only ones confused.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff says the debate over circuit restrictions needs to be clearer in the future.

I’m just as confused as you are, he said. At the start of the race it was said that the track limit at turn 4 would not be penalised.

Then, during the race, we suddenly heard that it would be considered an advantage to go wider and that this could lead to a possible penalty, which we discussed with the race director, but there was nothing we could do about it.

It was a matter of whether he made the call, that’s all.

And in the end, that decision allowed us to win the race. Max made a mistake in the definition of race control and took the lead, he had to regain the position and that saved our victory.

Therefore, we must be consistent in the messages we send out. They should be clear, they should be sacred, not like a Shakespeare novel that leaves room for interpretation.

I think it should be easy to learn, so everyone can understand it and not have to carry a document in the car to read it and remember what is actually allowed and what is not.

frequently asked questions

What does it mean to exceed the track limit in F1?

They are considered to cross the lane line if the center of the vehicle passes through that line. If you exceed the track limit, you will receive 1x off-track penalty or slowdown penalty. These two actions remove the time per turn.

What is the most difficult F1 circuit?

The 5 most difficult circuits in D..

Which F1 circuit has the most turns?

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps This mountain circuit in the Ardennes is 7 km long and has 19 fast and medium speed bends: nine bends on the right and ten on the left. It is the longest circuit on the F1 calendar and is widely regarded as one of the most demanding, combining F1’s longest straight with a number of challenging corners.

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