Ex-F1 team boss warns ‘too stupid for words’ track limits farce will ‘destroy the sport’

Oliver Harden
Alpine driver Esteban Ocon breaches track limits at the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring. Styria, July 2023.

Former Minardi team boss Paul Stoddart has called for sanity in F1’s approach to track limits after multiple penalties made a mockery of the Austrian Grand Prix.

F1’s strict approach to track limits at the Red Bull Ring saw seven drivers given time penalties during the race, with governing body the FIA launching an investigation into more than 1,200 breaches at the end of the 71-lap event.

That meant the final classification was not made official until five hours after Red Bull’s Max Verstappen crossed the line to win, with Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz among a number of drivers to suffer post-race penalties.

Track limits farce is damaging for F1

The farce came after a Friday qualifying session in which a total of 47 laps were deleted for track limits, almost three times last year’s tally of 16.

And in acolumn for RacingNews365.com, Stoddart has called for a more sensible approach – and has warned that a repeat risks being highly damaging to the sport at a time when F1 is growing in popularity.

He wrote: “I disagree with the strictness of the application of track limits this year, it has upset too many results in too many races. Without question, it is causing people to turn off from Formula 1 at a time when we’ve never had a greater viewing audience on a global basis. There needs to be a bit of sanity there.

“It it pretty easy to the naked eye if the driver has more than one tyre over the track limit and is doing it on a repetitive basis, then there should be a penalty – but don’t forget, everybody needs to remember that you cannot see where that front wheel is in comparison to the track.

“I am in favour of introducing something where if you’re going to use track limits as an excuse for five-second penalties, you have to have seen repetitive track limits where the driver has clearly breached – but then you get into how do you define it?

“You are just going to ruin the racing if you keep doing this.

“We had that ridiculous situation where we didn’t know for hours what the final top 10 was. There were 1,200 violations, it’s too stupid for words, and it is not fair on the FIA to be reviewing 1,200 pieces of tape.

“There’s got to be a bit of latitude. If a driver is gaining an advantage and doing it on a consistent basis, then give them a penalty.

“But if it is so minute that they have to slow down the camera to actually see whether there’s a piece of red between the tyre and the track, it’s ridiculous and if we’re going to do that, we’re going to ruin the sport. Sanity has to prevail.”

Verstappen was among the drivers unimpressed by the stance on track limits after seeing a number of his own times deleted in qualifying, arguing it placed unfair demands on drivers to make such fine judgements at such high speeds.

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Stoddart is convinced that the situation could be swiftly resolved: adding: “A quick meeting of the World Council and the teams could produce an instant result whereby we don’t have the whole weekend being ruined by track limits.

“And you only have to listen to the drivers, because the driver behind the car that has exceeded track limits sees it very clearly because his vision is able to see the car was off the track – but the driver driving it has no idea.

“You could argue about putting walls around every track and totally ruin the racing, with places like Monaco, the Wall of Champions in Montreal, Azerbaijan having walls with teeth.

“They bite if you hit and drivers will go out of their way not to hit them – but you can’t do that at the other 20 circuits. It is just not possible. Let’s have a bit of common sense prevail.

“We didn’t hear this five or 10 years ago – we’ve just got to move on and give penalties where somebody is abusing the privilege of being able to go over the white line on a constant basis and gaining an advantage abasing the guy who has gone over it inadvertently because he can’t bloody see from sitting so low in the cockpit where the line is.

“It’s stupid.”

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