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F1 track limits explained: Bahrain Grand Prix catches out stars in qualifying

F1 track limits explained: Bahrain Grand Prix catches out stars in qualifying

F1 track limits explained: Bahrain Grand Prix catches out stars in qualifying

F1 track limits explained: Bahrain Grand Prix catches out stars in qualifying

Track limits in recent years have proved to be a challenge for the drivers and F1 in 2024 looks set to be no different.

The new season begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix and already the drivers are being caught out, with Pierre Gasly among the victims for Alpine during the season's opening qualifying session - where drivers were severely punished at turn four for running wide.

What is track limit in F1?

The track limit is the white line which defines the edge of the circuit, but as well as acting as a boundary for the field of play, it is also a key safety feature.

If track limits were not in place, drivers could theoretically make use of all of the asphalt run-off areas that are common to modern F1 tracks in order to find a faster route around the facility.

In theory, they should be relatively easy to police, but, as is often the case in F1, it is never quite as simple as that.

A driver is usually deemed to have ‘exceeded track limits’ if they put all four wheels over the agreed boundary. Although this is usually the white line, the outside edge of the kerbing has previously also been used to mark this point.

If an offence is committed at a place on the track where the stewards believe an advantage could have been gained through this action, warnings and then penalties can be applied.

Here’s everything you need to know about one of the most contentious issues in F1.

How are track limits decided and enforced?

Track limits vary from race to race depending on the nature of the track, with the FIA deciding the exact boundaries before any action gets under way.

Race stewards enforce track limit rules throughout the Grand Prix weekend, including during practice and qualifying, but there is naturally a greater focus during the competitive action.

Drivers can regularly be heard complaining about the actions of other racers over the course of the weekend, and they can also be expected to vehemently protest their own innocence if things go the other way.

Max Verstappen has been one of the most vocal critics of the way track limits are enforced, suggesting there should be more nuance if no advantage is gained.

“It sounds very easy but it's not,” he said after the Austrian Grand Prix last year. “When you go that quickly through a corner and some of them are a bit blind.

“If you have a bit more understeer, tyres are wearing, it's easy to just go over the white lines but do you actually gain time? Maybe yes, maybe not."

What are the penalties for exceeding track limits?

Penalties for track limits vary from session to session and can change depending on location.

Any track limits infringements in practice or qualifying results in the lap time being deleted. If occur in the final corner, the next lap time can also be deleted if stewards deem the driver to have gained from carrying more speed through the corner.

There is more grace during a race, with drivers receiving two warnings before they are shown a black and white flag for a third.

If the regulations are flouted for a fourth time, a five-second time penalty is awarded. This happened to Lando Norris and Sebastian Vettel at the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix while Yuki Tsunoda received the same fate in the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Lando Norris received a track limits time penalty in Austria last year

Any more and a 10-second penalty is awarded, as Nico Hulkenberg found to his cost in the opening race of the 2023 season in Bahrain.

In theory, if drivers egregiously continued to breach track limits, they could receive a disqualification; however, that is highly unlikely.

Which tracks have the biggest issues with track limits and why?

The Austrian Grand Prix is particularly synonymous with track limit breaches, with a record 64 warnings given to drivers.

Hulkenberg’s 10-second penalty in Bahrain was the biggest ever handed out for one race as the German got used to being back in the cockpit.

There had been concerns that the changes to the Jeddah Corniche circuit for 2023 would result in more track limit issues at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix, but the event passed without many problems.

Williams driver Logan Sargeant was unhappy after he felt the rules were applied differently in practice and qualifying, resulting in his Q1 exit.

“Yeah, I guess I just put my front left on the paint a bit on the pit entry,” he said. “It’s frustrating because there’s been no policing of track limits all weekend, and then we have no reference coming to qualifying. I do what I’d done all weekend and it gets deleted.”

READ MORE: What is downforce and why is it important in F1?

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