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Formula 1: Crossing the Line

F1

A frequent occurrence in the last few years has been that of the drivers straying all-four-wheels beyond the bounds of the racetrack during qualifying and the races. The rules state that the white lines either side of the tarmac dictate what constitutes being within the confines of the track. The drivers are being permitted these liberties if it is deemed that no advantage has been gained in their doing so. But racing drivers, being who they are, wouldn’t be bothering to do it all if they weren’t seeking and garnering some sort of advantage from it.

One of the most prolific instances of drivers consistently exploiting track limits has been on the exit of the Ascari Chicane at Monza. It wasn’t until this season that the F.I.A. finally rectified the issue, but the drivers were being allowed to do it, when it was clearly accruing a benefit, for years. Charlie Whiting stated numerous times in prior seasons that he was fine with it, so what changed all of a sudden that necessitated the measures put in place to prevent its reoccurrence?

Innumerable elements have been blamed for this problem arising in the first place. The ‘safely’ flattened kerbs that do nothing to prevent cars running over them, in conjunction with the expanses of asphalt in place of more efficiently prohibitive gravel traps, and the Astroturf in place of real grass, certainly haven’t helped. Neither has the Stewards’ characteristic inconsistency in doling out often lenient punishments for exceeding track limits been enough to deter the perpetration of it.

But the biggest problem seems to me to be the ruling itself. A black and white illegality like crossing the white lines shouldn’t be penalised dependant on whether there is deemed to be an advantage to it. Do the Stewards deliberate over the punitive measure for a jump start, or crossing the lines on pit exit? No, both will land the offending individual a drive-through without question. Whilst the latter is primarily a safety regulation, only comparable to exceeding track limits in its parallelism of crossing white lines, the former can be beneficial to a driver’s race if it goes unpunished, just as veering off track on the exits of corners is to a driver’s lap times.

Oft as not, when someone’s start precedes the five lights going out, their response is to immediately slow and lose all and more of whatever advantage was gained. But as commentators like Martin Brundle have repeatedly remarked, there’s nothing to be achieved in doing that. The Stewards don’t ponder over the matter of jump starts, because the regulations degree an automatic penalty, regardless of the circumstances. Given the obvious similarities between jumping the lights and crossing the outer lines of the race course, the disparity of how punishment is applied for each offense is baffling.

Participants in the long jump who exceed the foul line before taking their leap will have that distance discounted, irrespective of it being a competitive range they’ve covered or not. Racers in the velodrome are disqualified or penalised if their bikes deviate from between their white-lined allotment, in spite of them winning or losing the contest at hand. Regulations concerning lines are unambiguous (i.e. not open to interpretative punishment), but F1 bafflingly perseveres with a deliberative ruling regarding something that is such an overt offense.

If a driver completes a lap that consists of any excursions, the posted time should be immediately disallowed. I’ll pose a hypothetical situation explaining why: Driver A sets a time at the beginning of Q3, during which he drove off the road at one or more corners. Whether he lost or gained time as a result is irrelevant, he is the first and only person to have posted a time before it starts to rain. All the other contestants cannot equal nor best the provisional pole time, and so the session concludes with Driver A in pole position, with a technically illegal time. But the Stewards are unable to surmise that he gained a definite advantage, and so permit the time to stand.

Hypothetical the above situation might be, but not at all an impossible occurrence under the current jurisdiction. And it highlights the sporting inequity that Charlie Whiting and co. are tolerating on a regular basis.

It’s also creating a false impression amongst certain fans that the drivers are unable to complete their laps within the white lines, and to expect them to is somewhat unreasonable. I recall during one of the practice sessions this weekend, one person tweeting in something to the effect of, ‘well, the fast corners make it so hard for the drivers that they’d have to slow down to keep within the confines of the track’. As Croft and Brundle sardonically responded; that’s the whole point.

Repeated ventures off-track are occasionally reprimanded – especially when an overtaking manoeuvre is completed in such circumstances – but as witnessed in India this weekend, they’re just as often ignored. It’s a growing problem that needs immediately addressing, because the more this goes on, the more lessened F1’s credibility as the motorsporting pinnacle becomes.

DRS has all but nullified the effect of overtaking prowess, and the chewing-gum Pirelli tyres the ability to banzai a succession of qualifying laps during the races. The drivers now complete most races to delta times, and are instructed down to the minute details of their driving by their engineers. The administrative tolerance of drivers completing portions of laps outside the dictated boundaries is sadly diminishing a lot of the remaining skill and precision that’s required to drive these cars at full tilt.

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