Track limits were a hot topic at the Red Bull Ring round of the FIA Formula 3 Championship last year, with a lost pole position, off-track overtakes, and a litany of post-race penalties all stirring up controversy. One year on, F3 has implemented new regulations to govern the problem more carefully, following a precedent set by Formula 1. F1 Feeder Series analysed what’s changed and talked to drivers about how the simplified rules have altered their racing experience.
By Michael McClure
FIA F3’s regulations regarding track limits have historically followed those of Formula 1, the championship F3 supports. For each race weekend last year, the event notes of all series on the F1 weekend schedule listed turns or corner complexes where track limits were being monitored, along with instructions on manoeuvring around bollards or speed bumps in certain off-track zones.
This system caused widespread confusion and contributed to situations like what arose in the first F3 race of the Red Bull Ring weekend, when seven drivers were penalised up to 30 seconds after the race for breaching track limits at Turns 9 and 10. Meanwhile, at the previous round at the Circuit Paul Ricard, Turn 6 was added to the list of spots monitored for track limits violations on the Saturday morning prior to Race 1, after Free Practice and Qualifying for F3 had already elapsed.
Last year’s F1 race director Michael Masi has been replaced by Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas for the 2022 season. The pair in charge of F1 have set clear and unwavering guidelines on what constitutes a violation of track limits, and the same principles have been applied to F3, in which Claro Ziegahn has taken over as race director from Bob Kettleboro.
Regarding track limits, the event notes for each round in 2022 simply cite Article 27.3 of the FIA F3 sporting regulations. The rule, which has remained constant for years, states that “drivers will be judged to have left the track if no part of the car remains in contact with it and, for the avoidance of doubt, any white lines defining the track edges are considered to be part of the track but the kerbs are not.” Additionally, it says drivers may rejoin the circuit after leaving the track “when it is safe to do so and without gaining any lasting advantage”.
“The right approach”
With the removal of the case-by-case exceptions seen throughout 2021, the newly tightened rules met a tough challenge at the first round in Bahrain, where there were a total of 73 infractions at Turn 4 across the two races. Several drivers, including Campos Racing’s Pepe Martí and Carlin’s Enzo Trulli, were handed five-second time penalties for exceeding the track limits four or more times during a race.
In a media session held ahead of the fifth round of the season at the Red Bull Ring, F1 Feeder Series asked Martí, Trulli and MP Motorsport’s Caio Collet for their thoughts on how track limits have been monitored this season.
Martí, a rookie graduating to F3 after just one previous season in cars, defended the generally stricter approach taken by race direction, saying that it paralleled the rules instituted during his karting career and his dual F4 campaigns in Spain and the United Arab Emirates last season.
“Honestly, last year in F4, I’d already gotten quite used to this,” Martí said. “My last years [in karting], the tracks where we had a lot of asphalt run-off, we actually got track limits in qualifying. It gets you used to it, and I think it’s the right approach.”
Trulli and Collet both echoed Martí’s support of the new protocols. Collet, the only driver of the three who competed in F3 last season, praised the consistency of the approach within and across circuits.
“I think it’s the right way, and the approach they are doing this year, I think, is a little bit better than last year,” Collet told F1 Feeder Series. “They don’t change track by track. I think all the tracks that we’ve been this year, it was always the white line independent of the corner, so this is quite nice. It’s not different one corner to the other or one track to the other.
All the tracks that we’ve been this year, it was always the white line independent of the cornerCaio Collet (MP Motorsport)
Silverstone’s unique predicament
Silverstone, which hosted the fourth round of F3 last weekend, is among the fastest circuits on the calendar. Turn 9, colloquially known as Copse, plays a crucial role in stringing together a good lap, so drivers are always pushing to find any possible gains in lap time. As Trulli explains, the nature of these high-speed corners also makes them hot spots for track limits violations, especially those induced by errors.
“With the fast corners, it was easy getting to do a mistake and go out, and the laps were deleted, so you need to pay attention to this. It’s not easy, but I think it’s like this for everybody, and I think it’s the right way.”
With the fast corners, it was easy getting to do a mistake and go out, and the laps were deletedEnzo Trulli (Carlin)
The Silverstone round last weekend brought yet more penalties to drivers, and Martí was the most heavily punished. He received a reprimand for exceeding track limits at Copse five times during the practice session. During Qualifying later that day, he did not post a representative lap time because each one was voided when he ran wide at Copse.
Though Martí fell outside of the 107 percent rule and thus technically did not qualify for the event, he was granted permission to start the race from the rear of the field. But in each race, Martí breached track limits at Copse several times, including one violation he incurred while battling with another driver.
“Maybe it could be a bit more open-ended in some areas. For example, I think I got track limits in Silverstone after being pushed wide in Copse, so I feel like it’s a good approach, but sometimes it could be looked at from a different point of view,” he said.
Learning from last year
There may be consistency in the enforcement of the rules, but Martí acknowledges that each racetrack – the battleground on which these rules are fought – is different. The car set-ups typically chosen for the Red Bull Ring mean that small mistakes or corrections can send a driver careening off the racing surface.
“Maybe for some tracks which are more … on the edge, it could go to the kerb. For example, here in Austria, it could maybe go to the kerb. Obviously, this track is really on the limit for us because there are very high speed corners, and then a mistake forces you to go out of the track.”
This track is really on the limit for us because there are very high speed cornersPepe Martí (Campos Racing)
The kerbing at Turns 9 and 10 of the Red Bull Ring is wide enough to fit an entire F3 car, and with expansive asphalt run-off areas beyond, there are fewer natural deterrents for drivers who do run wide through the double right-hander. Trulli sees the high number of lap time deletions there as something that, quite literally, comes with the territory.
“Some tracks, we will have more laps deleted. This track, probably we will have more laps deleted because they put the white line as the maximum here that we can go, so a bit more on the kerbs. We will [pay] more attention on this for sure.
Collet was one of the drivers who lost a lap in Qualifying last year for running wide at Turn 10. Crucially, the time he had posted would have been good enough for pole position, but his legal lap put him only fourth. In Race 1 the next day, he was demoted from sixth on the road to 17th after he received a 10-second penalty for violating track limits five times at the final two turns.
Collet’s weekend continued to unravel, and he left disappointed despite showing great pace. But as he returns to the Red Bull Ring this year, he remembers the lessons he had to learn the hard way.
“Obviously, like they said, some tracks are easier to do it; some tracks are a bit harder. So here, [we] need to pay attention especially in the last two corners because it’s quite [easy to exceed] the track limits. It’s something that I learned last year losing the pole, so it’s something that I will have in my mind for sure.”
Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd
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