Run off areas in F1 – Safety and shortcuts

Run off areas in F1 – Safety and shortcuts


The most striking part of the Paul Ricard
circuit, host of the French Grand Prix, is its seas of blue and red run off areas. The
circuit boasts the supposed safest racetrack facilities in the world, but massive expanses
of tarmac run off have often been criticised in modern racing. So how did we get here,
and are they the best solution? We’ve previously looked at barriers and
their roles in protecting drivers and others when cars accidentally leave the track at
high speed. Another key part of controlling accidents ae in the areas around and between
the actual track – that is the run off areas in all their many guises.
The point of a run off area is to increase the distance between the track and anything
the cars might hit at high speeds. Increasing this distance gives the car more
time to slow down so it either hits the barrier at a much slower speed, or it doesn’t hit
the barrier at all. For a long time, circuits used ‘natural’
style run off areas of grass and gravel. Grass was an easy solution as it tended to
already be growing around the track anyway. Unfortunately, grass is very slippery, especially
in the wet. Compared to the track surface, stopping power of grass can be over three
times weaker than a dry track and twice as bad as a wet track.
You keen ecologists out there might know that grass grows in soil, which has a tendency
to soak up rainwater and turn it into a bog under extreme weather as we discovered when
the British Grand Prix was moved to April for one ill-judged year.
Grass is not easily repairable if ruined by cars running off track – in fact you tend
to just have to throw some more seed on it and… wait. Either that or re-turf the whole
area. Grass is mostly used now in areas where cars
are not likely to fly off the circuit at high speeds, like the edges of straights or the
insides of corners. Though artificial grass is also used sometimes
on the skirts of tracks and around kerbing it is not without its own problems. It can
often be more slippery than real grass and can be ripped from the track by the extreme
forces of an F1 car. Gravel traps were put into the areas where
a car was likely to fly off the road: at the end of long straights, around high speed corners
– that kind of thing. About a quarter of a metre deep and filled
with stones a centimetre or two across, gravel traps were implemented as a better deceleration
tool than the useless grass. They too are much less grippy than the actual
track surface though, and one of their main problems remains that cars at high speed can
skip across the surface of the gravel, barely losing speed at all.
In 1999, Michael Schumacher ploughed straight across the gravel trap at the end of Stowe,
hit the wall at over 100 miles per hour and broke his leg.
See, if a car is going straight ahead, it’s very hard for the gravel to slow the car down
because the individual stones in the gravel trap are not bound to each other and are very
small, so when you brake on these stones, you drag them with you and they barely absorb
any of your momentum. On tarmac, all of the frictional force is
going into the ground and you’re getting maximum resistance from the track on your
wheels. On gravel, these surface stones will resist
very slightly but get dragged with you. They’ll be resisted slightly by the next layer but
only just, and so on and so on, so the gravel can only resist your momentum very weakly,
and very gradually. Gravel traps can be raked perpendicularly
to the expected direction of a car’s travel, which adds some undulation to the gravel – in
effect making tiny walls that will be able to push back against the car and absorb this
forward energy. When gravel traps can be effective is if a
car starts to spin or pitch slightly. In these instances, the car’s movement will start
to have a directional component into the gravel and its kinetic energy can be dissipated into
its depths, with many, many stones absorbing the kinetic energy of the car.
In fact, gravel will stop a rolling or spinning car much faster than tarmac tends to.
However, a gravel trap is also much more likely to pitch a car into a roll in the first place.
If a car starts sliding or spinning sideways through the gravel, it can create a wall of
gravel which trips up the car and sends it into a roll. Which is undesirable.
Gravel also has the unfortunate problem of ‘beaching’ a car. This is when the tyres
can’t get enough grip on the gravel to get moving again. Similarly to before, the surface
layers of gravel do not provide enough friction to transfer momentum to the rest of the car
to get it moving. Instead they just fly out from under the wheels.
This can be made doubly worse if the car ends up shifting the gravel beneath it such that
the car floor rests on a mound, lifting the wheels out of the gravel slightly so they
can not push into the ground with enough force to drive into them.
So gravel can roll and beach a car, which is bad because you don’t really want to
eliminate or damage a car for a simply mistake. They also end up requiring a lot of tending
to as they need to be re-raked or refilled if cars make a mess of them. Cars can also
drag the gravel out onto the circuit which ends up being a spin or puncture hazard to
cars going past at race speed. And above all, they don’t even slow the
cars down that well. So they’re a bit rubbish in a lot of ways.
So we come to tarmac run offs that come with their own set of compromises.
First and foremost, they are the safest form of run off.
They are grippy, stable and predictable as they are essentially made of exactly the same
material as the race track itself, so a car can brake, steer and yes, even crash as it
was designed to. However, this means that drivers treat them
like an extra bit of track, so running off the circuit becomes no big deal.
Worse, it can even become advantageous to leave the circuit. If the track is surrounded
by more tarmac, mis-braking into a chicane and over-shooting has earned you a shortcut.
Overcooking it into a fast corner and running wide on exit means you can keep your foot
down and actually go faster than if you took the corner properly by taking the ‘wider
line’ you made for yourself on the outside. The problem becomes how to police drivers
who don’t stay within the track limits. Yes, it’s good that cars can keep running
if they make a mistake and run wide, and great that their chances of having a big accident
are minimised but how do we make sure that drivers don’t use what is essentially a
safety feature to gain a track advantage? Some drivers have said it’s stupid that
circuits are made such that going off track can be faster than staying on the track, but
to them I say – stay on the track. That’s your job. It may be faster to straight line
a chicane but it’s also easier to pick up a football and run into the goal. But it’s
against the rules – so don’t do it. What a weird complaint.
One solution was installing big sausage kerbs like speed bumps along the edge of the track
and across chicanes at problem zones. That’s definitely a deterrent but comes with the
problem or damaging cars that run across them and potentially launching them into the air
if hit at speed, which is exactly the opposite level of safety that a run off area is supposed
to provide. In some cases, the FIA tried flattening kerbs
on the exit of corners but installing them with sensors that detected if cars had run
wide. That’s fine but then you’re left with the task of punishing drivers with some
kind of time penalty every time they go over the limits. It’s better for drivers to be
hit with the penalty on track at the time of the incident and get it over with. That’s
what some people like about gravel traps – they serve instant punishment for mistakes.
Some tracks, most noticeably Yas Marina and Paul Ricard have areas of super-grippy surfaces
on their run offs that are even better at slowing the cars down but are very heavy on
tyre wear. This makes for easy flat spotting and rubber damage if you brake across these
zones, which is certainly a penalty though a potential race ruiner if it forces you into
an extra pit stop. The best solutions in my opinion have been
the mandatory return routes. These require drivers to take a specific detour
if they go off track at particular points. These could be in the form of having to navigate
a tight chicane of polystyrene boards, as is the case for those who overshoot the opening
chicane at Monza. You could also force a driver to stay inside
a line and/or drive around a bollard before being allowed to return to the track, as is
the case for those sliding off track at turns two at both Catalunya and Sochi.
These solutions are nice because you can design a very exact level of punishment into the
return route and drivers can be penalised without damage to the car or risk of retirement.
And once they’ve taken the hit, they can move on with the race and we don’t have
to think about it again. There are those who yearn for more gravel
traps but I think tarmac run offs are here to stay for the long run. And all that matters
now is for the FIA to determine where drivers can take an advantage by leaving the track
and implementing deterrents like return routes where possible and horrible kerbing where
not.

100 comments

  1. So I MEANT to include a small bit about the fact that circuits have to accommodate other types of racing too and that gravel traps, for example, are bad for bike racing, etc. Just pretend I said that.

  2. It's really easy and hard at the same time, but my theory is to add laser measuring sensors beneath the track which make take some time to calculate, but once calculated the driver would be awarded a set penalty depending on the speed and the amount of track cut as simple as that sounds it may take some time to equate

  3. Why can’t they have ultra slippery surfaces just off the track Limits and then have tarmac? Surely they’d then not want to risk it

  4. I must say, I still prefer a nice solid wall to any of the runoff options. The problem with runoff is, that you can usually save it, if you pushed a little bit too hard. But that takes a lot of the challenge out of driving. Look at Monaco. The walls mean, that the difference between a fast lap and a broken steering rod tend to be millimeters. And it's not a coincidence, that the greatest drivers of all time hold all the records there. Asking for that level of perfection is what sorts out the legends from the great drivers.

  5. Would a small strip of gravel/grass at the edge of the track with a patch of tarmac runoff behind be a good compromise? It could punish the driver if they overshoot while leaving a runoff if the car is truly out of control.

  6. could they have gravel strips next to the circuit to punish the cars and then tarmac beyond that to allow them to spin safely?

  7. I think the best alternative they have would he to have a strip of a gravel trap, with tarmac behind it afterwards.

    1. They will most likely slide across and be able to continue.
    2. No advantage to be gained as the gravel is RIGHT THERE.
    3. No need to add a penalty.
    4. Not enough gravel to pitch a car into a roll.
    5. Gravel won't be distributed back out on the track, as cars will rejoin BEHIND the gravel trap, through a small exit road, like at the Red Bull Ring.

  8. Gravel should be there anyways. Asphalt will not stop a car which has lost control over braking or steering, at least not as well as gravel. For instance, the front wing of an F1 car could receive some damage, detach and get stuck under the wheels, it happened before, and in that case, tarmac will not help you stop. So maybe there should be at least a strip of gravel at the edge of the track, even after some tarmac

  9. If no one got punished for picking up the ball and running into the goal, then every team would do it. At the highest levels of competition the rules only matter if they can be enforced. Teams/players/drivers are searching for every edge and an appeal to one's morality is mostly useless at that level.

  10. Why not try a hybrid gravel trap and tarmac? Having a few meters wide gravel trap to directly penalize going off track, but having tarmac after that few meters to slow cars down.

  11. Gravel is the best punishment, get the driver directly out of the race. Better punishment, better drivers, better races. Fails sholuldn´t be allowed. Also, great video.

  12. Here's an idea: Build half-pipe like structures at the runoff area out of gritty concrete so the car slows down and can return to the track.

  13. After this year's French GP, I'm tired of Run Offs, plainly because drivers will abuse it and makes Overtakes more harder without getting risk of getting a penalty. Ricciardo got robbed because of the ridiculous amount of run offs all over Paul Ricard and Perez did run around the bollard and still got a penalty for gaining an advantage. FIA needs to rethink and remove a bunch of them.

  14. if the stewards only watched 1:30mins of this video would understand Vettel almost hitting hamilton at montreal lul

  15. here after the 2019 french gp where perez followed the correct track return procedure but got a penalty for gaining an advantage because it was set up wrong by the stewards

  16. This is a fine report, but I must tell you, sir, that I, as an American, cannot make out what you are saying sometimes. I need to relie on subtitles. Perhaps it's partly the audio quality of my system. But if you could endeavor to slow down while you are talking it would help. A common error of speakers is to rush. One thinks it is boring to speak slowly so one speaks quickly to move things along. In fact the opposite it true. If the listener loses the thread he my lose interest and turn the video off. Nice and slow. Remember: What you are saying is fascinating. We don't want to miss a word.
    (Example: I had to go back three times at the beginning and then use the subtitles just to make out "Paul Ricard".

    Keep up the brilliant reports. I have subscribed.

  17. Whenever people complain about shallow curbstones or massive tarmac runoff areas it's like they completely forget that motorcycles exist, are also raced, and have much more severe consequences for loss of control.
    If we want to pretend that bikes don't exist, there's also a certain pair of incidents in San Marino in 1994 that might have been less severe or avoided entirely had the runoff been longer and fully-paved. Safety improvements should not require tragedy as a prerequisite

  18. They should electronically slow down cars while off track if that’s possible yet, it for sure will be in the coming years

  19. At the 2019 Indycar race a COTA, the Indycar officials removed the track limits. At a big turn with a huge runoff area, they simply went straight into the runoff area by like 10-15 meters and went faster by doing that.

  20. Surely theres some kind of surface that is safe for runoff while also slowing the cars enough so thats its not advantageous?

  21. I liked the super-grippy ones. Like it's said on the video itself 'it's their job' to stay on track so if they don't then tyre damage – and obviously a pit stop – would be enough penalty and at the same time allowing the car to brake quicker if it's an accident.

  22. Water traps on the return route would be a nice feature. Basically a 1cm deep pool of water sitting on asphalt and blocking the return route of a runoff area. That way the car would be able to slow down where it's necessary, but would be punished on the way back onto the circuit. Water would also dry pretty quickly when pulled onto the track and wouldn't need any kind of maintenance.

  23. The big problem I have with tarmac run-off is they are useless if a car has had a complete brake failure or their throttle is stuck open. At the 2013 Malaysia GP, Alonso's front wing fell off and caused him to have no brakes nor steering. Gravel was the only way to stop him. Personally, I feel you should have grass at the edge of the track, then tarmac, then gravel, and then the wall. Turn 1 in Mexico (NOT 2 and 3) is a good example.

  24. Has anyone experimented with leaving a foot of tarmac outside the track line, then going into a shallow gravel pit for a few metres, before adding a big enough tarmac zone out the other side that you’ll get beyond where you can spread the sand to.

    Would discourage putting your wheels there unless your really going a mile off the track, but should still give some control to the driver.

    (Maybe even having another 5 or so metres of gravel before the wall after the main tarmac run off. If you’re still out of control that far off the track you should have washed off a lot of your speed and the gravel should be a more effective brake)

  25. Why nor use really sticky rubber? Wirh enough holes in it and drainage underneath to disappate water? Stops cars quickly and does punish driving over them due to the high friction and therfore the speed loss.

  26. I was always confused at the gravel traps as MotoGP riders get absolutely ruined by them and I went to this video to find out why they don’t just add my track to make it so MotoGP riders don’t have their entire career ruined by one mistake

  27. would it be interesing for cars to have abs that only gets enable when they go off the track? such that during the race they still have to watch the brakes to not lock them up and stuff but when they go off they can slam the brake and the abs would stop them safely andwithout destroying the tyres
    just a thought

  28. I think damage to the car without extra risk to the driver is good. There needs to be some deterrent, some jeopardy to going off track in the same way you wouldn't want to hit a wall along a straight. Spike strips would be good, just outside where the cars are permitted to go. There can be tarmac outside that for the car to slow down.

  29. Ppaul Ricard has to be the world's most boring track. Looks like a giant go kart track. And the racing is boring. No more Paul Ricard for F1!

  30. Hi Chain Bear~
    I’m a subscriber from Taiwan, and is very appreciate your work.
    I’ve done some subtitles to the video and keen to share your masterpiece to more of my people~

  31. If i was FIA i would hire you to help creating video content for them.
    You are doing pretty good on your own but, your level of knowledge coupled with your "teaching" method would be a great asset to FIA dream of bringing Formula to the level of soccer, for example.

    Good job mate, good job indeed
    Thank you for that

  32. Tire choice by the tire people is just one more absurd rule taking choice away fom teams and drivers. Want me to mention 10 more? Arrogance. Rediculous.

  33. 2:02 Uniform grain gravel a foot deep can have a whole lot more stopping power than a gravel or dirt road. (Edit: I see you explained it all right after that lol…..)

    Id estimate that coefficient around .45 at the very least….but really more like .60

    Those cars can sink like 6 inches into that gravel when they slide into and across it…and that coefficient has to be at least equal to the "5cm deep in loose dirt" at the bottom of the chart… But I guess that was due to the raking you mentioned …

  34. How about putting a few meters of gravel and then tarmac? The drivers wouldn't be able to use it to get some advantage and there would still be tarmac there for safety

  35. Why not just raise the actual road surface off the runoff about 4 inches or so, you can still get back on without damaging your car if you are slow about it

  36. Oh that’s what you call it 😆

    I was searching for “Slalom shortcut F1” and “Slalom penalty F1” for about 3 hours

  37. How is beaching the car a problem? You go off and you might not make it back, that is the whole point. We are talking about racing right?

  38. What is this ocd obsession with staying in the white lines? When was that ever part of racing? You can see plenty of evidence of drivers going extremely wide and nobody cared. It is not aerobatics, it is racing, the reason why you would stay within the lines is because it should be faster not because “those are the rules”. Read what Niki Lauda had to say about the subject.

  39. Idea: Keep the concrete run offs, but use the material use at Paul Ricard's 'Red Zone', which is, yes ultra grippy, but so grippy that it actually significantly harms the tyres, and have gravel traps past those.

    Lets say at Parabolica, have 20m or so of the red zone tarmac, and then the rest is gravel, or maybe have a small strip of gravel on the outside, then the redzone, then the gravel

  40. The best runoff is the mine field runoff. Looks nice like a nice grass field but if go off track boom your car goes flying and the steward pick the bits of you that are left.

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