Paddock diary: How new AI tech will set track limits


SPIELBERG, Austria — Formula One returns to Austria this weekend for race two of its European triple header. In recent years, no trip to the Red Bull Ring has been complete without an in-depth discussion about one of F1’s trickiest topics, track limits, which makes it the ideal place to kick off this week’s Paddock Diary.

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Over the line

Formula One has rarely looked as farcical as it did 12 months ago at the Red Bull Ring. It took nearly five hours for the FIA to confirm the results of the 2023 Austrian Grand Prix — a race that took just one hour and 25 minutes to run after its stewards sifted through 1,200 possible track-limits breaches in search of transgressions.

Painstaking effort was required to confirm how many of the 20 drivers had strayed over the white lines marking the limit of the circuit during the 70 lap race, and how many had kept at least one tire in play as they danced their car on the limit of adhesion. The fruit of the FIA’s extensive analysis were 12 individual penalties across eight drivers, which, when applied, changed every position bar two from fourth place to 19th.

It was clear after the race that a solution was needed for 2024.

The problem at the 2023 running of the race was not a new one. The vast asphalt run-off areas on the exit of Turns 9 and 10 have invited drivers to take as much speed as possible into the corner, in the knowledge they can run wide without immediate consequence.

To stop drivers gaining a lap time advantage by doing so, the FIA vowed to strictly enforce a three-strikes policy. The rule allows a driver to have three warnings during a race for track limits before a fourth transgression results in a 10-second penalty, with five-second penalties for each breach thereafter.

Easy to agree to in the calm of a briefing room, but not so easy to stick to in the heat of battle, as world champion Max Verstappen explains.

“Throughout the lap the tires are overheating, the front tires are getting really hot, so you naturally just understeer wide, and sometimes it happens already on the entry of the corner and then the outcome on the exit [going over the track limit] is one of a few millimeters, which then gives you a track penalty.”

For 2024, the FIA and the Red Bull Ring have come up with a solution: install 2.5 meter-wide strips of gravel beyond the curbs to punish any driver who runs wide. A blue line has also been added in addition to the white line marking the track exit to make it easier for a new AI system (in use at other tracks this year) to filter through possible transgressions before they are sent for judgement by a human.

“[The drivers] will know where the limit is,” FIA race director Neils Wittich said. “That’s what they want and what they have asked for.

“They will get feedback, they will feel it when they get close to the gravel, and if they do dip a wheel onto the gravel it will penalize them because the car will be slower.

“It’s a natural deterrent and that has been the number one request from the drivers. It takes away any temptation to explore the limits because there is no gain anymore. If it’s just a line or just asphalt, drivers and teams will always go to the last millimeter because you can. But when you run over the gravel, it’s impossible to be faster.”

The usual asphalt run-off still exists beyond the gravel for safety reasons, but on Thursday a couple of drivers raised doubts about the new setup as permanent solution.

“It’s a good modification, but hopefully it won’t be like Monza, second chicane, that all the gravel come into the racetrack and increase the chance of a puncture,” RB driver Yuki Tsunoda said. “When someone drives on the gravel and the gravel comes into the track, for sure it compromises the coming corner, which will be last corner which is still a high-speed corner and you still need a good rear grip. So that’s the only one thing probably you can concern. Also, that the gravel might also cause floor damage as well.”

Williams driver Logan Sargeant said: “I don’t think it’ll completely solve the issue, to be honest. I managed to do track limits in Imola in Turn 9, which is almost impossible. So if I can do it there, I think it’s still possible to do it here. And I would like to see a way in the future where it’s completely eliminated with the design of the track. I think there’s always an opportunity to do it, and there’s no reason for that.”

Whether the solution creates more issues than it solves will likely become apparent in the opening practice and sprint qualifying session on Friday.


Stroll wants ‘GOAT’ Newey at Aston Martin

Lance Stroll is rarely enthusiastic about anything during his encounters with the media, but one question on Thursday seemed to pique his interest.

After a series of routine answers about his new contract at Aston Martin — the team his father owns — a suggestion that Adrian Newey, Red Bull’s departing design guru, might join in 2025 changed the vibe.

“It would be pretty f—— awesome!” he said. “He’s the GOAT, he’s got more championships than anyone in this paddock, so he’s someone that everyone would love to have in their team colors.”

Newey will leave reigning champions Red Bull at the end of the year, making him available to other teams by the second quarter of 2025. In recent weeks, Aston Martin has emerged as a front runner to secure his signature, something Stroll believes is possible over the coming months.

“We have a super-exciting wind tunnel being built, we have a very exciting campus, all the tools that a team wants and needs to succeed to be very competitive. I think it’s attractive for anyone in Formula One to be a part of it.”


Should motor racing be an Olympic sport?

Motorsport was shortlisted as a potential addition to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, only to be rejected last year by the International Olympic Committee. The prospect of some form of motor racing featuring in the Olympics tends to get raised every four years — but is just as routinely laughed off.

On Thursday, one journalist grabbed the torch and put the question to as many drivers as they could find.

“It would be great to have motorsport at the Olympics,” Charles Leclerc said in response. “However, I think it’s a bit more difficult to organize than other sports because obviously we are all driving for different constructors with different cars in Formula One. And to be able to have all the same car, you will have to choose, obviously, which route you want to go to, what downforce, what horsepower and everything. But it’s definitely possible.”

Same question to Verstappen: “No, it’s not for me,” followed by a brief but pointed silence. “It’s too much just car related. Also, you didn’t grow up in that kind of Olympic environment. Yeah, just not for me, to be honest. I don’t feel like it. I don’t think we belong at the Olympic stage.”

What about Lewis Hamilton, would he want to represent Great Britain at the Olympics?

“No. I just don’t think it’s an Olympic game. But I am looking forward to going because one of my good friends Miles Chamley-Watson is competing in fencing, so I’m really proud to watch and support him.”



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