Austria Paddock Diary: How new AI technology will set track limits

SPIELBERG, Austria — Formula 1 returns to Austria this weekend for the second of its European triple-race. In recent years, no trip to the Red Bull Ring has been complete without an in-depth discussion about one of F1’s most complicated subjects, track limits, which makes it the ideal place to start this week’s Paddock Diary.

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Above the line

Formula 1 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 potential track boundary violations in search of infringements .

It took painstaking efforts to confirm how many of the 20 drivers had strayed over the white lines marking the circuit boundary during the 70-lap race and how many had kept at least one tire in play as they jumped their car at the boundary on the climb. . The fruit of the FIA’s extensive analysis were 12 individual penalties for eight drivers which, when applied, changed every two pole positions from fourth to 19th.

After the race it was clear that a solution was needed for 2024.

The problem in the 2023 race was not a new one. The wide runoff areas at the exit of Turns 9 and 10 have invited drivers to get as much speed as possible into the turn, knowing they can run wide without immediate consequence.

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

Easy to come to terms with in the quiet of a briefing room, but not so easy to contain in the heat of battle, as world champion Max Verstappen explains.

“During the lap the tires are getting too hot, the front tires are getting too hot, so you naturally just understeer wide, and sometimes that already happens on the way into the corner and then the result on the way out. [going over the track limit] it’s one of a few millimetres, which then gives you a penalty on the track.”

For 2024, the FIA ​​and the Red Bull Ring have come up with a solution: install 2.5m-wide gravel strips across the curbs to punish any drivers who run out. A blue line has also been added in addition to the white line marking the exit of the track to make it easier for a new AI system (in use at other tracks this year) to filter through potential infringements before they are sent for judging from a man.

“[The drivers] will know where the limit is,” said FIA race director Neils Wittich. “This is what they want and have been looking for.

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

“It’s a natural barrier and that’s been the number one request from the drivers. It removes any temptation to explore the limits because there’s no benefit anymore. Whether it’s just a line or just tarmac, drivers and teams will always go to the last millimeter , because you can, but when you run on gravel, it’s impossible to be faster.

The usual asphalt course still exists beyond the gravel for safety reasons, but on Thursday some drivers raised doubts about the new configuration as a permanent solution.

“It’s a good modification, but hopefully it won’t be like Monza, the second chicane, that all the gravel gets on the track and increases the chance of a puncture,” said RB driver Yuki Tsunoda. “When someone drives on gravel and the gravel gets on the track, of course it compromises the next corner, which will be the last corner, which is still a high-speed corner and you still need good rear grip . So that’s the only thing you can worry about as well that the gravel can cause damage to the floor.”

Williams driver Logan Sargeant said: “I don’t think it will completely solve the issue, to be honest. I managed to do the dirt limits at Imola at Turn 9, which is almost impossible. So if I can do it there , I think it is still possible to do it here and I would like to see a way in the future where it is completely eliminated with the track design, I think there is always an opportunity to do that.

If the solution creates more issues than it solves, it 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 media meetings, but one question on Thursday seemed to pique his interest.

After a series of routine answers about his new contract with Aston Martin – the team his father owns – a suggestion that Adrian Newey, Red Bull’s outgoing design guru, could join in 2025 changed the atmosphere.

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

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

“We have a super exciting 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 everyone in Formula 1 to be part of it.”

Should motorcycle racing be an Olympic sport?

Motorsport was shortlisted as a possible 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 being featured in the Olympics tends to come up every four years — but is just as routinely scoffed at.

On Thursday, a reporter picked up the torch and posed 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’re all driving for different constructors with different cars in Formula 1. And to be able to have same car, you’ll have to choose, obviously, which way you want to go, what downforce, what horsepower and everything, but it’s definitely possible.”

The same question for Verstappen: “No, it’s not for me,” followed by a brief but sharp silence. “It’s very much just about the car. Also, you don’t grow up in that kind of Olympic environment. Yeah, not for me, to be honest. I don’t like it. I don’t think we belong on the Olympic stage.”

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

“No. I just don’t think it’s an Olympic game. But I’m 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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