F1 circuits may drop off calendar to solve track limits problem, says FIA

Governing body to also conduct review into Qatar Grand Prix following extreme heat during last weekend’s race.
  • Qatar and Austria singled out as problematic
  • FIA claims it monitors track limits on ‘shoestring’ budget

Formula One circuits may be dropped from the calendar in order to solve issues surrounding track limits, according to the International Automobile Federation (FIA).

The governing body has singled out circuits like Qatar and Austria as being particularly problematic, with qualifying and races often beset with time penalties for track limits infringements, causing confusion for fans.

For example, following qualifying at last weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix, McLaren’s Lando Norris was about to conduct an interview after qualifying third, but was informed his lap had been deleted and dropped to tenth on the grid.

He was replaced by his teammate, Oscar Piastri, who was then told during his interview that he had also suffered the same fate. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who originally qualified fifth, inherited third place.

“You're absolutely right about [track limits being a problem], we had the same issue in Austria, it was 1,200 [offences there],” FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem told Motorsport.com.

“And I have to say, congratulations to the stewards because they spotted it. But is that the solution? No.  

“The solution is to improve the track itself. I know some are resistant to it, but to tell you the truth, if they don't, there is no race. It is as simple as this. We can't afford this.”

With drivers pushing the acceptable boundaries for the fastest possible times, the burden falls on the circuits to have suitable deterrents for abusing track limits. 

“We have to work on a solution,” continued Ben Sulayem. “One of the solutions is to make it slippery when they go off. Nobody can stop the drivers except the drivers themselves.  

“We can think of the height [of the kerbs]. Does it damage the cars? Or maybe there is a possibility of putting some gravel, but with gravel, we have to be very careful. 

“How deep is the gravel? Because you don't want anyone to get stuck. And how big is the gravel? because you don't want the car to be damaged. It is a balance. 

“But I believe now it's not a matter of: oh, do we do it? We have to do it. And we have to listen to the drivers mainly, to the feedback from them.  

“I will have to make it urgently because it has to be implemented for next year. We cannot afford [for it to continue], especially where we see it all the time.”

Ben Sulayem admitted that the technology exists to police offences more efficiently, but it requires better funding from Formula One to allow the FIA to do the job properly.

“The use of technology should be there,” he said. “It is being used in a lot of areas, but the FIA needs more resources to invest back into the sport.  

“I'm not hiding here: we need more resources. I mean, it's a US$20 billion operation here and we cannot run it on a shoestring.”

FIA admits Qatar heat jeopardised driver safety

Another controversial development to come out of last weekend’s race was the extreme heat suffered by the drivers, with cockpit temperatures soaring above 50 degrees Celsius.

This was just the second edition of the Qatar Grand Prix, and the first of a ten-year contract, which at around UK£45 million (US$55.1 million) per season makes it one of the most lucrative races on the calendar.

Staging a race in the Middle East in October, when average temperatures are around 35 degrees Celsius, appears to be a considerable oversight from organisers, especially at a time where there is such a focus on calendar regionalisation and the environment.

Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll said he was fading in and out of consciousness during the race, Williams driver Logan Sargeant retired from the race due to illness, and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon vomited in his helmet during the race, to name just a few drivers affected.

Next year, the race will take place on 1st December but, as global temperatures continue to rise, the FIA acknowledges that it needs to act now in order to find a solution.

It said in a statement: ‘The FIA notes with concern that the extreme temperature and humidity during the 2023 FIA Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix had an impact on the well-being of the drivers.

‘While being elite athletes, they should not be expected to compete under conditions that could jeopardise their health or safety.

‘The safe operation of the cars is, at all times, the responsibility of the competitors, however as with other matters relating to safety such as circuit infrastructure and car safety requirements, the FIA will take all reasonable measures to establish and communicate acceptable parameters in which competitions are held.

‘As such, the FIA has begun an analysis into the situation in Qatar to provide recommendations for future situations of extreme weather conditions.

‘It should be noted that while next year’s edition of the Qatar Grand Prix is scheduled later in the year, when temperatures are expected to be lower, the FIA prefers to take material action now to avoid a repeat of this scenario.’

The FIA said it will investigate solutions such as guidance for competitors, research into modifications for more efficient airflow in the cockpit, and recommendations for changes to the calendar to fit with acceptable climate conditions.