In recent races, we have seen penalties handed out to drivers for incidents that involved ‘exceed the track limits’. The drivers in question are Pastor Maldonado (Valencia) and Sebastian Vettel (Hockenhiem). Such penalties have become more commonplace in recent years as the traditional gravel traps have made way for ‘sponsor friendly’ tarmac run-off areas.
One notable incident took place at Spa in 2008 when Lewis Hamilton was forced off the track on the inside of the last chicane by Kimi Raikkonen. Lewis managed to get ahead of the Fin whilst off the track and immediately gave the position back, only to re-overtake in to La Sauce hairpin.
After the race, the stewards adjudged that Lewis has gained an advantage, even though he had given the place back and was stripped of the race victory after being handed a time penalty.
When I first started watching Formula one, if you made a mistake, there was a very good chance that it would be the end of your race. Fearsome gravel traps lay in wait for any driver that pushed the limit that little too far. The result of heading into the gravel was more that often a beached car going nowhere.
Today, this extension of tarmac is exploited by most during a race. The driver who seems to use it to his advantage the most is seven time world champion, Michael Schumacher. The 2010 Korean Grand Prix sticks in my mind most for this. It very wet at the start of the race and it was started under safety car conditions.
In the following 17 laps, Schumacher was seen going off the circuit as he explored the grip levels in the wet, slippery conditions. The German had started the race in 9th position but after the safety car went in, he quickly started to move through the top 10, finishing a credible 4th.
Should Schumacher have been allowed to leave the circuit in this manner, especially under safety car conditions? It is fair to say that if he was at Monza or Suzuka and he’d tried the same trick, his race would have been over before it had begun.
I would like to see the re-introduction of gravel traps, not because I want to seethe drivers stuck in them and out of the race. I want to see them back because these are the best drivers in the world and they can drive a F1 car through the streets of Monaco. At Monaco, if you exceed the track limits, you’ll break your suspension at the very least.