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Formula 1 Austrian GP

Has F1 managed to snatch defeat from victory on Austria track limits?

OPINION: Oscar Piastri’s post-qualifying fury at his track limits penalty raised eyebrows but shows that there remains work to be done to fully solve the problem here

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Oscar Piastri’s spectacular post-Austrian Grand Prix qualifying rant has put the focus back on Formula 1’s track limit problem at the Red Bull Ring.

This reached a farcical point in 2023, when the FIA was left unable to police about 1,200 potential track limits abuses during the main race here, before the governing body and the track embarked on a major effort to fix the issue for 2024.

New, small gravel traps were installed at the final corners, which can be revised when the track is hosting motorbike events, with some track-defining white lines repainted.

One of these additional spots was at Turn 6, where Piastri was judged to have run too wide on his last Q3 lap on Saturday afternoon and his subsequent time deletion dropped him from third to seventh in the final qualifying order.

Afterwards, he didn’t hold back, calling the situation “embarrassing” in an interview with Sky Sports F1.

“We do all this work for track limits, put gravel in in places, and I mean I didn’t even go off the track,” he added. “I stayed on the track and [it was] probably my best Turn 6 and it gets deleted.

“I don’t know why they’ve spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions, trying to change the last two corners when you still have corners [where] you can go off.

“But, anyway, everyone else kept it in the track – I didn’t. That’s how it goes.”

Piastri then doubled down on his comments, with further explanation that when he said he’d stayed on-track, he actually meant not clipping the gravel running wide at Turn 6, as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was about to do behind.

“There is no reason this corner should be an issue for track limits,” Piastri added. “Especially when you stay on the track, like I did. Or, not in the gravel.

“So, yeah, for me obviously being the only one that’s had that happen to me, I’m probably more vocal about it right now.

“But I think it’s embarrassing that you see us pushing right to the limit of what we can do and if I’m 1cm more I’m in the gravel and completely ruined my lap anyway and it gets deleted.”

There are a few ways of looking at this.

The first is that it’s wonderful to hear Piastri offering his full and frank views on a contentious issue, after he’d deliberatively avoided saying anything that might make a potential headline after the way his F1 promotion had been handled in 2022. That’s how McLaren went to court to prove it had secured his services and not Alpine, which had supported Piastri through the later stages of his junior career.

Wise, but not matching the thrilling style Piastri has displayed on-track all through his career to this point.

It can also be said that there was an air of hypocrisy to match Piastri’s indignation on Saturday. After all, he could’ve not put his car in such a position to be in track limits danger.

Daniel Ricciardo, RB F1 Team VCARB 01

Daniel Ricciardo, RB F1 Team VCARB 01

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

It’s a case of fine-margins – made harder from other cars clipping the gravel to the right at that point and narrowing the line, as Piastri’s compatriot Daniel Ricciardo highlighted – and this track is brutally tricky to get right.

But the FIA had listened to the driver complaints about the challenge here and even added a new blue stripe to help the see the new track edge at the most critical points.

This was after the drivers were even going as far as calling for the white lines to be somehow serrated so they could feel when they were traversing them here in 2023.

Piastri tried brilliantly to put in what was an impressive time behind team-mate Lando Norris and paid the price. To some, he should put up or shut up.

Obviously, this doesn't include his McLaren team. It protested the qualifying result, feeling he may not even have gone fully over the line and doesn't except the FIA's initial picture evidence, although this was rejected and deemed inadmissible.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

But what Piastri has raised is important.

Yes, he certainly could’ve been further away from the white line, but the bigger issue is why the kerb at this point has been left at 1.8m wide, when the ones at Turns 9 and 10 were reduced to 1.5m by paining some kerbing black and then the white line and its blue addition being draped across the kerb.

This is given that as an F1 car is 2m wide, the standard distance from gravel to white lines at other venues, and so it is therefore now impossible to break the track limit at Turns 9 and 10 without hitting the gravel.

Piastri feels should’ve been the case at Turn 6 too.

For at this point, the drivers still pushing the entry for the ensuing Turn 7 hard by staying as wide as possible out of Turn 6 given they have more room to do so on the kerb compared to Turns 9 and 10.

But most going too wide have had Leclerc-like moments and hit the gravel. Lewis Hamilton doing this in SQ3 damaged his Mercedes’ floor.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

That seems to be the deterrent, with the kerb at this point ending before the track joins with an access road just ahead than can also provide an alternative circuit layout.

It is unclear why the Turn 6 kerb has not been shortened in line with those at Turns 9 and 10.

And this all follows F1 race director Niels Wittich saying ahead of the weekend, "it is what we think is the perfect set-up" and most drivers and observers being pleased with the result of these considerable efforts to improve an issue that indeed did embarrass F1.

"The drivers so far, the feedback we have had from them, has been positive," Wittich added. "That's because, in the end, it ends all discussions about if drivers gain time or don't gain time. I'm positive that there will not be any track-limits problems."

But right now, the saga stemming from Piastri’s post-qualifying fury seems to suggest F1 has managed to snatch a defeat of sorts from the FIA’s victory on the Austria track limits issue.

It is unclear why the Turn 6 kerb has not been shortened in line with those at Turns 9 and 10. All the FIA will say on the matter is that “the line in Turn 6 has been moved to a reasonable limit to the gravel in regard to the kerb installation” - per a statement supplied to Motorsport.com.

It follows F1 race director Niels Wittich saying ahead of the weekend, "it is what we think is the perfect set-up" and most drivers and observers being pleased with the result of these considerable efforts to improve an issue that indeed did embarrass F1.

"The drivers so far, the feedback we have had from them, has been positive," Wittich added. "That's because, in the end, it ends all discussions about if drivers gain time or don't gain time. I'm positive that there will not be any track-limits problems."

But right now, the saga stemming from Piastri’s post-qualifying fury seems to suggest F1 has managed to snatch a defeat of sorts from the FIA’s victory on the Austria track limits issue.

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