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Austria Gravel Revival A Fix for Track Limits

Gravel’s Return in Austria: Pilots’ Seal of Approval

28/06/2024

As gravel makes a comeback in Austria, pilots voice approval. Will this measure curb persistent track limit issues?

Last year, track limits issues severely disrupted the race weekend in Austria. Over 1000 infractions were recorded, and the final standings, post-penalties, were only published hours after the chequered flag.

The FIA has therefore invested heavily to prevent such a debacle from recurring. Artificial intelligence, gravel, and a blue line on the track: the Federation left nothing to chance.

Two corners were particularly problematic last year at the Red Bull Ring: turns 9 and 10. It’s precisely there that the FIA has added new gravel traps.

Are the drivers welcoming this solution? Charles Leclerc was the first to be asked about this.

“It’s interesting. I’ve seen photos. Those two corners, 9 and 10, were already quite tricky before the gravel. But I guess now, we clearly know where the track limit is. And we won’t have this type of problem anymore, which is a good thing.”

“Again, I need to drive to really know what to think, but on paper, it looks positive.”

Guanyu Zhou also appreciates this gravel solution… but for the Chinese, the Shanghai circuit has done better!

“It’s a more pleasant way to understand if you’re off-track – when you’re in contact with the gravel. But there are circuits where all drivers are happy. For example, at the last corner in Shanghai, the curb is somewhat reinforced, it’s a bit higher, so not everyone is forced to use more than the track limit. I think this solution is increasingly applied to other circuits now, but here it’s really difficult because obviously there are MotoGP or others racing here, so it’s always a bit tricky. But let’s see, I think it will always be difficult to judge.”

Yuki Tsunoda points out a hazard created by this new gravel trap: the risk of a puncture during a Grand Prix.

“Yes, it’s a good modification, but I hope it won’t be like at Monza, with the second chicane, where all the gravel is thrown onto the track and increases the risk of punctures. But I hope it’s a good thing.”

“The risk is mostly during qualifications. When someone runs on the gravel and it’s thrown onto the track, it certainly compromises the next corner, the last turn on this circuit. And that turn is always at high speed, while you always need good rear grip. So that’s the only thing you might worry about a bit. Additionally, the gravel can also cause damage to the underbody. The speed difference between Monza and here is quite significant, so it might not happen, but if it does, it will be quite difficult to avoid the gravel.”

Lance Stroll is a bit more skeptical: for him, nothing will really be resolved.

“It’s always tricky here. I don’t think it’s completely resolved, to be honest. I would like future track designs to completely eliminate this kind of issue. I think there’s always an opportunity to do so, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be possible.”

Verstappen Feels Nostalgic for the Old Red Bull Ring

For Max Verstappen, the solution found at the Red Bull Ring (a circuit owned by his team…) was the best possible. Even if it won’t solve everything definitively.

“It’s a great circuit to race on. I always enjoy it a lot. Especially the high-speed corners here, they are very fun. But, of course, with the layout we have, with the runoff areas that are behind the track, naturally… we always talk about track limits here. The other issue is that throughout the lap, the tires overheat, the front tires get really hot, so naturally you understeer quite a bit. And sometimes, right from the corner entry, you might go off the track by one or a few millimeters, and you risk a penalty for a track limit violation.”

“I just hope that the gravel will put an end to this situation somewhat. I mean, you naturally have to be a bit more careful and a bit more precise. We’ll see if it’s the right method. I think no one has a clear solution right now about what is best. Of course, we also have to share the track with MotoGP, for example, and other categories. It’s a bit hard to find the best solution right now.”

“In Shanghai, they might have one fast corner, but then several slow ones. So, I find it easier to judge the limit in China – easier than here in the last sector.”

Year after year, the Red Bull Ring continues to evolve – for better or worse according to Max Verstappen?

Once again, the Dutchman appears as a purist or conservative.

“I asked to try to go back to what it was in the old days of the Österreichring, a faster first sector would be really cool, but I don’t think that’s possible at the moment. But yes, I’ve seen onboard cameras from the past and it was really cool. The Red Bull Ring, it’s always, of course, a very beautiful track, but generally, with a faster first sector, I think it would be even better.”

“It’s a nice layout, but what I like the most is that fans can see a large part of the track when they’re sitting in a grandstand. It creates a quite special atmosphere because it feels a bit more like an arena. And yes, for a race, for watching it, it’s definitely one of the best circuits on the calendar.”

Austria Gravel Revival A Fix for Track Limits

Austria Gravel Revival: A Fix for Track Limits?. Austria Gravel Revival: A Fix for Track Limits?

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