[F1 2019 NEWS FEATURE] MAURICE HAMILTON: TRACK LIMITS

Formula 1 news story about [F1 2019 NEWS FEATURE] MAURICE HAMILTON: TRACK LIMITS

If you’re fortunate enough to be at Silverstone this weekend, take a walk to Copse and stand at the entry to the right-hander. It will blow your mind. Guaranteed.

Even for the most blasé F1 traveller, this is one of those corners that puts everything back in perspective; a reminder of the phenomenal performance of an F1 car and why the drivers controlling them are so special. 

When studying Grand Prix racing on a fortnightly basis, the temptation is to look at the timesheet and casually dismiss drivers at the bottom as merely average and scarcely worth consideration even though they’re a mere a click of a finger from the time set by those at the front. 

Just a few moments spent at Copse will tell you that the backmarkers are actually the bravest of the brave because of the comparatively evil cars they’re trying to contain. For a driver with a perfectly balanced chassis, arriving flat-out in eighth gear means just the faintest lift from the throttle, a flick of the wheel before powering through and riding the kerb on the way out. 

This is no gentle curve. The fact that the apex is initially out of sight beyond a triple-layer metal barrier seems tricky enough until you put yourself in their line of vision and realise instantly that this is big balls commitment. 

Now apply that thought to the poor sod in the understeering, inconsistent tub that’s rushing him feet first towards Copse in the knowledge that the exit will be reflex damage limitation depending on how the car behaved on the way in. And all of this at as close to 290kph [180mph] as makes no difference if something goes wrong.

Fast, or not quite so fast, the fairly flat exit kerb is then the limiting factor, combined with the need to move right in readiness for the start of the taxing Maggotts/Becketts complex that has no equal anywhere in motor racing. 

Beyond the Copse kerb lies asphalt which, in this case, is the perfect combination since the speed is so eye-watering that a trip off-line is not going to gain any advantage whatsoever. Gravel would be disastrous, not only because it would destabilise the car but also end up being flicked onto the racing line and invisible until milliseconds before the driver reaches it – that’s assuming he would see it at all given the need to process a fast-forward flood of information that would have you and I in need of a long lie-down after a single lap.

The question of Tarmac run-off has been raised at tracks – notably Paul Ricard and Austria – where running wide has been of no consequence and, in some cases, rewarding. It was the cause of much post-race debate at the Red Bull Ring after Charles Leclerc had kept his foot in as Max Verstappen reduced the Ferrari driver’s options, both men knowing the effect of exceeding the track limit would hardly be life or chassis-threatening in second gear.

Gravel, for the reasons given, would bring extra problems that would offset the desired handicap. In any case, the hazard value can be increased significantly if, as at the scene of Jules Bianchi’s ultimately fatal accident at Suzuka in 2014, a rescue vehicle is required to help free a trapped car.

Kerbs such as the bright yellow variety at the exit of the final corner in Austria were reaching a compromise (for motor racing, if not bikes, which is another argument in itself). Drivers visiting them, intentionally or otherwise, did so at the risk of causing enough damage to catch the attention of team management whose concern is only triggered when the bottom line exceeds F1’s equivalent of Petty Cash and heads towards seven figures.

There have been suggestions of infrared detectors, observers watching for four wheels crossing the while line and other such finicky legislation. Forget that: F1 does not need yet more penalties. If you go on the kerb, you should get punished. So, stay off. Simple.  

That’s why Silverstone’s Copse manages to be the best without either compromising the scary spectacle or inducing exasperating protests.