"Purely a matter of luck!" - Discussions about track limits after penalty chaos in Formula E qualifying in India
Compliance with the "track limits" was one of the big issues at the Formula E premiere in India. In the quarter-final qualifying session, no fewer than five of the eight lap times set were cancelled. The drivers concerned had all left the track during their timed lap. The result was heated discussions about the line layout on the Hyderabad Street Circuit and a "duel against itself."
Jaguar driver Sam Bird was one of the drivers sitting in the car after the quarter-final, waiting for their semi-final duel to begin. After about twenty minutes, however, the Briton received the message that his lap had been cancelled. Bird was anything but pleased: the Briton got out of the car in a rage, throwing his gloves and balaclava through the pits.
"Looking at it in hindsight from that angle, it looks like I was slightly over the line," Bird confessed his track-limit transgression later on World TV. "But I suspect everyone went over at some point there. The car is heading in a certain direction, but they painted a line there that goes in the opposite direction. So everybody has to cross that line at one point. Honestly, it's just a matter of luck."
"I think that's very, very harsh," Bird said of the race officials' erasure of his lap time. "I don't agree with it. We had asked for other solutions (for the chicane). This was the solution they came up with. For me, they could have done a better job with this. It's really a shame. I was the fastest here all weekend. To win the duel and then have the win taken away is just horrendous."
Birds Jaguar team boss James Barclay agrees, "Just look at the number of cars that went off the track there. Was he still in? Or was he out? That's the kind of discussion we're having at the moment."
Vergne: "Decisions were correct"
One of the beneficiaries of the penalties was Jean-Eric Vergne: the DS Penske driver had no opponent in the semi-final duel after the lap times were cancelled, which he consequently contested alone. However, this does not pose a problem for the Frenchman.
"I think they basically didn't think about the possibility of both drivers (in a duel) disregarding the track limits," Vergne takes the rule keepers to task when asked by 'e-Formel.de'. "That's why there was only one driver in the semifinal. I honestly don't know what they could have done differently. The decisions were correct. However, I don't know if they couldn't have made the decisions a little bit faster."
"The rules are the rules," the two-time Formula E champion thinks. "If you exceed the track limits, your lap time is invalid. You applied the rules correctly. There's nothing more to say about it."
"I think we should have a wall or a TecPro (barrier) there," Bird floated to 'Motorsport.com' as an improvement.
Di Grassi suggests technology solution
Lucas di Grassi, on the other hand, brings up another option. The Brazilian wants to use lasers to monitor the track boundaries. In the event of a violation, a penalty should be applied fully automatically. "It can be anything: power reduction for a few seconds, energy reduction or cancellation of a lap," di Grassi writes on 'LinkedIn'. "And it happens instantly, without any human intervention."
"Anyway, I would love to see this in Formula E in the next few years," di Grassi continues to write. "It would make our lives so much easier. Especially with some of the chicanes on street circuits."
Commentary by Tobias Wirtz: "Track limits yes, but please not like this!"
Daily greets the groundhog - that's what you might think when you hear what feels like the one thousandth discussion about track limits in recent years. Admittedly, it wasn't quite as bad as in qualifying for the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in 2020 in Hyderabad. Back then, race control had announced before the session that no track limit violations would be penalized except in the "Raidillon" corner. The result was that drivers took advantage of what felt like every piece of paved ground throughout Belgium to shortcut or take more momentum out of the corners.
Therefore, I'm not remotely surprised that Formula E drivers left the track in rows at the exit of turn 1 in Hyderabad. The idea of the race organizers to convert the fast right turn into a chicane for the Formula E race to create an additional opportunity for energy recovery may have been a good one. However, the implementation of doing this merely by adding a white line to the track was not. Unlike a real curb or wall, a white line is not known to be an obstacle for a race car and a race driver.
What is absolutely amateurish, however, is how long it took the race stewards to make these decisions in qualifying. Most of the violations were crystal clear on the TV picture. In the first slow motion at the latest, it was clear that Bird, Mortara and Rast had left the track. Why did around 25 minutes have to pass before the semifinal could start? I don't know for the life of me.
It doesn't paint a good picture of an FIA World Championship the way those responsible in India worked. And let's be honest: Formula E also wants to reach target groups and inspire them for its races who otherwise have little to do with the subject of motorsport. It definitely won't succeed like this.