F1 venues could lose races over track limit problems, says Ben Sulayem

After a Qatar Grand Prix weekend that was beset by track limits chaos, as grid positions were shuffled around and a raft of in-race penalties handed out to change the order, Ben Sulayem has made clear he thinks such situations are unacceptable. 

He believes that the focus for change is not by the FIA policing things more effectively to stamp out any offenders. 

Instead, he says circuits that have a clear problem with track limits – such as Qatar and Austria – must make circuit modifications to deter drivers from being tempted to run wide. 

Asked by Autosport what he was going to do about the track limits problem after the sometimes farcical scenes in Qatar, Ben Sulayem said: “You’re absolutely right about it, we had the same issue in Austria, it was 1200 [offences there].  

“And I have to say, congratulations to the stewards because they spotted it. But is that the solution? No.  

“The solution is to improve the track itself. I know some are resistant to it, but to tell you the truth, if they don’t, there is no race. It is as simple as this. We can’t afford this.” 

Drivers abusing the kerbs so much in Qatar proved to be one of the factors in the tyre situation that F1 faced last weekend after sidewall separation was spotted on Pirelli rubber. 

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23, battles with Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23, battles with Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

It prompted an 18-lap limit on tyre life for the main grand prix, which turned it into a three-stop race. 

Ben Sulayem said that venues where track limits are a problem must come up with better kerb designs. 

“We have to work on a solution,” explained Ben Sulayem. “One of the solutions is to make it slippery when they go off. Nobody can stop the drivers except the drivers themselves.  

“We can think of the height [of the kerbs]. Does it damage the cars? Or maybe there is a possibility of putting some gravel, but with gravel, we have to be very careful. 

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“How deep is the gravel? Because you don’t want anyone to get stuck. And how big is the gravel? Because you don’t want the car to be damaged. It is a balance. 

“But I believe now it’s not a matter of: ‘Oh, do we do it?’ We have to do it. And we have to listen to the drivers mainly, to the feedback from them.  

“I will have to make it urgently because it has to be implemented for next year. We cannot afford [for it to continue], especially where we see it all the time.”

F1 avoided a repeat in Qatar of the late-night post-race track limits dramas from the Austrian GP, where it had taken several hours for stewards to work through potential breaches. 

The FIA avoided a repeat of the late-night post-race track limit delays from Austria

The FIA avoided a repeat of the late-night post-race track limit delays from Austria

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

This was done through the FIA ramping up its stewarding and introducing better processes at its Remote Operations Centre to ensure it was more on top of things. 

Ben Sulayem says that further improvements to better control track limits breaches are possible, especially with new technology, but he says that the FIA needs more resources to be able to unleash it. 

“The use of technology should be there,” he said. “It is being used in a lot of areas, but the FIA needs more resources to invest back into the sport.  

“I’m not hiding here: we need more resources. I mean, it’s a $20 billion operation here and we cannot run it on a shoestring.” 

Ben Sulayem suggests that a better arrangement is needed with F1 to properly fund the level of investment the FIA needs to do its job more effectively. 

“Our agreement has to be better,” he said. “You have to remember one thing: we own the championship. I represent the landlord, and we lease it. Our mission is different to Liberty but we are in the same boat.” 

He added: “We should not be running this big responsibility with a shoestring. We are transparent. 

“[We tell people] this is what it costs. People are bragging about how much each F1 team is worth, but the FIA should be free and have the resources to run it in the best way.  

“Every time we are better, we make the teams better and we make the sport better.”

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