During the first three races of the 2021 F1 season, lap times were constantly being taken away from numerous drivers for exceeding track limits. Each race weekend, the rules varied from corner to corner. Drivers had to stay within the lines at one place, were allowed to use the kerbing at the next corner, and could then do whatever they wanted at the following turn.
It makes for a big talking point week after week. During the opening race in Bahrain, the final outcome was even determined by these much-discussed track limits. Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton outside the track limits, even though the Brit himself crossed the line at the same corner for 30 laps without any consequences.
In Imola, it was impossible to keep up with the number of lap times that were taken away because of track limits. For example, Lando Norris went millimetres over the limit and saw his third fastest time in qualifying go up in smoke.
Two weeks later, the same thing happened again in Portugal. During qualifying Verstappen went over the line, handing pole position to Valtteri Bottas. In the race, the Dutchman was surprised when his fastest lap, and the championship point that comes with it, was taken away from him for, you guessed it, exceeding track limits.
Safe to say Red Bull have had their fill of track limits. Helmut Marko was fed up with the inconsistent track limits and Christian Horner didn't hide his dissatisfaction either.
Some changes have already been implemented. During the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, team bosses met to try and find a solution to the problem. It paid off as for the first time this year, there were no notable track limit issues. Christian Horner explained.
"It wasn't an issue on this track [Barcelona], because of the layout," Horner said after the race. "I think that tells you something, doesn't it? It won't be an issue at the next race [Monaco] either and probably not the one after that [Baku].
"There's been a healthy discussion and a working group created. We just need to come up with something that's simple, clear and understandable for drivers, fans and teams. It shouldn't be that difficult."
In an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com, Horner stressed the need to change the situation quickly.
"I think they're hard for the teams to understand, let alone the fans," said Horner. "We just need to come up with a more satisfactory way of denoting what are the limits of the circuit either through kerbing or clear rules at every corner. It's like any other sport that being over a white line is either out or in."
The Red Bull boss believes that as they currently stand, the rules create awkward situations.
"It's just too confusing to say yes, you can do this at one corner but you can't do it the next," Horner added. "It must be a commentators nightmare and for the average viewer, how do you explain that. I think we just need to come up with something a little more simple and that there's a physical penalty, whether it's a rumble strip, gravel or whatever it is by by running off circuit."
Horner knows that finding a solution is perhaps easier said than done, because the interests of Formula 1 play a role in that as well. Nevertheless, he thinks it's possible to come up with an answer.
"The problem for the circuits, and you can understand it, is that they've got the two interests of the bikes and the cars," Horner continued. "It's a little bit like playing rugby on a football pitch. They've both got grass and are both rectangular but they have different requirements. We need to make sure that circuits for Formula 1 usage are, whenever they are used for F1, suitable for F1."
Verstappen has also stated that he believes a solution must be found, though he knows that there are other interests at stake as well.
"Some tracks we race on with MotoGP," the Dutchman told RacingNews365.com and other members of the media. "They want different kerbs than what we like, but I still think we need to find some middle ground that works for both.
"I think we should try and put a bit more gravel back in places. Of course that sometimes isn't what tracks want because when you have days at the track and people go off, the gravel comes onto the track, they need to clean it and it all costs money to put back in place. Sometimes it's a bit confusing."
According to Horner, track days shouldn't be much of a problem. He's hopeful things will change in the not too distant future.
"It can't be that difficult," Horner told RacingNews365.com. "Or just have a clear rule that over the white line is out.
"It's been brought up in numerous meetings. Of course it has to go through the various groups. It's a key area that needs that needs addressing."
Not everyone is as optimistic as the Red Bull boss. McLaren's Andreas Seidl doesn't think Horner's views on the white lines will work at every track.
"It's clear that there is no short-term solution," Seidl told RacingNews365.com and other members of the media in Spain. "We just have to accept that there are different circuits with different characteristics and turns, and that circuits are also used by different racing categories.
"We need to be able to use these tracks in a safe way," he continued. "The idea of using only white lines as track limits doesn't work. There would be millions of violations, most of which don't even make a difference in terms of lap time. It is simply impossible to monitor that. The effort you have to put into that is outweighed by the size of the problem. You have to find a pragmatic solution, and there is one at the moment [the current rules]."
Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto also hopes a simple solution can solve the problem, and he believes it's there.
"It has been discussed in Spain by the team bosses," Binotto told this website. "We need to make it simpler for the fans. Talking about track limits during or after the race is never good for the show. We need something simpler than changing the circuits, something that can have an immediate effect. We just need to discuss what is and what is not a track limit. A simple solution, that would be best."
No doubt the controversy surrounding track limits isn't going away anytime soon. The two upcoming races, in the streets of Monaco and Azerbaijan, won't change that discussion. However, behind the scenes there will certainly be talks regarding the issue especially with the French Grand Prix, where there is no gravel, coming up.