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Know Your Limits


In the worlds of project management and engineering, folk are fond of saying, "If you cannot measure it, you cannot control it." Yet just because one can measure something, it does not automatically mean one should measure and control it.

Governments are especially fond of measuring all sorts of increasingly eccentric items and activities. Indeed they would be quaint and cute for their OCD focus on the most inane of measurements, were it not for the fact that the point of the measurement is usually social control, taxation, or, if the government is really lucky, both. Indeed in the greatest of measuring moments governments can achieve the first two, and get the extra bonus of social brownie points for also doing the 'right thing'. Think the anti-tobacco movement.

Marlboro used to be proudly splashed all over McLaren's cars and overalls. Dollars rolling in for delightful fun at every race. Then came the small issue of tobacco, yes we have measured it, it's killing people.

Government to the rescue! Ban on advertising, adverts actively highlighting the shocking issues smoking can cause, and the tax on cigarettes going up a zillion percent. Indeed, with the loss of tobacco money, the doom and gloom merchants were soon predicting that the total shape of the sport was under threat.


The government is trying to socially control people, but because it is socially reasonable to try and save people from themselves they score points on both fronts, with the icing on the cake being that the remaining smokers pay so much increased tax on cigarettes that government income from all this social control is still fantastic!

The triple win!

Oh, and for anyone that didn't notice tobacco is still flowing the gold into Ferrari's vaults with much chinking of Champagne glasses and finger food all round...

Funny thing... all the new "destination cities" Liberty are targeting have rising rates of smoking, while the 'traditional' countries are far, far below the levels seen back in the hazy (smoky...) days of the '70's and '80's... plus they still allow tobacco advertising. How fortunate is that!? Coincidence...?

So, for everyone except smokers the current situation is just lovely for one and all. Social kudos and income for governments, with a light dusting of social control, plus the tobacco companies still make money, and plus, plus Ferrari still get sponsorship dollars, oh, and plus plus, plus, the Champagne is still flowing and the corporate boys party on! Good Lord! 10/10 to all concerned for a genius act of measurement and control...

Now track limits. Dear reader, did you not think I was inching towards this topic?

Define the track, measure it. Bound it. FIA certify it. Apply timing devices to it for measuring progress around it to the thousandth of a second.

Measure it all to the nearest dozen atoms if you please.

Then apply fickle, emotional humans in the heat of battle, surrounded by fevered fans and a global television audience. All baying for flat-out awesomeness.

Then to put the bow on top, have the FIA frame it all within a set of rules relaxed enough to allow interpretation to be "in the spirit of the sport" AND utterly prescriptive and crystalline pure in meaning so that no nuance of meaning can wiggle in. Oh, and above all promote tough racing, and have fun... while removing confusion, being fair and flexible, and utterly rigid and repeatable in regards understanding and application.

What could possibly go wrong?

Having in the last article looked at the huge variation in opinion, what we are now pondering is how one's internal model of the world varies to what is really out there. What is reality?

Now here our dearest of friends, Miss Physics you might recall, simply loves to mess with us. Anyone who thinks Miss Physics does not have a sense of humour clearly has never tried to tickle the ears of Schrodinger's cat, hold a photon stationery, or get electromagnetic radiation in general to either be a wave, and only a wave, or a particle and only a particle. And don't get me going on how magnetic fields work (they just do, ok...?).

Yet, us dear silly humans can measure all these things. Measure them well, and in many instances bend them to our will. The entire internet and the devices connected to it are powered by things we can measure (and get charged for...) and yet we do not really fully understand them.

Yet in the heat of the gladiatorial battle that is the delightful contest for position on a race track, two humans are supposed to maintain an innate feeling for all the laws of Physics (not optional), and the rules of the FIA, which are optional and all depend on your point of view.

In this context what is knowing your limits? The great drivers possess a remarkable set of senses mixed perfectly with peak human capability. Schumacher said you didn't need great reflexes to be a great driver because if you were anticipating and driving right you would never have a moment where you needed to "catch" the car. Wonderful advice and no doubt true, while also rather missing the point that at the speed Michael drove, even having spot-on anticipation and driving flawlessly requires one to have the remarkable reflexes to act as required when required to remain on track!

So, innate ability, the focus to refine capability, 'fast enough' reflexes, super-tuned senses, a clear understanding of the rules, the ability to never crack under pressure, flawless spatial awareness, all combined within the spirit of fair play while travelling at speeds up to 97.2 metres per second (318.9 feet per second, dear Ed), not forgetting the ever necessary respect for the laws of Miss Physics.

All of which can be measured within microns and split milli-seconds in the control room, and calculated by the dark arts of the engineers within endless simulations that mimic life without ever being it. Does such precise measurement mean we can or should control to such merciless tolerances in the real world? The human world of struggle and triumph, not the accurate to the width of an atom world of possible measurement?

Knowing one's limits is not just about confirming the width of the track, or the fuel flow limit. Knowing one's limits also means insight and self-awareness to understand what it means to be human, and exist in an imperfect world.

In the days of Nuvolari what happened around the back of the track, stayed around the back of the track. Then radio, then more marshals, then television, then safety, then rule upon rule that could be quantised and measured. No one is arguing against safety, all steps in this direction are to be welcomed and embraced.

We as fans delight when Lewis, Max, Seb or Daniel dance on the very rapier edge of their limits as the car squirms in the braking zone, or impossibly hangs on around the outside of another car through a fast sweeper.

Yes, the car is being pushed, but it is the human in the driver's seat pushing their own capability to their remarkable limits that has us heart in mouth on the sofa, the vicarious adrenaline rushing through our veins. They know their limits, but are willing to tease to the very edge of the possible and then an atom beyond in the hope that in the rare moment Miss Physics blinks, Lady Luck can dash in and ensure the ensuing potential disaster rolls the dice in their favour! A limit found, tested, and survived! Driver moving closer to legend, fans delighted, that day's race praised by generations to come. Delight and wonder in an imperfect world.

Yet the FIA wants this mystic dance on the edge of time, space and the possible to be clean, clinical, without risk, and utterly repeatable time after time in accordance with the prescriptive rule book... within the precise set bounds of the track just as they have painted and endorsed it, regardless of the drivers testing their human limits, and the limits of the laws of Miss Physics.

Is this merciless approach to rigid limits doing the FIA, us or the drivers any good? Can't he FIA take a moment to breathe, become all mindful and in a stunning moment of insight and self-realisation, understand that just because they can measure it and try to control it, should they? Do they really know their limits?

As a sport, and as a society, we would do well to reflect on our personal inner limits, and grow wise in identifying what adds value to our lives when we measure and control it, and what robs us one moment at a time of life's fleeting joys.

Max Noble

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here



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1. Posted by sagosac, 18/07/2019 8:30

"I cannot imagine that tarmac run-offs are adding any safety.

And the best drivers, including pretty much every single one in F1, they prove year after year that they are quite capable of dancing towards the wall/track limit in Monaco; so I don't think that we need to help them by screwing plastic pieces infront of the walls -- as if they needed to be warned that there is a wall...and there is no need to dilute the character of such a track by creating some mini-run-offs that do nothing but killing sportive demand (see exit Piscine and Sainte Devote [whereby the latter one should be as broad as possible in order to cater for the most action-loaded start as well as more overtaking]).
And there are situations when the cars just GRAAAZE the wall, gracefully; so it's just major faults that put you out of the game -- or bad luck, when being hit / blocked.

We saw gravel traps or just grass / meadows for decades and the sport prospered; those run-off-zones were separated to the track by curbs / kerbs, often less broad than a tyre.

Now we have kerbs often broad as a car, sometimes like 2 or 3 -- and sometimes nobody can tell...

When you install negotiable track limits, you automatically (and knowingly) sacrifice challenge, demand, thrill, excitement, drama => sports.

Safety: I cannot imagine that a bulldozed asphalt desert decelerates a car with tyre / suspension / brake failure better than a non-bulldozed space. Even more so in wet conditions; or when the car is slithering upside down.

Given that it was our main, our sole major aim to make this sport as great and big as possible:
would we opt for sterile play grounds, where faults are only detectable by "BEEEPs" -- sounds / lights ? or would we want the crowd to immediately see / witness, most conciously SUFFER that their or the other SUPERSTAR really made a fault ?
I would say the latter scenario was more meaningful.
(We've heard the "AWE"s by the crowd in Silverstone, right ? I bet this would not occur due to a BEEEP.)

Last but not least, the most successful sports follow a rather simple rule book.
People, especially when on leisure-time, I bet they prefer simple rules.
Any "in this and that corner everybody may make 2 faults before penalised" or "in turn 1 in lap 1 everybody may do anything as long as not driving in the opposite direction" -- those arrangements are so -- they are so -- ARRRGGGHHH


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2. Posted by Max Noble, 16/07/2019 23:37

"@Spindoctor - my thanks for a very well reasoned response. You raise several excellent points, and the dividing line between honouring Physics, and deliberate ‘dangerous’ driving to gain an advantage is a useful differentiation to highlight. Vettel had no option but to go with the first, but how he “rounded out” the end of the slide, and indeed the fact he was willing to take the risk to start with, says a lot about pushing the limits, and driver’s thinking under pressure.
...hence context and the complexity of the Stewards decision...

I always marvel at the driving capability on show at Monaco. It reminds me that if I was lucky enough to get into a F1 car I’d have made very stark the difference between my “not bad for a human” capabilities, and the capability of the very best. Yet unless it rains, and the red mist descends on at least one driver, it is a procession after the first corner...

Hence the FIA problem of giving large run offs for safety and to encourage driver’s to take risks, while making the tracks exciting and challenging so both the drivers and the fans enjoy the race... As you note, more horns and dilemmas than a Rich Energy Stag Party...

If the FIA can strike the balance of enforceable safety track limits, with equal measure of driver challenge and fan delight, we will all have happy racing... We need a naturally applied time impost for exceeding the limits that is not unsafe. Gravel trap 2.0...? "

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3. Posted by Spindoctor, 13/07/2019 15:04

"At the risk of being both argumentative & opinionated, it occurs to to me that 'Track Limits' is (are?) a slightly different matter to 'Dangerous re-entry' (Oooh err missus etc.).
Considerations of Track Limits are speared on the horns of a dilemma: the safety of drivers & spectators may interfere with our desire to see drivers skating on the edge of what's possible. There are good reasons why there are so few really nasty accidents in F1 today, and one is long run-offs and wide tarmac aprons at potential danger points. Apart from (generally) being a bit more reliable than gravel in decelerating errant cars, tarmac run-offs mean that a single slip shouldn't mean total wipe-out for a driver. The notion that a single error in a 2 hour race should completely eliminate a competitor EVERY time seems a tad excessive. At toy circuits like Monaco drivers are significantly more circumspect than at places with more leeway, for precisely that reason. Monaco is a stern test of driving ability (and Car & Tyre deign) but does the danger inherent in those steel barriers make Monaco the most enthralling race of the Season for spectators? Answers on the back of a Fag packet please.

The crux of this (surely) is that if we want drivers regularly to push to the 'finite' & beyond for our edification & entertainment, they must be in a situation where they can balance the risks & rewards of exploring the outer limits with some more flexible criteria than the Monegasque "one strike[sic] and you're out".

Back to those nominal "limits", painted and sensor-measured on the Track. Although we can readily measure precisely WHEN these limits are exceeded, that's not really the point, is it? Mostly drivers loose significantly in terms of time and\or places when they transgress those kerbed & painted lines. Sometimes gains may be made, or losses avoided by crossing the line. Often it's not that clear if a transgression was: deliberate - to gain advantage; needed to avoid another car \ driver; an error, or simply a 'racing incident'. No amount of technology can answer this.
The resolution depends BOTH on analysing various objective data such as speed, steering-angle, braking effort, track position (&c.&c.) AND trying to evaluate the intention of the driver(s) involved. 'Data' are straightforwardly obtained with machines & technology, determining 'intent' is another matter completely. Notwithstanding the likes of AlphaZero & other AI human intentions may only rationally be considered by other humans: in this instance the Stewards.

David Coulthard & other EX-drivers roundly condemned the Vettel decision going so far as to claim that even if he did 'deliberately' block Hamilton, they would have done the 'same'. That's easy to say because Hamilton's reflexes were up to the job, and a crash avoided. What if they hadn't been, or if avoiding action had been impossible? In his commentary DC frequently criticises large run-off areas for making it too 'easy' and comparing unfavourably with Monaco . The paradox of this latter position is that in this case Vettel would, as a result of his mistake, have been eliminated by having his car damaged or immobilised by a barrier or gravel, and not be in a position to interfere with Lewis' race in the 1st place. Even if we ignore any evaluation of Seb's placement of his car on re-entry, he left the track, but suffered no penalty until the Stewards intervened. Seems fair on those grounds alone to penalise, just as Ricciardo was penalised for going off-track.
When we consider the motive for his actions after re-joining the track, many think that as DC suggested he swerved to disadvantage Hamilton, and the stewards seem to agree. That made a potentially dangerous situation worse and therefore worthy of some intervention to discourage repetition? (feel free to use the same fag-packet).

Surely part of the skill we want vicariously to share is to go like stink, but WITHIN THE LIMITS - whether they be set by Ms Physics, Mr Universe or the FIA. Scientific 'Laws' are human constructs ( 'magic' is Science we haven't yet discovered!). They are reliably and frequently tested & verified. But no-matter how carefully framed, 'Human' laws such as FIA Driving Rules are mainly interpreted with visible subjectively, and their application is hugely context-specific. One man's deliberate 'swerve' is another man's racing incident...."

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4. Posted by Max Noble, 13/07/2019 1:01

"@imejl99 - Esteemed Editor Balfe and I disagree (cheerfully...) on the merits of Monaco for just these reasons. I've driven many an utterly imperfect lap around the circuit on my Playstation, and were my many failures real I would have spent millions by now on a mountain of twisted metal and fractured carbon, plus considerable track repairs... Good street circuits give gifted drivers the chance to shine.

@4-Wheel Drifter - Sports betting... ah! Match fixing, ball tampering (fresh sand paper for the impending final any one...?), throwing the game, taking a dive, staying down for the count... EPO in Southern France... If people value the prize, someone is going to consider cheating to get there. And if many people love watching others chase the prize, well hello sports betting... and full circle back to fixing the outcome... We watched "I Tonya" the other weekend and it is an excellent exploration of the thousand small steps that lead to one massive mistake. "Vicarious" has been my word of the week for the last couple of articles (I'll stop now...) and it is a concept that fascinates me. Personally I far prefer to "Do" than to "Watch" whenever possible. Hence I find the added vicarious buy-in of a bet as pointless. I'm already not driving and not in the race, so why pay for the benefit of continuing to not be driving...? Given the current state of gambling around the planet I would appear to be in something on a minority on this one (Big Hello to the other Rush fan out there...).

Sorry my point - Quite agree that providing the capability to mess with the result whereby a human can be bribed to change the result, and/or can be in league with others to change the result for financial benefit is terrible for any sport. Along with drug cheating it is a considerable issue. Yet it is a factor of the human condition, and not a factor of any sport, or set of sporting regulations, that causes these issues.

To paraphrase myself; We are the problem, not the rules, the FIA, or Physics (Ms)..."

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5. Posted by 4-Wheel Drifter, 12/07/2019 19:54

"Dear Max:

It's true that in the days of Nuvalari (and you're giving your age away because hardly any of your readers even remember Fangio!) things like dangerous driving were "managed" by the drivers without the need for rules or stewards to 'enforce' the rules. Has it even ocurred to you that the recent steward decisions that placed Lewis on the top step of the podium and that didn't interfere with Max's win in Austria might have been decided by money, specifically gambling money? It certainly has seemed to me that in a sport where very large numbers of dollars, Euros, Pounds, Yen and so on, are deciding factors in the outcome of races, it is foolish to imagine that "safety" and "sportsmanship" matter very much other than in, as you suggest, public relations. In Austria, as it was clearly a race between Max's engine holding together long enough to get by Charles's struggling Ferrari, I was holding my breath and praying that the two of them would NOT take one another out. And they didn't. And Ferrari's "protest" had a good deal more to do with Sebastion's robbery than with Charles'. Surely you don't think Max didn't deserve his win or that Charles thought he didn't earn it?

I have no objetion to large sand pit run-offs or to high, destructive curbing. What I Do object to, mightily, is fines by stewards that change the outcome of a race. If you asked Sebastian or Ferrari would they object to a million dollar fine in place of a five second give away, you know the answer. Indeed, Ferrari fans would be glad to fund it! Miss Physics is as boring as twitter and most of the drivel on the internet. Racing, when it isn't fiddled with by money and public relations, is worth every spectator's time a million times over. When it is, it has no value whatsoever. "

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6. Posted by imejl99, 11/07/2019 13:31

"Allow me to draw a parallel with the "destination cities" Liberty are targeting and tobacco coincidence...

Destination cities are street races. Ultimate track limits. Miss Physics by steel barriers and concrete walls rendering FIA stewards arbitrary decisions obsolete. Very edge of the possible for humans and machine alike.
Racing fans excited. Fairly unpredictable race result.

The triple win! Coincidence...? What could possibly go wrong?"

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