You Own Nothing, Jon Snow

Frantic opening lap passing during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.

Who owns the corner?

As with everything in racing, it depends on who you ask.  Most importantly, however, it depends on the sanctioning body.

At the local oval tracks where I race, we have rules in place much like many club-level, amateur organizations.  Most of those rules set guidelines about how far up alongside a passing car must be to have earned the right to stay there and battle the lead car through a corner.

Road racing has the same thing: it sets very specific thresholds that the passing driver must achieve before they have the right to a corner.

You may think that these rules are in place to establish gentlemanly guidelines to racing.  In reality though, they are not.  It is actually a cost-saving rule and not a competition rule.  I should know.  I was the secretary for our local drivers association and I was involved with crafting the rules for our local track.

This is because at those amateur levels, we are always trying to keep costs down so we can attract and maintain drivers week after week.  If we didn’t set up any of those kinds of rules, there would be chaos and, by the halfway point of the season, only three cars left on track because those remaining would be the richest people out there.

If you look in the FIA rulebooks for any of the series that they govern, you will not find any wording that even remotely touches on corner rights.  Why?

Because a race is a competition and not a dinner party.

In fact, the only portion of the race track that a driver truly “owns” is wherever their 4 wheels currently occupy.

Each driver fights for every inch of race track and at the highest levels of racing they do not voluntary surrender those gains unless they have more to lose than they would gain by continuing the fight.

Does this mean that UCORA and the FIA allow chaos to ensue at every corner while drivers play chicken with each other?

Absolutely not.

The FIA and UCORA have established penalties that punish reckless drivers who cause avoidable accidents.

In other words: drivers are expected to battle for position but not to exceed the limits of themselves or their cars and cause accidents.

I recently commented on a passing tutorial by Empty Box on YouTube which explained that I am not a fan of “Corner Rights” because it inevitably generates a sense of ownership which is then quickly followed by a dismissal of situational awareness.

That abandoning of situational awareness comes at a critical point: corner entry.

If a driver tells themselves that they have the rights to the corner (usually before the braking zone), they will shift their attention from the car behind them to their braking mark and then the corner apex.

They may miss the fact that the trailing car has a massive run on their inside while entering the braking zone and actually got alongside before turn-in.

And when that happens, the leading car tries to take their preferred line through the corner and actually turns down onto a car that had established themselves to the inside which causes an accident.

The end result is an inevitable argument between two drivers who are positive that they were in the right; convinced by a rule that set both drivers up for failure: The lead car lost situational awareness and felt that they had a clear entry to the corner and the trailing car believed they had time to break that rule-established threshold where they gain the right to the corner.

However, if you eliminate that rule and simply say that a driver only owns the right to the track on which they presently occupy, then that corner becomes everyone’s corner and both drivers now have to maintain situational awareness of the other to safely navigate it; either by one driver backing out or each driver giving the other a lane to get through the corner.

So what’s a “divebomb” then?

Well, there’s a good divebomb and a bad divebomb.

A good divebomb is where the trailing car makes a skilled, late braking maneuver into the braking zone that brings them safely alongside the lead car which takes away the lead car’s preferred line through the corner.  It gives the lead driver enough time to alter their turn-in or surrender the corner safely.

A bad divebomb is one that happens either so late or so out of control, that the lead car must make evasive maneuvers to avoid an accident or be a helpless victim of avoidable contact which the reckless driver will be punished for.

I hope this gives some insight into what guidelines that our race stewards at UCORA will be using while officiating races.

Thank you for reading and we hope to see you on the track!