Teams come to grips with return of traction control

BARCELONA, Spain, Thursday, April 26, 2001 - A major rules change in the Formula One technical regulations will come into effect at this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, as traction control and other electronic "driver aids" will be legal for the...

BARCELONA, Spain, Thursday, April 26, 2001 - A major rules change in the Formula One technical regulations will come into effect at this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, as traction control and other electronic "driver aids" will be legal for the first time since the end of the 1993 season. The FIA and the teams agreed to the rules change for several reasons, including to end speculation that some teams were cheating, because it was becoming extremely difficult to police systems that have become so technically intricate. The rule was changed also because of different interpretations over what electronic systems were actually legal. "The problem is the way things went with F1 with all the rumors," said Williams-BMW driver Ralf Schumacher, who earned his first Grand Prix win two weeks ago at Imola. "They didn't do any good to F1, so it was the right decision to change the rules and to stop all the discussions about it. If all these (rumor) problems had not been there, I would have preferred to leave every thing as it was. The way it is, it is the best decision that the FIA could have taken." BMW Motorsport Director Dr. Mario Theissen agrees.

"Generally we are satisfied with the introduction of traction and launch control," he said. "The reasons for this are first that all the rumors about different interpretations of the rules will stop, and secondly because BMW has always been a pioneer in automotive electronics."

The three main changes to the rules are that traction control (which eliminates the rear tires spinning under acceleration), launch control (which allows computers to help the cars make the best possible getaway from the standing starts) and fully automatic gearboxes (which means that the drivers do not have to shift gears even just by flicking a lever like they do now) are now all legal.

"In terms of hardware it is not a big deal," Theissen said, "because virtually nothing has changed because all the tools and actuators and sensors were already onboard the cars. In terms of software, it is quite a complex thing. We are allowed to use engine management for torque reduction but not the brakes, which we do in production cars, so the system is certainly different from what we are using in road cars. In terms of engine management, you can talk about ignition, injection and throttle, which means air supply.

"The tricky thing is to get all this in order to have a really orchestrated system which works in just the right way in the right situation."

The addition of these electronic systems will make it more complex to set up the car for maximum performance. "It always has been a challenge to set the car up for different circuits and different conditions," said two-time World Champion Mika Hakkinen, "but certainly now with the new regulations it gives more options to the drivers and teams to find different limits in different corners. You can set the car up differently now in high-speed and low-speed corners, and in the past it was very much that the high-speed and low-speed corners were very similar in terms of electronics. There are definitely a lot of different parameters which you can use."

Schumacher calmed speculation that the car will now drive itself. "I had so many questions about if the car is driving itself," he said. "I don't think that will be the case. It will still be the same, basically. There will few more driving aids, but it will not make it easier for the drivers because the best thing will still be to drive close to the limit of using traction control and not always being in it."

Hakkinen believes that the rule change will improve safety. "It is a very positive thing for F1," he said. "It brings more safety because as you are coming out of the corners, you have traction control, and that controls the rear end of the car much more, particularly in wet conditions. So it brings more safety to racing."

Like many of the drivers, last year's Indianapolis 500 winner Juan-Pablo Montoya believes that traction control will diminish the skills of the drivers.

"Traction control is going to take something out of the driver," he said. "But we've still got to try to make our system better than the rest." Asked if he was opposed to traction control, 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve replied, "Yes and no.

"I am opposed to it driver-wise," Villeneuve said, "because it does take away from what you can do in the car, how you feel the car, how you set the car up. On the other hand, if you are allowed to change your electronics every week and there are 11 teams doing it, there is no way that the FIA can keep up with that, and there is no way the FIA can see all the intricate codes and understand if some one is cheating or not. So it is better to have it open and then at least it is clear that no one is cheating. "I'd prefer not to have it, but traction control doesn't mean you are just a passenger. If you put on too much traction control you just won't go anywhere because the car won't accelerate."

This weekend's Spanish Grand Prix is round five of 17 on this year's Formula One World Championship that includes the second annual SAP United States Grand Prix Sept. 30 at Indianapolis. Michael Schumacher, with two wins in his Ferrari this season, is tied for the lead in the championship with David Coulthard, who has scored one victory in his West McLaren-Mercedes. Both have 26 points.

With a second place and two third-place finishes, Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello is third with 14 points, while San Marino Grand Prix winner Ralf Schumacher is fourth in the standings with 12 points.

-IMS-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Mika Hakkinen , Mario Theissen
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren , Williams