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Decisions From the FIA

The good news is that the FIA has been able to ban traction control in F1 from 2008, thanks to the introduction of the standardized Microsoft/McLaren ECU. Anything that removes driver aids from the cars and puts more emphasis on the skill of the driver has to be applauded; it remains to be seen whether the ECU will have other unexpected effects such as our screens suddenly freezing with 404 errors and teams having to phone Redmond to register their software after an engine change.

Tyre

To prevent us getting too excited, however, the FIA has balanced this by not approving other proposed rule changes – slick tyres will remain a no-no, the width of the cars will not be increased and there will be no reduction in the minimum weight limit. Ah well, I guess we’d become spoiled if allowed to have everything we wanted.

Some surprise has been expressed amongst F1 watchers at the failure to implement these changes. It all makes perfect sense if you look at it from the FIA’s point of view, however. Take the survival of the awful grooved tires, for instance – now that Bridgestone seems to have settled for using one of the grooves for its painted indication of the softer tire, it would be unfair to take that away from them so soon. They might have to do the obvious and paint a ring around the sidewall otherwise and that would be following the lead of Champ Cars (oh, horrors!).

But seriously, there is one thing all the rejected proposals have in common – they would make the cars faster in the corners. And we know that is anathema to the FIA with their determination to keep speeds within manageable limits. After all, we all know (don’t we?) that speed is what causes accidents. Perhaps we could end up with a scenario rather like California’s car chases, where the cops follow dutifully along behind the getaway car as it cruises the freeway at the speed limit. Now there would be a spectacle to delight nannies all around the world!

Formula 1 is a sport of balances – balance between car performance and driver skill, balance between technological advance and spectacle, balance between speed and safety. Concentrate too much on one aspect and another will suffer. And safety needs to be put in its rightful place – important but not the be-all and end-all.

The current generation of cars is about as safe as it is possible to make them but there will always be a chance of something completely unexpected happening (like David Coulthard deciding to park his RB3 on your head). That is the definition of accident – something occurring that has not been foreseen and therefore not guarded against. We can chase our tails for eternity trying to think of the most unlikely events and then making sure that cars have defenses against such things, but we will never beat Murphy’s Law – whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

It is time to accept the very high standard of safety already achieved and allow racing to have its turn. Give us back the slicks and let the cars be wider and lighter – let’s see some racing, for Pete’s sake!

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Why Not a Flexible Calendar?

It looks as though Singapore have got their GP for next year. Valencia, too, is making a strong bid for a race and may be allowed as the “Mediterranean GP”. That would give the lie to Bernie’s stated aim not to let one country have more than one GP (which was always going to be overlooked in the case of a second US GP anyway) and should give Imola extra encouragement to get their alterations done quickly, if the organizers still want the circuit to return to the calendar.

Start

Then there is India waiting in the wings and rumors of a return to Mexico, not forgetting South Africa who want a race too. A quart of races and a pint pot of a calendar to squeeze them into. Add to that the reluctance of the teams to take on even more GPs and it seems an impossible situation. But there might be a way.

Suppose, for instance, the calendar were extended to include twenty-five GPs but teams could only take part in twenty of them. One could make fifteen of the races mandatory (preferably the old ones that no-one wants to lose) and then have a rota system for the remaining ten to ensure that the teams don’t all go for the same races. Numbers of competitors would be down in the “optional” races but this could be compensated for by allowing (or enforcing) new wannabe teams to participate in the extra races for their first year or two. They would be allowed to score points but barred from the mandatory races until they had proved their ability to compete at the level of F1. The sport would be spared the embarrassment of another farce like the Andrea Moda saga therefore.

The advantages of such a system are many. Great and time-honored circuits that are now under threat would gain some security while new races get the chance to prove themselves. Teams would not have the expense of participating in more races than logistics and economics allow but would still be on view everywhere at least once every two years. Every race venue could have a GP each year and we would no longer have to hear of possible “sharing” of GPs between Britain and France (okay, France has taken itself out of the equation for 2008 but I’m sure it will want to return thereafter). And the fans would get an increase in the number of races, something they all seem to want.

It would be similar to the occasionally-tried system of only permitting points scored in a number of races less than the total, except that the teams would not have to travel to the races where they were not going to score. The inclusion of new teams would increase the number of concerns willing to give F1 racing a try and sort out the wheat from the chaff at the same time. If they were to score a few points now and then, that could even spice up the battles between existing teams and make the championship a little less predictable. Plus it would be an excellent way for new drivers to gain a foothold in the sport and show their worth.

No doubt this idea would involve a lot of calculating to see which races should go where and how the teams are allocated optional races to ensure fairness. It might be necessary to make it slightly more complicated by shaking up the allocation every now and then to ensure that certain races do not become the domain of a team whose prime competitor does not race in those GPs in the same year – although the other team would presumably have a similar advantage in the GPs it was attending.

It seems to me that this might be a way of solving several problems at the same time so a little complication in designing it should not put us off. It might even work.

Of course, I’m sure Bernie and Max don’t read Formula 1 Latest so there’s no danger of them considering the matter. It’s okay, you can relax – just another of my wild ideas…

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All Quiet on the F1 Front

Okay, I admit it, I do like a bit of controversy, something that I can throw a few ill-chosen words at to get everyone even more outraged. And F1 has let me down badly this morning, having apparently fixed the flexi-floor debate and the customer car row waiting for arbitration. The only thing happening seems to be testing in Malaysia with times that are all over the place, confirming the old adage that testing proves nothing.

Sato

Sato in the Super Aguri

Silverstone is threatened with a buy-out by a shadowy group called Spectre, prompting PitPass to speculate on a return of James Bond’s old enemy, Ernst Blofeld, but Damon Hill has denied that the circuit is up for sale. So much for any fun with that one.

Even F1 Fanatic is reduced to a post on a Formula 1 photograph exhibition in London. Definitely a day with no pots to stir and no fur to ruffle.

Which leaves me writing what I refer to on my personal blog as “a nothing post”. I am expert on these, having resorted to them often in moments of desperation. Mention of my personal blog reminds me that there are a few motor sport posts on it, however, and it occurs to me that I could duck this one by sending you over there to read them. They’re hugely out of date but might at least assuage my pangs of guilt at not being able to think of anything to write about today.

The Indianapolis Grand Farce

The Other Italian

Motor Racing Memories

Okay, there are only three but I do have other interests, you know…

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The FIA Nails the Flexi-Floor Problem

Well, it seems we are going to find out just how much difference to lap times the flexi-floors make. Autosport magazine has a very revealing article reporting on the FIA’s response to McLaren’s suggestion that they be allowed to fit the same system that Ferrari are using to enable the floor of their car to flex at high speed. Predictably, this has galvanized the FIA to action and they have replied that they will test for moving floors with such devices removed.

Charlie

Charlie Whiting, FIA F1 Race Director

Bang goes Ferrari’s little tweak. Which is what McLaren wanted all along, of course. There will be those who say that the tweak should be allowed, that this is just the designers introducing new technological ideas and that McLaren are only looking for ways to handicap Ferrari. But that would ignore the fact that this particular tweak is deliberately designed to circumvent the rules. If the tightening of the test does interfere with the Ferrari’s competitiveness, then its speed to date has been thanks to an illegal modification and McLaren are quite right to protest.

The idea of moving the floor to increase or decrease aerodynamic efficiency is not new; clearly, the FIA test for this is to prevent it happening. So this is not a case of a brilliant technological innovation being killed by spoilsports. The engineers are aware of the effect of a moving floor but have not employed it before, knowing that it would be illegal. It is no great step of the imagination to design something that will resist the known force used in the FIA test but to move when higher forces are applied.

What amuses me most about the saga is the way in which McLaren “sought clarification” on the tweak. They did not protest the Ferrari but asked whether the FIA would allow a device intended to pass the test but function at higher forces. I can almost hear Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s head of the F1 technical department, spluttering as he wrote in his reply:

“Quite clearly, any such device would be designed to permit flexibility and is therefore strictly prohibited by Article 3.15 of the Technical Regulations.”

This from the same man who passed the Ferraris as perfectly legal at the Australian Grand Prix. It seems that McLaren know from experience that, to get a fair ruling from the FIA where Ferrari are concerned, you must suggest that you are going to do the same thing as the Italian team.

It may be that removal of the device will have no great effect on the Ferrari’s performance, in which case McLaren are going to have to work that much harder to get on terms with them. But, if the tweak has had something to do with the Ferrari’s superiority so far, its removal can only be good for the sport. We might still have the closely-fought season that we have all been hoping for in that case.

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