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The Excitement of Traction Control

Autosport dot com has a good article on the techies’ view of the ban on traction control from 2008 onwards. It means a lot of re-design work for them but generally they seem content with the decision.

They do not think that the racing will be more “exciting” as a result, however. That may be true but I don’t think that was the FIA’s intention anyway – the idea was surely to allow the drivers’ skills a bit more influence on the race results. Everyone is agreed that the ban will help with that, Williams technical director, Sam Michael, admitting that “those who can feel the rear tyres and the throttle will shine.”

Prost

Alain Prost

Well, yeah. Which means that those who can save their tires by more skillful driving will benefit. Years ago Alain Prost was legendary for being able to take care of his tires and then to challenge strongly at the end of the race when everyone else’s tires were shot. In fact, without that ability, it is doubtful that he could have been quite as strong a teammate to Senna when they were both at McLaren. And it is drivers with the smooth, economical style of a Prost who will gain most from the ban, while the more spectacular but abrasive drivers will have to be more careful.

Certainly, it won’t be more exciting – but we might find the usual order shuffled a bit. Just as an instance, Kimi Raikkonen is rumored to be quite hard on his car and that means tires too. If he has to curb his instincts somewhat, that could put him in range of a lot of pretenders to his crown as one of the three quickest drivers. And they do say that Jenson Button is one of the smoothest drivers around…

16 Responses to “The Excitement of Traction Control”

  1. If memory serves, the following interview (more or less) took place not too long ago:

    Q. “How do you consistently run quicker than the competition?”

    A. “You just have to listen to the tires talk to you.”

    Q. “What about when it’s raining?”

    A. “You just have to listen more carefully.”

    I have a little difficulty with the concept of weeding the excellent drivers from the very good by eliminating driver aids. After all, was a Sopwith Camel pilot really more skilled than his F-18 counterpart? If traction control can be successfully taken from every team, then an advantage will be realized by those who have (or can readily adopt) a different skill, which I suppose could be seen to favor the best, but I doubt it will have much of an impact on the spectacle. Of course, the techies (who don’t seem to be particularly upset) could already have an acceleration/tire-saving substitute in mind.

  2. Hehehe, the Sopwith Camel pilot was braver, David – he had no parachute! :D

    As for skill, I suppose they are different abilities, flying a biplane as opposed to flying a modern jet. But I think that analogy applies more to the difference between the GP cars of the 1920s/1930s and the modern F1 racing car. This quote from Sam Michael says it all, really:

    “…the drivers just go flat on the throttle. No finesse is required right now, as electronics do everything for them.”

    If there were some skill involved in making the most of technological aids such as TC, then I would agree that banning it makes little difference. But anyone can put his foot flat.

    There have been technological aids that some drivers have used better than others – ground effect with skirts was one. As well as increasing G-loads in cornering, skirts required very fast reflexes from the driver since they made the car stick like glue until the point of no adhesion was reached – at which moment it just flew off the road.

    There was only one driver who mourned the passing of skirts and that was because he was the only one who had really mastered the skirted car. Watch old videos of Nelson Piquet cornering in the Brabham BT49 and you will see the car twitching – it is right on the edge of adhesion and Piquet is catching it every time it lets go. Unbelievable reflexes…

    As for the engineers having a way round the ban, maybe. But you know the old saying: it’s only illegal if you’re caught. ;)

  3. I believe this could be the best way to ‘level’ the playing field somewhat. Now all of the cars are on the limit at all times (and thus the better car always winning) 2008 rules would be how close the driver can get to the limit, which should vary based on skill and experience not on the car. (I would love to see that DC deserves to be up front again).

    To go back to your airplane analogy : what if you had two F18′s in a dogfight both with all the aids on… You may never determine a winner because they are both alway at there limits and thus no advantage regardless of skill. Put those same two pilots in Camels and only one will come out alive. Neither will always be on the limit but one will be much closer to it. The other might go over it and take himself out (which im sure will see next year…. qualifying???)

    Ive always heard ( I could be wrong) that Alonzo was very tough on the car and tires because of the way he cut so hard into corners where as a Shu drove a more elegant race. This could have decided the championship last year had this been implemented.

  4. A healthy disagreement can go on forever. Although I have no intention of participating beyond this post, nothing presented so far has convinced me that my opinion is flawed.

    If indeed … “the drivers just go flat out on the throttle. No finesse is required right now, as electronics do everything for them.” and …“Now all of the cars are on the limit at all times (and thus the better car is always winning)” … surely since (purportedly anyway) each team’s two cars are identical, then both would post similar lap times throughout the race and finish nose to tail most of the time. Thus, the obvious differences must be attributed to one driver being able to better utilize what the car has to offer. That takes a certain talent.

    In-cockpit video of Schumacher at work displayed busy hands between the track’s different features, as opposed to Massa whom we rarely saw participate in such activity. I suggest that Michael’s ability to fine tune these aids to changing conditions while the race progressed was at least to some degree responsible for his dominance. That takes a certain skill. Driving with no aids at all takes a different skill. Can the ability of a driver be determined by mastery of one condition over another? A matter of opinion I suppose.

  5. Yes, I’ve heard that Alonso turns into corners very suddenly although I haven’t really noticed it myself. With a car like the Renault R26 (very well-balanced and a good all-rounder) you can do that – other cars might object.

    Generally speaking, it is faster to be smooth and undramatic in style, although every now and then someone comes along who is more spectacular and proves that theory wrong. Keke Rosberg, Gilles Villeneuve and maybe Kimi Raikkonen are examples. But, as you say, Dan, next year we will see what what difference the lack of TC makes – and there just might be a few surprises.

  6. We should not forget that TC’s main advantage is at the start – preventing wheelspin enables the car to get the maximum traction to the road through the tires and so it is when the lights go out that the drivers floor the throttle and let the TC do the work. After that, TC’s influence is much less and the better drivers will gravitate towards the front – provided there is somewhere they can pass other cars.

    You are quite right that some drivers are able to change settings in the course of a lap, David, and that is an important skill in modern F1. I can remember Alonso’s mechanic speaking in awe of his driver’s ability to alter the settings in just the right way to get the best out of his car in each part of the circuit. I’m just not sure that TC would come under this heading as it is either on or off – and the drivers leave it on because it gives quicker lap times!

  7. As traction control leaves F1 it is becoming more and more important in World Superbikes and MotoGP, which I think is fair enough; if an F1 car loses traction mid corner and then suddenly regains it it doesn’t spit you six foot into the air.

  8. …”each team’s two cars are identical, then both would post similar lap times throughout the race and finish nose to tail most of the time.”

    2 Fernando Alonso
    3 Lewis Hamilton
    8 Ralf Schumacher
    9 Jarno Trulli
    13 Mark Webber
    15 Jenson Button

    With a few exceptions most the teams did finish in line and extremely close. Massa most likely would have been at least around Alonzo and Sato should of finished closer to his teammate and most likely will in future races. The Spyker’s were also very even before the crash.
    I’m not saying there is no skill involved ( I certainly cant drive one of these much less race it) but most of these drivers are coming from series that don’t use all these aids and they were the best of their respective series, some being leaps and bounds better. Add TC to the equation and it doesn’t allow there abilities to shine.

  9. Bike racing is dangerous, Mad!

  10. Whatever happens, it should be interesting to see whether the sudden withdrawal of traction control does have an effect on the relative performance of teammates.

  11. 2006 Drivers Championship Points

    Renault 1. Alonso 134
    2. Fisichella 72

    Ferrari 1. Schumacher 121
    2. Massa 80

    McLaren 1. Raikkonen 65
    2a. Montoya 26
    2b. de la Rosa 19

    Honda 1. Button 56
    2. Barrichello 30

    Sauber 1. Heidfeld 23
    2a. Villenueve 7
    2.b Kubica 6

    Toyota 1. Schumacher R. 20
    2. Trulli 15

    Williams 1. Webber 7
    2. Rosburg 4

    Red Bull 1. Coulthard 14
    2. Klien 2

    Hardly nose to tail finishes.

    … “but most of these drivers are coming from series that don’t use all these aids and they were the best of their respective series, some being leaps and bounds better. Add TC to the equation and it doesn’t allow there abilities to shine.”

    Hamilton and Kubica appear to be doing quite well with TC in place. Klein and Rosburg failed to perform as well against their opposite numbers. I very much doubt that TC was the deciding factor in either case.

    Right, I did say … “I have no intention of participating beyond this post” but one race (especially the season first) does not a championship make … and no, there is still nothing to indicate my reasoning is flawed.

  12. I for one will be more then happy to see it go regardless of how it will help/hurt certain teams. I personally watch sports for the people competing not for the equipment. I don’t watch soccer:) for the ball and I don’t watch womens tennis for the rackets…. I admit I don’t watch it purely for the competition either!

    I have a feeling someone will get on my case for calling football soccer and calling (American football) football. I have to agree with you, why call it football when no one on the team but the kicker touches it with his foot…. and its not a ball!!! It should be call awkwardly shaped run/pass and get hit ball.

    PS
    I think you hit gold with this post Clive

  13. Your point is taken and is valid, David – it is almost certainly not TC that has meant the difference between teammates in the 2006 season. Yet it is equally true that some of us suspect that TC narrows the gap between the best drivers and the merely competent. Next year we might (or might not) see how accurate our suspicions have been. ;)

  14. Gold indeed, Dan, but I have to work hard to keep the peace between opposing viewpoints. Fortunately F1 fans are generally a level-headed bunch and rarely resort to blows. ;)

    I have always maintained that F1 is slightly different from other sports in that we do watch the drivers primarily but we are also interested in the cars and the technology behind them. Keeping the balance right is the important thing, however – drivers must always come before cars.

    Talking of women’s tennis, how about female drivers in F1 as a subject? Anyone remember Divina Galica…?

  15. When that happens and they start beating the men, Spyker and Williams will threaten with legal action.

  16. ROFLOL

    Now that’s what I call the scattergun approach… ;)

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