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.
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!