Few Grand Prix seasons have been quite so eagerly awaited in recent years, for the banning of infamous gizmos such as active ride suspension and traction control have whetted the appetites of all fans who hope to see closer racing.
But . . .
A nasty little word that. In this instance, however, one that cannot be ignored.
But . . .
Will the changes in the Fl regulations actually make any difference? Worse still, will there be any attempts to ‘circumvent’ them?
At this time of season it’s always nice to be as positive as possible, and the good news is that the indications (this was written as the teams were making last-minute preparations for the first race in Interlagos) are that cornmonsense and fair play and some none-too-veiled threats from the FIA look like keeping most on the straight and narrow.
In mid-March, all of the fuel companies finally acquiesced to the FIA dictate that they had to supply samples for analysis before the Brazilian GP. Once vetted, samples would be certificated for use by the appropriate teams. No certificate, no pass through scrutineering.
The man who takes the overall responsibility for demanding and then implementing the new rules is FIA President Max Mosley, as accomplished a politician as one would expect to find fulfilling the role as the Prime Minister of the sport. Though conversations with him invariably make one feel like a lobby correspondent, you have to admire his innate smartness. Overnight, Mr Mosley has turned the Fl regulations round on the teams; they have always had to comply with the rules, but now Max has made it expressly clear that wherever doubt over legality exists they will have to prove that they comply.
But. . . Why is Mosley, the sport’s supremo, so apparently paranoid that disgruntled teams will refuse to kowtow and take legal action against the FIA? His worries have their roots in Elf’s threatened action back in 1992, a situation that to Max Mosley must have been what the Scott Inquiry is to John Major. Mosley hides it well, but there is no getting away from the anxieties such threats create. If you look carefully, everything about the way
the new regulations are being handled shouts attempts to avoid the FIA being left exposed. We don’t really believe, for example, that the three stooges who comprise the stewards at each race laymen, mostly, some with laughable understanding of the sport are the men who will actually police the World Championship, do we? They are Mosley’s underlings, but he has to be seen to be totally objective.
When you mention the potential for argument over regulations to him, he feels his way in with a stock answer. The thing that surprises me is not how many arguments we’ve had, but how few, because when you think how complicated a racing car is, it’s enormously complex. And on top of that they’re developing all the time. It’s not like a football, when you fix the specification.”
Then you get to the nitty gritty. One of the big worries is that you can’t police traction control, just like you couldn’t police ground clearance once a car is in motion. The reason Mosley wants fly-by-wire throttles outlawed is threefold.
“The first is that it is impossible for the scrutineers at any reasonable time to check the integrity of the hardware and the software, so they can’t be sure that the throttle wouldn’t behave in a wholly unpredictable way. Whereas with a classic throttle you can be reasonably sure of that.” Hmm, a little weak, perhaps.
“Secondly it is extremely difficult for a team that has such a system to demonstrate that it doesn’t have traction control. Which, after all, they have to. It is up to them to demonstrate that they don’t have it. That negative proof thing has been in the regulations for a very long time.” Better.
“And thirdly, it enables an engine to be set at a more critical level, so as to give more power than if a driver drove it. All racing engines are difficult to drive; that’s the main difference between a racing and a road engine as far as using it is concerned. An engine that is extremely difficult to drive may give more power but you need an electronic throttle to help anyone except the most competent driver to extract the power from the engine. And we see that as a driver aid, so those are the three reasons.” Here we have the true nub of the problem, and here we have a good enough reason to support what the FIA has been trying to do. It’s all very pleasant to monitor
the clever ways in which brilliant engineers such as Patrick Head and John Barnard can create solutions to very complex technical problems, but as Flavio Briatore says elsewhere in this issue, what surely matters to most of us is watching Senna and Schumacher wheel-to-wheel, being thrilled by derring-do on the track that we all know ourselves to be incapable of emulating. That’s surely an axiom of all spectator sports. And if Max is trying to create better racing, I’m all in favour of it.
Syd Herbert has been chief incident officer at Silverstone for more years than he will care to remember. A fine character whose bark is currently worse than his bite (sorry, Sycl), he was recently recalling the old days of Formula Three.
“When you had the one-litre screamers round here, you never knew who would be leading on which lap. Right up until the end you just had no idea who was going to pop into sight in first place, let alone get to the line first. That’s what’s missing now, even in Formula Ford. That unpredictability.”
And he’s absolutely, two hundred percent, bang-on-the-nose right. What we all desperately hope for this year is racing that’s not only closer, but unpredictable. It’s a tribute to the leading teams nowadays that both of their cars are to equal specification and thus equally capable of doing the job, but boy oh boy is the ‘animals went in two by two’ aspect boring.
From time immemorial there has always been a certain element of confrontation between the teams and the sport’s governing body, and Mosley is the man tasked with two-stepping his way through the political minefield as he seeks to lead the sport back to the Nirvana it began to desert when the whole question of downforce got so out of hand in the ’70s.
“I’m trying very hard!” he admits. “I suppose that the only thing I can claim is that I do understand the problems of running a team. 1 understand the other side. But of course the difficulty is that there’s also conflict between teams because teams are always trying to get a certain advantage. There’s always bound to be somebody that’s pushing the limits of the regulations somewhere.” That’s why the threat of Draconian penalties hangs like a Sword of Damocles over any team found willingly to be infringing the
regulations. “I think if somebody was found to be cheating, if you could demonstrate that they deliberately cheated, not that they interpreted the rule differently to you or there was some debatable point which they may be wrong about, then I think Draconian penalties are completely correct,” he confirms.
What he means is a ban from the championship, and cancellation of any points scored up to the discovery of the infringement . . . This is strong government, and one hopes that such threats really are backed up if anyone is daft enough to try and steal an unfair advantage. Patrick Head and Frank Williams recently accused Mosley of trying to adopt NASCAR style, of trying to manoeuvre teams into a position where the FIA can dictate everything the way that Bill France 1nr does and his legendary father used to. To me, benign dictatorship is usually the only thing that
ever makes progressive sense. After all, some one individual should always carry the final can.
“From my point of view nothing’s wrong with the idea, except that it takes time,” says Mosley. “But what I say to them when they say we’ve got no clear regulations, is that you write them all out, clear regulations, and you all sign them. Or, we’ll write them out and you all sign them. But because we can’t change the regulations without everybody signing, everybody’s got to sign. Nothing would please me more than crystal clear regulations that a child could enforce, and you let the whole thing get on with it. You don’t have to think about that, you can think about other things. But they can’t do it, because they can never agree . And therein lies a rub that will always militate against change in Fl. And hand in glove with that goes the call for the Concorde Agreement the document that once
bound Fl together in the aftermath of the FISA/FOCA war yet which now has it hamstrung to receive a comprehensive and overdue overhaul. If he had his way, Mosley would change it immediately, although the irony of unpicking much of the work he put into it back in the early ’80s is certainly not lost on him. In a way, he is a victim of his own bygone efficiency. “I think that the Concorde Agreement has outlived its usefulness and there ought to be a mechanism whereby you consult with everyone, and when you’ve finished consulting that’s it. The FIA takes a decision by whatever means, the Formula Commission and all the rest of it. But, um, I don’t know what they want, because they can’t agree unanimously and yet they want to keep the Concorde Agreement.”
NASCAR has been through much of F I ‘s current angst in its past, and has had its own unpopular decisions. When they’ve downsized, or changed things so that Ford doesn’t win and Chevrolet does, or vice versa, for example. And like the FIA, NASCAR is up against similarly sizeable corporations which in theory could go ahead with legal action to protect their own interests. Somehow, though, it has never come to that. Mosley acknowledges the point. “1 think they’ve negotiated their way through very cleverly, and if you remember at the end of the ’60s, beginning of the ’70s, they stopped the technology and they went down their present route with fixed technology, and all of Detroit said ‘That’s it, we’ll never come back again because we want to demonstrate our products to the American public.’ And now Detroit is in there as enthusiastic as ever, with the fixed technology.”
In other words, once the storm in F I ‘s teacup has abated, we can expect things to settle down again. The other thing I expect is that the same faces will crop up near the front, even though the gaps may be smaller.
Most likely, by the time you read these words the Brazilian GP will have been run and we shall be feting the first victor of the 1994 FIA Formula One World Championship. Mosley himself was hopeful before the event that things would proceed rather more smoothly than some expect. “All of the teams know what the rules are, and on all the grey areas or difficult areas they know what our view is, and although our view is not necessarily the view of the stewards they can make their minds up it will probably be quite persuasive. So I think that anybody who wants to go to Brazil with an uncontentious car, can.
“The same is true of the fuel. We’ve checked all the fuel before Brazil so there won’t be any of that hanging around afterwards unless there’s something that nobody’s thought of. So I think the chances of problems, either in Brazil and after Brazil, are small. And if there are problems, I have to say it won’t be our fault. We’ve done everything one possibly can so that everybody knows exactly where they are.” For the sake of sport, and a competitive 1994 Fl season, one devoutly hopes his optimism is justified. D 1 T