APRIL 28, 1997
JACQUES VILLENEUVE has spoken out against the "ridiculous" new regulations which the FIA has introduced for 1998 in an effort to slow down F1 cars. Lap times have leapt forward this year thanks to the tire war and cornering speeds have increased to such an extent that the FIA is now worried that some of the safety work done since the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994 has been negated.
In an effort to stop this happening the FIA asked the F1 designers on the Technical Working Group to come up with a way of reducing downforce. They came up with the idea of building cars which will be eight inches narrower than the current machinery, which will make overtaking easier.
The FIA added the idea of putting grooves in the tires, to reduce the amount of rubber in contact with the road and thus cut the level of grip available to the drivers.
The width of the cars comes under the F1 technical regulations which meant that this has to be agreed a year in advance and was, therefore, voted through in December last year. The tire regulations come under the sporting regulations which can be changed more easily.
Villeneuve tested prototype versions of the grooved tires at Barcelona but has yet to run in the Williams team's narrow track car which was tested in Spain by Jean-Christophe Boullion. He did not like the tires.
"It was like driving a Formula Ford car with a bit more power and downforce," he reported. "It's ridiculous. If it does become boring to drive then it'll make a big difference to my decision where I race and I could end up back in Indycars. It just won't be enough of a challenge. It has been fun this year with the extra grip but now they want to take that away. It is frustrating when they don't listen to the drivers because we're the ones risking our lives."
Villeneuve proposed that the FIA bring back wider tires and reduce the downforce but said that the FIA was good at talking but not listening.
FIA President Max Mosley said that Villeneuve had expressed a view during an F1 Safety Commission meeting but that the Barcelona test was the first run with the new rules and that developments would be made.
"I am delighted that it is clear that it is a means of getting speed under control," he said. "We do not want to slow the cars dramatically but keep in the speed range of 1996 despite the tire wars and chassis improvements. If we have that we have hit the objective.
"The tires are a lot slower. The soft ones were about six seconds a lap slower and the harder compounds were four seconds slower than that. This is the tire company's first attempt. When they are optimized it may be that we decide we need fewer or smaller grooves and the reason we put these regulations in the sporting rather than the technical regulations is that they are easier to change.
"The important thing is that the principle is the right one for keeping car speeds under control. We have tried to decrease aerodynamic downforce for 25 years and failed. The cars just got faster and faster."
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