MARCH 2, 1998
Rubber trouble in Australia?
FORMULA 1 team bosses are heading to Melbourne worried about the FIA's ambiguous regulations regarding tire wear of the new grooved slick tires. The original intention was for treads to be measured whenever tires came off a car and any which did not have sufficient tread remaining would lead to the exclusion of the car involved. This was clearly not going to be easy to police and the FIA then decided to issue a clarification which stated that action would only be taken if the FIA scrutineers felt that a team was trying to gain an advantage from such tire wear.
The decision apparently came after a meeting between the FIA and the two tire companies involved in F1 during which both Goodyear and Bridgestone assured the governing body that it was not possible to have tires which would wear away quickly enough to create what would be - in effect - a slick tire.
According to the tire experts when F1 tires wear down to that extent they do not provide more grip because they are worn out. Thicker tires would not work because of overheating problems.
But the FIA's plan to leave it up to the scrutineers has caused confusion and some controversy among the top engineers. "The FIA has gone out of its way NOT to be driven into a corner," says Williams's Technical Director Patrick Head. "A lot of people have sent faxes asking for clarification but the FIA has been very careful not to make any statement. What they are saying is that if anyone is deliberately trying to transform the tire from grooved to slick they will apply the rule. They will not necessarily exclude a car if it happens only once. It is a very subjective judgement which can apply or not after a race."
Worries that teams may try to wear down the tires for qualifying have been rejected because drivers do not have enough laps available to do the necessary running and if any teams try to shave the tires it will be fairly obvious to the scrutineers.
Team bosses say that they do not want the vagueness of the rule to lead to post-race dramas and protests and there was a technical meeting in London in the middle of last week to try to hammer out some form of clarification over tires before Melbourne so that there is no possibility of such problems in Australia.
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