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US investigation casts question mark over gravel traps

THE success of the Formula One gravel trap has been called into question after an investigation in America.

John Fitch, an American highway safety expert, researched video studies and tests of gravel traps by the US Department of Transportation to reach his conclusion, and his findings have been approved by the Racing Safety Advisory Board, which includes such luminaries as Mario Andretti and Stirling Moss, along with many specialist experts in the field.

"Gravel traps on road racing courses should be paved over so that drivers can steer, brake, and recover," he says, citing the crashes of the top two Formula One drivers as prime examples.

Both Michael Schumacher (at the British Grand Prix) and Mika Hakkinen (at the German Grand Prix) went off at high speed last year, and although the gravel traps slowed both cars - particularly Hakkinen's - Fitch believes other solutions could have achieved a much more rapid deceleration and even allowed the cars to return to the track.

He added: "Schumacher could have easily turned away from the wall well within the radius that Formula One cars can negotiate, had it not been for the gravel trap."

The report says that in tests, gravel traps can only give a deceleration of 0.6G, and this rate does not begin until the car has slowed to 50 miles per hour. On a paved surface, however, F1 brakes can provide 3-4G of braking. However, when a car begins to spin, these braking figures will reduce.

Formula One's governing body, the FIA, have researched gravel traps in the past. Their conclusions suggested that gravel traps should be sloped, and the idea of 'Super Grippy' tarmac has also come up. This further damning of the F1 gravel trap may pave the way to tarmac run-offs in the future.

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