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Traction control returns; but it's not quite as simple as that

FRIDAY's FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting in Monaco provided a dramatic illustration of just what a complex technopolitical ecosystem controls the Formula 1 business. A quick scan through the official release on the subject of F1 might give the impression that the approval of traction control for a return in time for the 2001 Spanish Grand Prix was a routine process of rubber-stamping. Far from it.

Although the F1 Technical working group at its last meeting unanimously agreed that traction control should be reintroduced from the start of next season, FIA president Max Mosley was of two minds on the matter. On the one hand, he nursed the underlying belief that F1 should be a drivers' championship, on the other he was sympathetic to the team's view that to capture the flavor of the new millennium - and make a direct link with the road car makers - the electronics should be allowed unfettered development.

However, over recent weeks rumors that Ferrari might dissent fuelled the adoption of what many people see as a compromise route. Ferrari wanted the reintroduction of electronic systems deferred until 2002, so next year's Spanish GP was seen by many at Monaco as a compromise date. At the same time, Mosley made the FIA's agreement conditional on the technical working group coming up with a structured program of change which would not only guarantee that additional use of electronics was prohibited, but that this would also come within a wider range of measures to make F1 safer in the longer term.

In particular, Mosley wants adaptive speed control systems to be employed in the event of track emergencies to slow the cars - systems which the automobile manufacturers are contemplating with long-term road safety in mind over the next ten years. Such accessories might not be introduced until around 2003/04, but Mosley wants the schedule in place before traction control is given the green light.

No electronic control of power braking or steering systems will be allowed, although power steering will be permitted for 2001 as all the teams are too far down the suspension geometry design road to scrap such systems in the short term.

If all these diverse strands come together, then traction control will be permissible as from Barcelona next season. And with it fully automatic, pre-programmed gearchange systems which will prevent a driver even having to press a button in order to select a gear once he has left the pit lane.

A depressing thought for some, including the handful of the men behind the wheel who have been brave enough to speak their mind.

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