FEBRUARY 22, 2001
Lauda and Rahal speak out against electronic driver aids
JAGUAR F1 supremos Bobby Rahal and Niki Lauda stood shoulder-to-shoulder yesterday when it came to roundly condemning the FIA's decision to reintroduce electronic driver aids in time for the fifth race of the 2001 World Championship season.
The two highly experienced former racers were in absolute agreement that the sport's governing body has taken the wrong decision in permitting such accessories to be introduced. Both men believe that, whatever the supporters of traction control and fully automatic gearchange systems may say on the issue, it will devalue the contribution made by the driver to the overall racing equation.
"Traction control has been reintroduced because they (the FIA) can't control it, but from my point of view it takes away all the effort of the drivers," said Lauda who won three world championships in 1975, 77 and 84.
"I could drive the cars today. Seriously anybody could, even in the wet. I think it is a joke. If you make the car so easy to drive there will never be any overtaking.
"As you make the car mechanically so easy to drive, the only thing you have to worry about is braking. Gear-shifting is no problem any longer. In the old days, if you missed a gear then you broke the engine and your Grand Prix was over - or somebody passed you. Now nobody passes because the gearchanges are automatic. Now somebody has to say 'enough.' At Monaco when I was racing you had to make 3000 gearchanges during the course of a race. If you missed a gear you slid into a barrier. That showed the real difference between the drivers.
"Do we want technology? Or do we want proper racing, more entertainment, where we can attract more and more spectators. (In recent years) we've had more and more spectators because, thank God, all accidents are not serious. Children, grandmothers, and whatever, see accidents, but thankfully don't see blood. The audience has changed, it is family entertainment.
"But in the end the races are boring, so the real key thing over the next five years is to evolve cars and circuits which produce good racing. Because if you compare F1 to 500cc motorcycle racing, there is no comparison. If you got F1 halfway close to what they do then the audience will increase."
Rahal, one of the most successful CART drivers of all time, believes that the straightforward and uncomplicated technical specification of Champcars is one of the key reasons why the US-based series produces such close-fought racing.
Bobby made the point that he was opposed to the readoption of traction control at the recent team owners meeting, as much because he is against changing rules mid-season as because he's against the system from a philosophical standpoint.
"One of the things I am not in favour of is changing rules in the middle of the year," he said. "More than anything, that was my argument. As a sportsman and a driver, I don't like traction control either. But I suspect if you can't police the rules, it's not good to have all this innuendo and rumor about who's cheating and who isn't. That's not good for the sport either."
Referring to the meeting, Rahal noted wryly. "The way you go is pretty much the same as in CART," he said. "Except in CART you actually get to vote. The train had left the station and I was still standing on the platform holding my ticket!"
More free spirited, free thinkers like Rahal and Lauda urgently needed in F1. That's the most obvious bottom-line judgement.
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