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MARCH 9, 2001

Is Mosley right to slow the cars?

THE seemingly endless battle between motor racing's rule makers and the engineers who craft today's high technology F1 cars is set to take another dramatic twist in the wake of the tragic fatal accident in the Australian grand prix which cost the life of a track marshal.

After car speeds came tumbling down by more than three seconds a lap at Melbourne then FIA president Max Mosley promises drastic action. He will confront the competing teams and ask them for their suggestions for reducing lap speeds. If they do not come up with answers he regards as satisfactory, then the FIA will impose its own solutions.

Quite what those will be, and whether they will have the required effect is another matter altogether. This week the formula one community has been awash with rumor and speculation as to how Mosley can resolve this apparent dilemma, particularly as the issue of the marshal's death is largely separate from the issue of increased lap speeds.

Traditionally, when it comes to slowing the cars, Mosley has demanded the team engineers come up with reductions in car performance. He may well have in mind more aerodynamic changes or alterations to the tire regulations in an effort to reduce the current high levels of grip.

Since 1994 engine power has been permitted to edge upwards unfettered by any rule restriction. In an effort to attract more major car manufacturers into the business, the current rules which permit only three-liter V10 cylinder engines has been guaranteed until 2007.

Some feel that these 820 horsepower engines should now be scrapped and replaced by similarly high-revving 2.5-liter V6 cylinder units which would develop around 650 horsepower. It is estimated that, all other technical factors being equal, such a move would knock over four seconds a lap off current lap speeds.

"I think the engineers find chassis restrictions quite frustrating, because they tend to make the overall package which teams produce very similar," said Whitmarsh.

"I personally would support the move to a 2.5-liter engine regulation, although clearly we at McLaren would have to discuss it with our engine partners Mercedes-Benz. I don't think they would be particularly distressed about such a change, provided of course they were given sufficient notice."

Patrick Head, the BMW Williams team technical director, agrees that curbing lap speeds by reducing engine power is a feasible option. However, BMW Motorsport director Gerhard Berger, who remembers racing with 1000 horsepower during his career racing with Benetton during the 1980s, makes the point that one of the factors behind BMW's long-term commitment to a formula one engine program was the stability of the regulations.

Commented Eddie Irvine; "Off the top of my head, I wouldn't think it would be a problem to reduce engine capacity and have, say, a V6 if you want to cut speed. In fact, it would slow speeds quite a lot and, personally, I don't think that would hurt F1."

Benetton's technical director Mike Gascoyne echoes those sentiments, pointing to the protective screens which are now placed along the pit wall at the Sepang circuit, venue for next Sunday's Malaysian grand prix, to guard team personnel.

"I think the circuits are going to have to look at the implications of everybody who is near the track," he said. "We have to protect people who are in vulnerable positions."