MAY 22, 2001
Monaco fears for startline shunt
FEARS that a potentially disastrous startline collision could wreck Sunday's Monaco grand prix were voiced yesterday by one of formula one racing's top engineers.
Patrick Head, the technical director of the BMW Williams team, warned that continued unreliability of the electronic starting systems now used on formula one cars could produce a shambles in the claustrophobically tight confines of the Monte Carlo street circuit.
"The danger is that if a car stalls on the second row of the grid and several cars behind scatter to get round it, a car on the fifth row could be doing 100mph by the time its driver realizes that he cannot stop in time for the stationary machine in front of him," he said.
"Every team has every reason not to want their cars stalled on the line and since the Austrian grand prix, where four cars failed to get away at the start, everybody will have put in a lot of effort to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
"After all, one ultimately expects grand prix teams to be sufficiently competent to deal with such a technical challenge."
The controversial electronic systems - which allow theoretically perfect starts without any wheelspin at the press of a button - were permitted as part of a major technical rule change as from last month's Spanish grand prix. They were permitted because the FIA, motor racing's governing body, decided that it was impossible to effectively police a ban on such systems which had been prohibited since the end of 1993.
However, FIA president Max Mosley has advised the teams that drivers should revert to manual starting systems if they are not convinced their electronic mechanisms will work without a hitch at Monaco.
Many competitors are extremely nervous about the effectiveness of these "launch control" systems and both Jordan drivers Jarno Trulli and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, together with BAR's Olivier Panis, have said they will not use them until they are totally confident of their reliability.
However, McLaren's technical director Adrian Newey believes that the governing body has taken the correct standpoint. "The FIA is appealing to the teams to take the pragmatic view on this which, in my opinion, is entirely appropriate," he said.
Newey added that he was confident the launch control systems on the McLarens of David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen, who respectively stalled on the grid in Spain and Austria, were now working perfectly.
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