MARCH 17, 2001
Frentzen diplomatic in wrangle over traction control
THERE was some nimble footwork from Heinz-Harald Frentzen at Friday's FIA media conference here at Sepang as the Jordan driver executed a tactical U-turn in the wake of his comments over traction control made on his website following the Australian Grand Prix.
Admittedly, Frentzen had a twinkle in his eye as he very precisely made the distinction between illegal (italics) and legal (italics) traction control, a separation which is very specifically laid down in the F1 technical regulations. The trouble is, of course, the moment anybody mentions the question of traction control, one automatically thinks in terms of something illegal.
That, of course, is quite understandable since such trick electronic systems have been the bane of the FIA's life for the six years separating the governing body's decision to ban them at the start of 1994 and it's decision to give up trying to police the impossible and allowing them back in time for this year's Spanish Grand Prix.
An atmosphere of acute distrust and suspicion currently exists between F1's top teams. Some call this paranoia, others well-merited scepticism. Thus it was absolutely understandable that when Frentzen observed that Nick Heidfeld's Sauber was accelerating particularly effectively out of slow corners - and was misfiring in the process - it seemed like an open invitation for the media to assume he was trying to say the Ferrari engine had traction control software. Which, by implication, is unfair.
The fact that Frentzen went out of his way to avoid saying that the systems were illegal cut little ice with Peter Sauber, the Swiss team boss fit to be tied over his former driver's suggestions. That's as maybe, but the prevailing view from those who don't buy into this "high-tech-is-crucial to F1 image" line pedaled by the wealthy top teams and the governing body feel that Frentzen was making a very worthwhile point.
"The FIA has all the data about traction control, and whether it is illegal or not," he said. "But we also have the answer of Max Mosley, saying that there are teams running a system in F1 which reduces wheelspin. It's a normal, legal system. They predict that wheelspin can happen, and you can program this into the software, but it's not illegal and I was talking about this system. Not illegal traction control."
Frentzen's underlying message was that it was frustrating, perhaps even unsporting, but not in contravention of the rules. Surprisingly, there were some in the F1 paddock who wondered precisely why he'd gone into such methodical detail. And, more to the point, who'd given him a dig in the ribs and told him to get on and do it.