MARCH 7, 2001
Putting the brakes on F1's tire war
FIA president Max Mosley has promised that the governing body will be monitoring cornering speeds during practice and qualifying for the Malaysian and Brazilian Grands Prix. If they confirm the evidence of Melbourne, namely that the cars have been speeded up to an unexpectedly high level thanks to the onset of an F1 tire war, then he will take steps to slow them down by mid-season.
This hardly accorded with the assurance McLaren boss Ron Dennis had hinted he'd given the teams not to yield to a knee-jerk reaction if the cars proved to be too fast. But such a stance was certainly necessary in the wake of the terrible accident which resulted in the death of a trackside marshal - even though there was hardly an obvious, direct link between the dramatic increase in lap speeds and Jacques Villeneuve's collision with the back of Ralf Schumacher's Williams.
The fact of the matter, of course, is that this was an accident, unfortunate and unforeseen. A combination of a sequence of unrelated facts, triggered by a moment's misjudgment on Villeneuve's part, was enough to put F1 in the dock yet again, trying to explain away how and why it had killed a volunteer helper.
This is the flip-side of F1 as a high visibility, front line international televised sport. For all the combined efforts of the FIA and the race car constructors, the Nirvana of a totally safe grand prix environment involves the impossible task of squaring a circle. Can't be done, simple as that. Risk, danger and the prospect of injury can - and has - been reduced dramatically over the last three decades. Trouble is, on the occasion of an accident, people only tend to see the downside.
Mosley has not flinched in the past when it came to slowing the cars. In 1994 he imposed draconian new aerodynamic rules within weeks of Ayrton Senna's death in the San Marino GP. They included reducing engine capacity from 3.5 to 3-liters from the start of 1995.
If Max wants to be really brave and grasp the nettle to reduce F1 lap speeds decisively and long-term, he needs to introduce new engine regulations. Bring in a 2-liter V8/V10 upper limit and, at a stroke, you'll reduce their output by 250bhp. It would have the engine makers screaming from the rooftops, but if it's for safety considerations then it might need to be done.