MAY 31, 1999

Skids become an issue

THE Stewart-Ford of Rubens Barrichello was excluded from the results after the Spanish Grand Prix for failing to meet technical checks relating to how the "planks" or wooden composite skid blocks are fitted to the underside of the Formula 1 cars. While the exclusion is an embarrassment for Stewart, it makes little difference to the result as Barrichello finished only eighth, And in the paddock the FIA's action was being seen as a quiet warning to teams which have been exploiting loopholes in the regulations to lower the weight in their cars.

One of the rules relating to the skid blocks is that they must have a minimum of 10 fasteners, securing them to the bottom of the chassis. These are restricted in size and must be flush with the bottom of the skid block. The rules allow for additional fasteners, which must be 1mm above the level of the skid block. In recent months F1 engineers have identified that here was a chance to exploit the rules and have started adding huge "fasteners" which take up as much as 30% of the whole skid block area. These are very heavy and it means that they can be used as a type of mobile ballast to get the center of gravity in a car as low as possible.

Barrichello's problem was that the fasteners were found to be less than 1mm above the bottom of the skidblock. This gave the FIA the chance to draw attention to the situation and the Stewards thus excluded Barrichello and added that they were are "quite concerned at the size and weight of the fastener used because of its potential to be extremely dangerous in the event of it becoming detached from the skid block".

The teams and the FIA will be discussing the future of "fasteners" in the days ahead and we would expect a clarification to be made to the rules to restrict these curious devices - probably on the grounds of safety.