This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Traction Control – Issues Abound
- Driver Trouble at Sauber
- Picked from the Bunch
Traction Control – Issues Abound
With the Formula One Technical Working group unanimously backing a return to using traction control in the sport, the FIA is being presented with something of a dilemma over its long established stance against the move.
From a technical standpoint, traction control makes a lot of sense to all the teams. The technology is very well established and incredibly cheap to put in place: indeed, most teams just need to move a sensor and implement a simple change to the engine control software. All the work on engine mapping does not become redundant – indeed, it can then be focused on other issues, particularly optimising fuel consumption or power output at different parts of the range; but this is very secondary compared to the basic issue of preventing wheelspin.
As things stand, the best-funded teams have a tremendous budget for engine mapping work, establishing the optimal curve for accelerating out of corners. The lesser teams, who already suffer in terms of horsepower and sheer engine mass, also have less effective grip from corners; this widens the performance gap noticeably. With traction control, the small teams can utilise their horsepower just as effectively as the leading lights and need only worry about getting their power output high. Furthermore, radical changes to the engine will no longer require a completely new mapping for acceleration, bringing down the costs of the development cycle.
The tyre companies are also looking for this return - eliminating acceleration wheelspin makes a decision between two tyre compounds more straightforward; the harder the tyre, the less grip it offers, but the longer it will run for. As things stand, there is often the chance that a soft compound tyre, due to its extra grip, offers less wheelspin out of corners, and so wears slower, giving it a longer life than the harder compound at hand. In competitive terms, this means the companies can rate their tyres against each other in terms of grip levels and longevity relatively easily, giving them a clear idea of which part of their game needs to be worked on hardest.
The technical stuff is, naturally, of some interest to the FIA. However, there is plenty of political pressure too. The FIA's big issue of 2000 was their admission not only that a team has been cheating, but that they could not build enough evidence to confront the cheats openly. This announcement damaged all teams' confidence in the FIA, that the governing body can adequately police the system. Politically, the teams find it expedient to push this issue, as the onus of proof lies with the governing body to demonstrate that none of their participating members is gaining an unfair advantage. This is a hot potato that will continue to be a thorn in the side of the authorities until they either mandate their own software solutions – which will never happen – or they make the concept of proof go away. Permitting the technology is an obvious solution.
Furthermore, another pressure is coming from the top two teams, as Honda, BMW and Renault all strengthen their presence in the sport. The Japanese firm, in particular, is renowned for the drivability of their engines; BAR's all new unit for 2000 was pretty useful, whilst the Mugen-Honda unit in the Jordans had arguably the best reputation on the grid. With these companies all holding a slight advantage over Mercedes and Ferrari, traction control would make the smoothness of the curve irrelevant, ensuring the competition devolves to establishing the most powerful engine, whilst maintaining fuel efficiency and minimum mass – areas that Mercedes and Ferrari currently dominate.
With the technical arguments both compelling and supported by all the teams, and political pressure being applied in ever increasing amounts, there is a strong chance that the FIA will back down on its stance, and we will be seeing traction control return to Formula One in 2001.
Driver Trouble at Sauber
With Kimi Raikkonen's limited experience of open seater racing, a lot of people are anticipating Sauber having trouble getting his Super licence through – an absolute requisite for any driver racing in Formula One.
The FIA, and in particularly Max Mosley, are known to think that jumping clean over Formula 3 and F3000 will deprive the youngster of a vital learning step on his way to the top. They believe he simply doesn't have enough racing experience, whatever his speed, to fill the role in a fashion that would be safe for the other 21 drivers racing wheel to wheel with him.
The news is manna from heaven to Pedro Diniz: the Brazilian's chance of a place at Sauber depends on Raikkonen. Should the Super licence fail to materialise, then Peter Sauber is going to have a spare seat. And despite antagonising the team by damaging a bundle of chassis this year, Diniz actually does relatively well in the team's estimation, and hopes to retain the role in 2001. He is also looking at a Prost spot, but knows the move would mean a drop in performance for at least a year, which is a difficult step to take after working so hard to get into the mid-field.
However, the issue of Raikkonen's Super licence is due to be brought up at the start of December. If the FIA run true to form, then there is every chance they will grant the licence, pending a two day supervised test at racing speeds – something no-one expects the youngster to have trouble with.
Picked from the Bunch
Mugen's withdrawal from Formula One is a blow to Minardi, who were looking to take on the unit for 2001. It appears that logistics were the big deal, as Honda wished to take over the Mugen facilities in the UK, whilst Mugen would have needed to relocate a number of key staff to Italy to support the Minardi effort.
Although Mercedes have dismissed the chances that Michael Schumacher will ever race for them, few in the paddock believe that Hubbert means what he says. Should the star's services become available, the German manufacturer is expected to bid for him just as fiercely as anyone else.
Coca-Cola rumours continue to spread despite Toyota's denial of any involvement. Now the world's leading brand name appears to be interested in sponsoring Jordan for a couple of years, in order to assess the impact of Formula One in reinforcing its world-wide branding.
Tom Walkinshaw aims to lure a top line driver, should the opportunity present itself. According to the latest speculation, he would pay the salary from his own pocket, if that was what it took to get hold of a Jacques Villeneuve, a Mika Hakkinen or a Michael Schumacher for the Arrows outfit.
Gabriele Pagliarini, chief mechanic at Minardi, could be en route to Prost. According to rumours, his close friend Joan Villadelprat has approached him. The move, should it happen, would be a significant blow to the Italian outfit.