| Michael Schumacher with wife Corinna on their arrival in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy, Wednesday. Schumacher is in the Dolomites mountain resort for the traditional Ferrari meeting with the press. (AP/PTI)
Formula One racing is set to undergo major technology stripping from next year, according to a package of changes announced in London by its ruling body Wednesday. But in Madonna di Campiglio on Thursday Michael Schumacher said the rule changes would not have a dramatic impact on the outcome of races.
Formula One’s ruling body announced the changes to cut soaring costs and make racing more exciting as recession bites. The measures, eliminating many of the sport’s electronic ‘driver aids’, were hailed as a shot in the arm by hard-up smaller teams struggling to find funds, though Schumacher said some of the younger drivers may struggle without hi-tech driving aids.
The measures include eliminating all radio communication during races between a driver and team and also the two-way telemetry that allows engineers to change a car’s settings electronically while it is in motion.
Each team will only be allowed two cars from this year, removing the ‘spare’ from the garage, and the FIA also plans to impound cars between final qualifying and the race. Teams will be allowed to work on them only under strict supervision, ensuring that they do not use special engines and developments for the new single-lap qualifying format to be used for the first time this year.
That isn’t all. From 2004, it is planned that all cars will have a standard braking system and rear wing design and car manufacturers involved in Formula One must ensure that no team is left without an engine. The FIA plans to get rid of traction control and fully automatic gearboxes as soon as possible but by 2004 at the latest if it proves too expensive for teams to do so immediately.
Traction control — an electronically controlled system which reduces wheelspin and increases grip in the wet — was banned for most of the 1990s as the governing body tried to prevent the technology diluting the drivers’ skills. It was reintroduced after persistent suspicions of cheating by some teams and after the FIA admitted they were unable to police the systems (said to be too sophisticated) effectively.
FIA president Max Mosley said Wednesday “the big change” was that the teams had now agreed a new technical regulation under which they must be able to show by physical inspection that the cars complied with the rules.
The ECU (electronic control unit) is effectively the electronic brain of a racing car’s engine. The FIA said more rule changes concerning engines, to be approved by the F1 commission, were proposed for 2005 and 2006. For 2005, engines must last for two races and there would be new penalties for engine or component changes outside permitted times.
For 2006, engines would have to last six races. At present, teams can get through several in a single race with special high-revving ones used for the short burst of qualifying.
The FIA, including commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, made clear that they had been stung by the inability of teams to decide anything on their own and were determined to act themselves. “Despite the disappearance of two Formula One teams in the past 12 months, nothing has been done to save money,” the FIA said in a prepared statement.
“Last October the Formula One teams rejected all the FIA’s cost-saving proposals. The teams themselves have had several meetings, but produced nothing.”
“My view is that it doesn’t really change so much because, with all the electronic possibilities, you needed a very good team around you and good engineers to work with you to understand the system 100 percent in order to maximise everything… because you have so many possibilities with all the aids,” said Schumacher.
“I don’t see that I, or any good driver, will take the advantage by a big amount,” he said. “The only way I can see that (a big change) is in rain conditions because I believe, without traction control in particular, it will be very, very difficult and you need a lot more feeling in order to be on the pace.
“At the same time, it will be quite a bit more dangerous. But it has been the same in the past and we will have to deal with that — so it is going to be a little bit more exciting,” added Schumacher.
He rejected the view that the changes to be introduced for next season — including point changes and a one-lap qualifier — were an ‘anti-Ferrari’ move.