Friday April 21st, 2000
by Alan Baldwin
Top drivers expressed relief on Thursday that Formula One's ruling body had reversed a ban on devices limiting the speed of cars in the pit lane during races.
"The speed limiter is back for the pit lane. This was the biggest worry for us," said Ferrari's Michael Schumacher at a news conference ahead of Sunday's British Grand Prix.
"All the drivers are quite happy with having that back. It just keeps our eyes where they should be - on the circuit."
Jaguar's British driver Eddie Irvine also agreed that the u-turn had reduced the risk of drivers entering or leaving the pit lane without concentrating on the dangers around them.
The International Automobile Federation (FIA) last month ordered teams to make technical changes before this weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone in a clampdown on engine management systems and electronic devices suspected of assisting illegal traction control.
"Car speed in the pit lane must be regulated solely and directly by the driver, as it is when the car is on the track," the FIA said.
However, drivers, used to careering around at up to 200 mph, were concerned about their ability to drive safely at lower speeds.
They protested that the ban on pit lane speed limiters would increase the dangers, with the risk of cars coming into or leaving the pits with drivers concentrating on their instruments instead of looking out for mechanics and other cars.
Drivers risk a 10 second time penalty if they exceed an 80 kph (50 mph) pit lane speed limit during the race, a difficult restriction to meet without electronic assistance as the engines are not designed to be run at slow speeds.
The FIA has now agreed, after the teams tested at Silverstone last week, to allow the continued use of speed limiters while demanding certain modifications.
These include rewiring to ensure that the fuel-filler caps open and the red rear light flashes when the limiters are activated.
Schumacher Says Safety Improved
Schumacher broke his leg in a dramatic crash at Silverstone last July and he said the track had been made safer since his Ferrari plunged across the gravel trap and into a tire wall.
Safety came very much to the forefront again last week when Brazilian Ricardo Zonta suffered an horrific accident in testing.
Zonta lost a wheel and somersaulted over a safety fence at the same Stowe corner where Schumacher had crashed.
The Brazilian walked away with a cut finger but was quoted as saying in the British weekly Autosport magazine on Thursday that the accident was a "near-miss tragedy" and that gravel traps should be expanded and the public moved further back from the track.
"We need to move the grandstands back. Where I landed there could have been marshals," he said.
Schumacher said the tire wall at Stowe had been heightened and strengthened and improvements made elsewhere as well.
He said the gravel traps had also been modified after it was discovered that the surfaces were uneven in places.
The German added that the type of accident he suffered last year "could have happened at any corner, at any circuit, at any time."