Friday April 27th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Traction control may make Formula One cars easier to drive but that does not make monkeys out of the drivers, world champion Michael Schumacher said on Friday.
The Ferrari driver was asked at the Spanish Grand Prix to comment on a remark by former champion Niki Lauda, who was quoted as saying a monkey could handle a Formula One car with the newly legalised electronic systems.
"So we have 22 monkeys in the cars now? Good." Schumacher said with obvious irritation. "Obviously Niki likes to say a lot of things. Maybe a monkey can drive, but certainly not as fast."
The systems are making their reappearance in Formula One after being banned at the end of the 1993 season amid fears that technology was taking over from driver skills. The ruling International Automobile Federation (FIA) voted for the return of the systems this season, admitting that it could not police them effectively.
Several teams have been suspected of using illicit systems, or ones that replicate the effects of traction control, over the years. Jaguar's Eddie Irvine slammed the new systems after clocking the second fastest time in Friday's free practice, although the team were clearly running qualifying trim.
"I think it's wrong for Formula One, totally wrong," said the northern Irishman. "It makes my job easier so I get the same money for less effort. (Using launch control) you need the same amount of skill as walking into your room and switching on the lights." he added.
The main technological novelties to be seen at Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix will be:
Traction control, which eliminates or considerably reduces wheelspin in wet conditions at starts and in cornering.
Launch control, software which allows drivers to make a clean start at the push of a button or release of the clutch.
Automatic gear changes.
Many drivers have spoken out against the electronics, while recognising that the changes will end the allegations of cheating. Michael's younger brother Ralf made a blistering getaway at the last San Marino Grand Prix to snatch the lead from the second row, but he said afterwards that it might be the last fans see of such exciting starts.
"I know one thing for sure, for us in the future the starts will be easier than they are now," he said.
Irvine agreed that would be the case: "If you qualify 14th, you will get into the first corner 14th. Another great decision ... but at least it won't be the driver getting blamed for stalling it now.
"It will be some guy that no-one's ever heard of sitting in a room where no one ever sees if he makes a mistake."
As far as Sunday's race is concerned, the times on Friday suggested the main three teams -- Ferrari, McLaren and Williams -- will not be greatly affected by the changes.
"The guys who have got all their equipment working to the maximum efficiency, as at every Grand Prix, are the people most likely to race at the front," said team boss Frank Williams. "It may change the order fractionally, but looking at what we saw today, it hasn't changed at all."
His Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya said the change to new regulations was problematic in some ways, however.
"There's a lot more electronics, a lot of things you can do to the car to make it better, but at the same time you can get lost a lot easier," he warned.
"There are so many things to do in the car that you have to be really focused on what makes the car go faster and slower and work on them. There are a lot of things you can twitch here and there."