Saturday April 28th, 2001
New electronic systems introduced for the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix could leave some cars stranded on the starting grid, McLaren's David Coulthard warned on Saturday.
"None of us know, as we sit here today, just how the traction control at the start is going to work," said the Scot, who qualified on the second row for Sunday's race. "I think that being on a clean part of the track has got to be potentially better because the system works out how much grip is available and will optimise that.
"But the driver still plays a part in reacting to the lights and there could well be a lot of cars sitting on the grid tomorrow and not moving anywhere because the systems don't quite work the way they expect them to."
BMW Motorsport director Mario Theissen said the electronic launch control systems, designed to allow a smooth and fast getaway, could impose extra stress on an engine being held at high revs in anticipation of the start.
"If you do it right it should be okay for the engine. If not, you really have a certain stress which you normally don't experience."
McLaren team boss Ron Dennis said the systems, primarily for traction and launch control, would not change the status quo but he also warned there were "some people who haven't prepared very well.
"There is going to be the odd engine failure, we've already seen that, to the embarrassment of some engine manufacturers."
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher said the top teams had made the most of the changes compared to the smaller ones. He added that it would be interesting to see what effect the systems would have on teams in the race.
McLaren's Mika Hakkinen said after qualifying on the front row alongside pole setter Schumacher that he had turned off the traction control for his final flying lap.
"I disconnected the traction control at the end and that helped me a little bit," the Finn explained in a news conference.
Dennis, speaking to reporters later, added his clarification to Hakkinen's comments.
"As Mika pointed out, he had selected a menu with fewer options available. Mika was a little too black and white. He switched off some of the functionality but some of the systems were still operative," said Dennis.
The team boss also defended the reintroduction of traction control -- which was banned in late 1993 to ensure driver skills were not overshadowed by the technology -- as a good development to eradicate suspicion of cheating. The last few years have been full of allegations of cheating, something the ruling International Automobile Federation (FIA) believes has happened.
"What you have never really been exposed to is the constant distrust, mistrust, lobbying and letters being passed back and forwards," said Dennis. "It was an unhealthy environment, believe me."
Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug also rebuffed criticism from three times world champion Niki Lauda, who has said driver aids make the cars so easy to drive his grandmother or a monkey could do it.
"Whoever thinks driving is easier is completely wrong," said the well-built German. "It is even more work. What Niki said is wrong...If that was the case then Ron and I would drive the car, but I don't think that would work out either."