Tuesday March 6th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Formula One officials want to raise the height of safety fences and reduce speeds after a tragic start to the season in Australia.
International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley was quoted on Tuesday as saying he was worried that cars had proved far faster than expected at the Grand Prix in Melbourne last weekend.
"We knew that competition between the two tyre makers might increase the speed and that is why the technical commission worked on the aerodynamic regulations to reduce it," he told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport.
"The impression is that the sums were not right.
"We don't want to jump the gun but if Malaysia and Brazil were to confirm, as I fear, the results from Melbourne, the FIA must act quickly."
An immediate indication of how much faster the 2001 specification cars are came when world champion Michael Schumacher put his Ferrari on pole for the race in a time of 1:26.892 seconds.
The lap record before the race was 1:28.594, set by Canadian Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 on now-banned slick tyres, and the nine fastest qualifiers were all inside that time.
Villeneuve was one of them and he was involved in the accident that killed a trackside marshal, hit by a bouncing tyre after his BAR flew into a safety fence and disintegrated. Seven fans were also hurt.
Mika Hakkinen's pole time last year was 1:30.556.
Schumacher was surprised how much faster his car was than in 2000, saying he had expected it to be two or three seconds quicker a lap rather than four. "This year you can feel there is more G-force when you drive," he added.
This year's cars have new aerodynamic specifications, notably front wings mounted higher and fewer elements in the rear aimed at reducing downforce.
But Australia suggested that the FIA engineers had miscalculated how much the aerodynamic changes would compensate for quicker tyres resulting from the revived battle between Bridgestone and Michelin.
FIA spokesman Francesco Longanesi said safety was always under review but speeds were being closely watched.
"This is like an alarm bell that has rung," he said of the stunning lap times.
"Now we are going to monitor every single corner of each Grand Prix to come. We are going to see how the speeds and performance are."
Villeneuve hit the back of Ralf Schumacher's Williams as the German braked going into a corner early in Sunday's race.
If the data from Melbourne is confirmed "the FIA will take appropriate measures to put them (speeds) under acceptable limits," the spokesman added.
Mosley said circuits and cars could be modified and tyres could have more grooves.
But not everybody was in favour of lower speeds. Briton David Coulthard, who took his McLaren to second place in Melbourne, was against further controls.
"What I don't want is any less power," Britain's Express newspaper quoted the Scot as saying.
"I want to feel the rear end of the car slide and have lots of grunt. I don't want that taken away because driving will not be the same.
"We are arriving at corners, the potential scene of accidents, at higher speeds because we have less downforce, narrower cars and less drag."
Longanesi confirmed that a proposal was made four weeks ago, to be put forward to a meeting of the FIA's World Motorsport Council in Paris later this month, for safety fences at all circuits to be raised by one metre.
Sunday's accident would not have been prevented by a higher fence, with the tyre punching through an opening and hitting the marshal, but Longanesi said the proposal demonstrated that "safety for us is an ongoing process".