FIA postpone changes until 2004 season

LONDON: So-called 'driver aids' such as traction control will remain in Formula One until 2004 instead of being banned in July, the sport’s governing body said on Friday. 

The International Automobile Federation (FIA) said in a note sent to all teams that the decision, backtracking on original plans, was due to cost considerations and the threat of arbitration from leading teams. 

Electronic launch control, traction control and fully-automatic gearboxes were due to be banned from the British Grand Prix on July 20 with the FIA planning to introduce their own sensors to rule out cheating. 

“The technical devices which will ensure the absence of driver aids require substantial investment,” the FIA statement said. 

Sources within the Paris-based body said the cost of putting tamper-proof and totally reliable devices in place was likely to be more than US$1mil. 

“The FIA is reluctant to commit the necessary resources until actual or threatened arbitration proceedings have been resolved,” said the statement. 

“Accordingly the full enforcement of the long-established ban on in-car driver aids will be delayed until the first race of the 2004 season,” continued the FIA. 

“If current uncertainties have not been resolved before the deadline for ordering the technical devices for 2004, competing teams will be required to demonstrate the absence of driver aids to the satisfaction of the stewards at each event of the 2004 and subsequent championships.” 

Williams and McLaren warned the FIA in February that it would take the world motor sports body to arbitration in Switzerland over the manner in which wide-ranging changes were introduced to Formula One this season. 

It will take at least a year for a ruling to emerge. 

The FIA had originally wanted to ban traction control from the start of the current season while some teams, who have invested heavily in the systems, wanted no change until 2004 at the earliest. 

Traction control, which reduces wheelspin and makes cars easier to drive in the wet, was banned from the end of 1993 to 2001 when it was reinstated after the FIA recognised difficulties in policing the systems. 

Many drivers dislike the system which they feel narrows the gap between the best and the rest and dilutes their skills. 

Launch control, usually activated by pressing a button at the start, allows cars to rocket off the grid quickly and smoothly without depending on a driver’s clutch control. 

“It’s a shame,” one prominent team member, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters. 

“The one thing guaranteed to make the racing better is to get rid of that stuff. 

“I think the public goodwill is with the sport at the moment. If it does become boring again it will be because of the electronics.” 

While some smaller teams have no more than a handful of electronics experts, others such as world champions Ferrari can count on anything up to 60. – Reuters 

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