Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Friday, May 6, 1994

FIA's New Rules Confuse, Disappoint Racing Teams

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - As the three-time driving champion Ayrton Senna was being buried Thursday in São Paulo, the moves the sport's governing body said it was making to enhance safety were being met with puzzled looks and raised eyebrows by officials of many of the teams racing Formula One cars.

The International Automobile Federation, or FIA as it is called by its French acronym, held a top-level meeting here Wednesday in the wake of Senna's death during Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix. Afterward, it said it would explore further safety measures with the racing teams, but in the meantime was introducing three changes that would reduce accidents around the pit areas.

Senna, 34, died of head injuries after his Williams-Renault slammed into a concrete wall at about 300 kph (185 mph) as he entered a curve at Imola, Italy. Roland Ratzenberger, a rookie driver from Austria, had been killed when he crashed on a curve 24 hours before.

Norman Howell, spokesman for McLaren, the team for which Senna drove for six years, and won his three championships, said Thursday that Grand Prix racing was "in a state of confusion."

Alain Prost, the four-time champion from France who was in Brazil for Senna's funeral, said the three minor changes that will go into effect at the next race were simply window-dressing.

"Nothing has changed," he said.

"In all honesty," Howell said, "our most senior engineers received this communication" of FIA's new rules "and are looking at it and not understanding it."

Speaking of the first change, intended to reduce pit speeds by putting curves at the entries and exits to the pit lanes, he added: "Our next race is in Monaco, where the pit lane is ridiculously small and narrow anyway. So we don't quite know what they're going to do there.

"The second point, mechanics in the pit lane. Again, it's very unclear when the mechanics will be allowed to go into the pit lane to work on a car. Does this mean that the car actually has to stop outside the garage and then 20 guys in flame- proof suits clutching pneumatic guns and fuel nozzles and God knows what else suddenly descend on the car, trip over each other?"

"Racing drivers being what they are, which is racing drivers, and needing to go fast as possible, the guy's going to roar down the pit lane as fast as he possibly can," Howell added.

"And he's just going to slam the brakes on at the chicane, negotiate it and go back on track. What that means is that the people in the middle of the pit lane would still be at risk."

Johnny Rives, the auto racing guru for the influential French sports daily L'Equipe, summed up the reaction of many when he wrote, "The revolution in technical rules wanted by some and feared by others has not occurred.

"The FIA has not taken a single decision of importance."

What most exercised Rives and others was that no changes had been made in the technical rules governing the cars themselves.

Harvey Postlethwaite, managing director and technical director of the Tyrrell-Yamaha team, said that although it would be hard, in the long run it would be necessary to cut the speeds of the Formula One cars.

"A two-and-a-half-liter car today will go much faster than a two-and-a-half-liter car 20 years ago. So there is a continual development and you have at some stage to start to rein the thing in.

"And I think that nobody envisaged the amount of power that would be possible to get from the size of engines that we use currently.

"It's probably necessary at some time in the near future for some limitations to be put on what can be got out of these engines."

But Ian Phillips of the Jordan-Hart team addressed the obverse side of that problem.

"Motor racing is about speed," he said. "It has always been a dangerous sport. That is not to say that anybody wants it to be unnecessarily so. We've been lucky for a number of years now."

Back to Samples Index