Last week the FIA has announced that traction control will be banned for the 2008 season. It has been banned before, in 1993, but was then re-allowed in 2001, since the stewards stated that it was not possible to scrutinize an electronic feature within different and complex control units. In 2008 the electronic control unit – ECU – will be the same for every team, so now the FIA considers it possible to guarantee that no team will have ‘hidden’ traction control programmes.
Some people argue that Formula One should not only be the pinnacle of motorsports, but the pinnacle of engineering as well. They say that if this feature is banned, the technology in F1 would be at a lower level than what we see in productions cars. They are partially right.
A Formula One car is a combination of high level engineering in all components and features. The ECU and traction control are only a couple of them. I am sure that the teams’ budgets will not be reduced just because traction control was banned. This money will go to something else. Therefore, engineering will continue at the highest possible level, just the focus will be changed.
Others argue that some drivers would not be able to control their cars without traction control, because ‘they are not good enough’. I do not agree with this either. In order to reach Formula One, a driver must compete in other series. Most of these series – GP2, Formula 3, Formula Renault, Formula BMW, and many others – do not have traction control. Every single F1 driver has driven cars without traction control for most of their careers. Even drivers who are not the greatest, but got to F1 due to good sponsors.
I don’t think we are going to see cars swinging their backs at the corner exits, as it was common in the past. The cars are still too much dependent on aerodynamic grip, so if the tail starts to spin out in medium and high speed corners, there still will be no way to regain control. Maybe with the return of the slick tyres this will be possible. That will not happen in 2008, though. Also, with the current race tyres, the better lap times come from the smallest steering inputs and no excessive over- or understeer. To have a measure of what I am saying, compare karting in the 80’s – when oversteering was fastest – with today’s races – the cleaner the racing line, the faster.
The nice thing is that races will be more fun to watch. The change is the fact that drivers will need to concentrate both on the entrance and exit of a corner. Today they just press the throttle down after the apex and electronics does the rest. Next year drivers will have twice as much relevant pedal input as they do today: throttle will matter as much as brake. It is like having twice as much race action as we do today. I do not think it will have much of an impact in the results of the races or championship. Is there anyone out there who thinks Michael Schumacher would not be a champion without traction control? Or that Ayrton Senna would be beaten with traction control?
At least the fans were heard when they urged for more driver influence in the results. Just the fact that the FIA wants to add more excitement to the races is enough for this to be a change for better.