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GP Week : Issue 220
Rewatching the Bahrain Grand Prix in the lead up to the spanish Grand Prix weekend it became obvious teams are continuing to coach their drivers despite regulations being introduced to specifically ban the practice. Afterall, these are the best drivers in the world, they shouldn't need to be told how to drive the car by a bloke with a computer. A colleague explained to me recently that the introduction of the microchip has seen a dramatic change in the way we go motor racing. His reasoning was that it allowed manufacturing tolerances to be reduced to the point where teams can produce identical components and therefore give its drivers equal machinery. Prior to that point only the very best teams could do that, an even still the best drivers typically got the pick of the bits. But there is another area the microchip has had greater influence; data acquisition. The back of a Formula One garage is now a bank of computers while data is being streamed back to the factory where a team of engineers pour over it in real time. Each car broadcasts its data back to the pits using RF technology with teams transporting computer equipment to tracks capable of keeping the race team running should the phone line back to base drop out. The technology and analysis afforded to them by the global collaboration means teams see problems with the car even before the driver does. There are tyre pressures, diff settings, throttle and brake application. From the multitude of sensors teams have on their cars they can run that data against computer models of their cars to extrapolate a ridiculous amount of data, all in real time. The microchip has allowed more in-depth analysis than the sport had ever seen. While it may be a technological marvel, the microchip has hurt the sport. Now Sebastian Vettel can radio back to the Ferrari pitwall asking it to check the data, or a sensor. He was quick on the radio button when he bounced off the track in Bahrain, and the team spotted something it didn't like and hauled him in for a nose job. With so much data avaiable to them of course it's a temptation to relay some of that to their drivers if it's going to improve their performance. It's impossible for the FIA to police since messages are rather more sophisticated than "there is a fire at the insurance agency." If the FIA is serious about banning coaching over the radio the only feasible way to do it would be to simply ban the radio alltogether. Why are they needed anyway?Their sole purpose is to relay messages designed to improve the ultimate performance of the car, so in a way aren't they all coaching messages regardless of how they're delivered? Teams aren't allowed to meddle with their cars mid-race like they once were, so why not cut the radio communication too? Race Control can keep it to relay safety messages, nicely side-stepping the potential argument from teams, and in turn it would place the emphasis back on the driver. It's then entirely up to them as to how they manage tyres and traffic and the car. We all want to see drivers wrestling their cars. We want to make things difficult for them. Right now Formula One drivers are little more than exceptionally fast couriers; employed to sit in the car and steer it following the precise instructions the microchip has allowed the teams to generate. Those who have what it takes would quickly rise to the top. The Noah's Ark predictability on the grid would be gone as those who have what it takes to drive the car, manage their race and engineer the changes needed to keep their car competitive throughout would shine. Then we could do away with silly tyre rules, artificial enhancements like DRS and the glorified push to pass buttons that now plague the sport. It's a trivial change, one that doesn't cost anything and in reality probably saves money. Sure, the teams can work through the data with drivers in the garage during practice or in the post-session debriefs but at least while in the car the world's best drivers would be left to fend for themselves and demonstrate exactly why the team hired them. Science isn't romantic, and that's what Formula One has lost in its ceaseless quest for performance. OPINION mAt CoCH Editor the microchiP was the downfall of f1 16 GPWEEK.com // 16 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION