Almost everyone would agree that race cars are going much faster these days than they used to when most of today’s circuits were designed — although not as fast as they did in the days of turbos
and ground effects — and that even though huge advances have been made in improved safety for the drivers with leak-proof fuel cells, increased structural rigidity and shielding for the driver’s compartment and the addition of acres of gravel traps and run-off areas instead of unforgiving Armco and hay bales, that there is always room for improvement where lives are at stake.
The general consensus seems to be that if the cars are going too fast for the track the answer in most cases is not to change the track but to slow down the cars. Bearing in mind the fact that most of the track changes that have been attempted so far have involved either adding chicanes or modifying (eviscerating?) corners that have a place in history, and it is hard not to agree.
But this is where the FIA seems to be at odds with the governing bodies of all the other major racing series. NASCAR has restrictor plates, IndyCar has pop-off valves and the IRL has moved to normally aspirated engines with rev limiters, all ways to slow the cars by reducing — or at least limiting — the horsepower that the driver has to play with. The FIA however seems to have decided that the best way to slow the cars and thus make them safer is to, in effect, make them more dangerous and rely on that to make the drivers reduce their own speeds. Does this seem like such a good idea in this highly competitive arena where an effort of 110% is the norm and team owners fire world champions just in case they don’t perform the following year?
F1 cars have already had to cope with downforce reductions and wooden bars underneath to ensure minimum ground clearances, now the latest brainwaves from the FIA for 1998 involve grooved tyres to limit grip, narrower cars (down from 78.74" to 70.87") to reduce cornering speeds and promote overtaking and, best of all, limits on braking performance.
It looks as though the "black boxes" or more accurately Accident Data Recorders that are currently being installed in all F1 cars will be busy this year.
If the FIA really wants to safely reduce speeds why not ban fuel stops and reduce the maximum amount of fuel available which should result in teams cutting back on the power to make sure that they will last the distance. Or perhaps they will come up with some other bright ideas like pouring oil on the track or installing devices which would cause random brake failures to really make things safer.