Formula One set to experiment with 'black boxes'

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The Independent Online
Formula One cars are to be fitted with aviation-type black boxes in the continuing safety campaign which has followed the death of Ayrton Senna 21 months ago.

Max Mosley, president of FIA, motor sport's governing body, said yesterday an American company had produced a prototype of the device. The first will be used experimentally this year and it is planned to install one in every car next year.

Mosley said a black box might have solved the mystery of Senna's fatal accident at Imola, and clarified the circumstances of the decisive collision involving Michael Schu- macher and Damon Hill in Australia at the end of the 1994 season. However, the primary purpose would be to improve safety measures.

"The idea was to have a 'spy in the cab', but it's all based on trust with teams," Mosley said. "We need to know exactly what happens when a car goes off the track to the moment it stops and, from the information acquired, we can make the right changes to circuits, such as the kind of gravel used in the traps."

The introduction of a black box will add another $1m (pounds 660,000) to the teams' bills, but Mosley believes the saving in damage to cars - let alone the cost in injury - will be worth it.

He said: "I think this, again, is part of Senna's legacy. When he and Roland Ratzenberger were killed within 24 hours after 12 years without a fatality at a grand prix meeting, it changed the whole approach to safety in Formula One. Before that we thought there was nothing wrong with our safety, but then it went the other way and Formula One was portrayed as a blood sport. I think it has to be said, though, that Ayrton Senna was very unlucky. That would normally have been a walk-away accident."

Senior members of Senna's team, Williams, still face the possibility of charges over the accident. It has been widely reported that the steering broke.

Another team - Forti, of Italy - are expected to drop out of Formula One before the season starts, in Melbourne, on 10 March, but Mosley reiterated the authority's conviction that a grid of 20, well-funded cars was the ideal line-up.