Motor Racing: Formula One forced to act immediately: Berger and Lauda lead the initiative as authorities move to reduce power of cars and improve protection for drivers

Click to follow
The Independent Online
FORMULA ONE'S beleaguered leaders and anxious drivers launched campaigns here yesterday to make their sport safer and more acceptable in the eyes of a critical world.

The deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola, and the serious condition of Karl Wendlinger after crashing in practice for tomorrow's Monaco Grand Prix, have convinced FIA, the sport's governing body, in conjunction with the Formula One Constructors' Association, that they must force through the most drastic changes to grand prix cars for 13 years.

Measures to reduce the power and downforce of the cars and improve the protection for drivers will be introduced in stages, starting at the next race, in Spain, in a fortnight's time, and concluding with revised regulations for next season.

The announcement, made by FIA's president, Max Mosley, came within two hours of the drivers completing their emergency meeting and revealing the restoration of their association, under the stewardship of Niki Lauda. Three drivers, Gerhard Berger, Michael Schumacher and Christian Fittipaldi, will be their representatives and begin their revision of grand prix circuits by examining this track before the resumption of practice, at 9.30am today.

Mosley welcomed the drivers' initiative. FIA had already nominated Berger as a delegate on an advisory panel, to be led by Professor Sid Watkins, head of the Formula One medical commission.

FIA anticipates rumblings of discontent from teams now faced with substantial and costly modifications to their cars, but the clear message to them is: like it or lump it.

This revolutionary action came as Wendlinger, still in a coma, continued his fight for life in a Nice hospital and confirmation was received of the autopsy report on Senna, which stated that the cause of his fatal head injury was part of the suspension going through his helmet.

Mosley said: 'Unfortunately, what we are doing will not meet with the approval of all, but because of the gravity of the situation and public opinion, we need to do what is in the best interest of the sport and it is our duty to protect the lives of competitors, marshals and above all spectators, whatever the consequences. You will hear criticism from certain quarters, but they have to be ignored.'

By the time of the German Grand Prix, in July, the midpoint of the season, cars will have stepped, rather than flat bottoms, to reduce downforce still further. This measure was originally scheduled for next year. Regulations for 1995 will cut downforce by 50 per cent.

Teams have been given until 1 August to come up with proposals to achieve the target. If they do not, FIA will impose new rules to that end. Engine power will be reduced to 600bhp by means of a fuel flow valve. The minimum weight limit of cars will be 625kg instead of 575, to facilitate modifications to protect the driver.

Consideration will be given to safety devices such as airbags, foam lining in the cockpits and head restraints. The review of circuits would continue. Normally, such measures require the full approval of the teams, but the authorities, under pressure to take action as swiftly as possible, feel they have no alternative but to railroad through the changes.

Bernie Ecclestone, president of FOCA, said: 'None of the teams wanted these accidents or to lose drivers, so anything that can be done, I'm sure they will do. They are not stupid and inhuman. The Williams team, for instance, have been completely destabilised by Senna's accident. Teams don't like to give up things but now they are looking seriously at what can be done.'

Patrick Head, the technical director of Williams-Renault, the defending champions, appeared far from content and declined to comment. Flavio Briatore, the managing director of Benetton-Ford, this year's championship leaders, said he felt the problem lay in the circuits rather than the cars. Ferrari, however, said they supported the immediate measures and would have to examine next year's regulations in greater detail before commenting.

The drivers met for four hours and, although they elected their official representatives, determined to involve everyone in the process of examining safety measures at circuits. Three areas of this track, including the chicane, where Wendlinger crashed, will be the focus of particular attention on their tour this morning.

A hospital spokesman said Wendlinger had been kept artificially in a deep coma to prevent further trauma to his brain and reduce swelling.

His team, Sauber-Mercedes, have withdrawn their other driver, the German Heinz-Harald Frentzen, from tomorrow's race because they are 'emotionally depressed'. Peter Sauber, the team's leader, added: 'This is not a no to Formula One, just a no to Monaco.'

Canada's Paul Tracy crashed his Mercedes-powered Penske car in practice for the Indianapolis 500 yesterday. Tracy was taken to hospital complaining of pain in his left foot, but was awake and alert. He will undergo neurological tests.

THE CHANGES

By 29 May (Spanish GP)

Smaller diffusers and front wing to reduce downforce and cut speed.

By 12 June (Canadian GP)

Cockpit enlarged. More side protection to protect head. Minimum weight of car increased by 25kg to take account of strengthening.

Air boxes behind and above the driver's head banned to reduce power.

Front suspension strengthened to ensure wheels stay on.

Special fuel banned. FIA will buy fuel from petrol stations to supply teams.

By 31 July (German GP)

All measures due to be introduced in 1995, particularly in the area of aerodynamics and engine power, in force six months early.

(Photograph and graphic omitted)

Comments