The FIA made clear early in 1993 that ‘driver aids’ would be banned for 1994. A range of technologies were included in that all-encompassing phrase including one not yet in use – four-wheel steering.
Although front-and-rear-wheel steering appeared on road cars such as the Honda Legend and Mitsubishi 3000 GTO, it would never be raced in Formula 1. But late in 1993, despite knowing it would be illegal in a matter of weeks, Benetton gave the system a go anyway – and came damn close to racing it.
Following his second Grand Prix win in Estoril, Portugal in 1993, Michael Schumacher stayed on at the circuit with the Benetton team to test a new ‘C’ version of the Cosworth-powered B193.
The major addition to this car was a hydraulically operated rear steering rack, which Moog electro-valves able to alter the steering angle of the rear wheels by two degree in either direction.
In an attempt to minimise any safety implications the hydraulics were designed to go into a preset ‘fail safe’ position in the event of failure, pointing the wheels straight.
The system was also designed to be turned off and on at will, allowing the driver to run the car with a conventional front wheel steer set up if he preferred.
And in the event that was exactly what drivers Schumacher and Riccardo Patrese did prefer, finding the four wheel steer set up added nothing to the car in terms of laptime. But it did, as far as Patrese was concerned, produce an unusual handling sensation.
The lap times testified that if the system added any to the car’s performance, it wasn’t very much. Schumacher said:
It feels very good, but actually it doesn’t change things a lot. I am using the same lines and there isn’t a lot of movement at the rear. It makes it a little easier, but right now the system doesn’t work very well in the slow corners, so we might not use it in Adelaide.
They didn’t use it in Adelaide or Suzuka. Schumacher ran it in testing on Friday morning at Suzuka, and then turned the system off.
But Benetton’s failure to find any advantage with the system didn’t change the FIA’s decision to ban it.
Perhaps, though, this is one instance where the intervention of the rule book didn’t play the ultimate role in stopping a piece of technology being used. Maybe it just wasn’t a big enough step forward?