David Coulthard: “This is another Senna situation”

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

David Coulthard, Red Bull, Jerez, post-2007 season, 2 | GEPA / Mattias KniepeissDavid Coulthard is worried about the planned ban on tyre warmers for the 2009 season:

The tyres are operating in a very different temperature range, and we are talking about some cars with 20psi and others that have just 14psi. This is another Senna situation.

Does he have justified cause for alarm?

The planned rules changes for 2009 will see Formula 1 cars run on slick tyres with lower downforce – and a ban on tyre heaters. This is in addition to next year’s ban on driving aids such as traction control.

Tyre warmers have been used since the mid-1980s to bring tyres closer to operating temperatures before they are put on a car, meaning they can give more grip sooner.

However tyre warmers are not legal in other top single-seater series such as Champ Car. So on the face of it, what’s the problem with banning them?

Coulthard explains:

I am quite concerned about the temperature differential between the cars, especially in qualifying.

I have talked to quite a few drivers about it and they all shared the same opinion that without the blankets (tyre warmers), when a car from the pits joins the track when other cars are on a hot lap, it is pretty scary. There is such a big difference of speed.

David Coulthard, Red Bull, Jerez, post-2007 season | GEPA / Mattias KniepeissThis is a classic Formula 1 dilemma: on one hand, it is essential that Formula 1 is as safe as it can be; on the other hand, the act of driving the cars must be sufficiently physically and mentally difficult to challenge the best racing drivers in the world. Not an easy compromise to strike.

Before I read Coulthard’s comment I was all in favour of the ban on tyre warmers. Sensitivity to tyres is a vital part of a driver’s skill and on the face of it if Champ Car drivers can cope without tyre warmers, so can F1 drivers.

But I don’t think Coulthard is being unnecessarily alarmist, even when he compares the change to the circumstances of Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994.

That year saw a raft of changes to the cars including a ban on driver aids and other alterations which dramatically changed the handling characteristics of the cars. One of the more widely-supported theories on the cause of Senna’s fatal crash are that his tyre pressures dropped so low during a safety car period (which at the time were still a fairly new feature to F1) that he lost control of the car at almost maximum speed.

Perhaps a ban on tyre warmers is something F1 should aspire towards, but take care over its implementation and not rush it in along with a host of other changes?

Or has the sport become hyper-sensitive to safety?

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