David Coulthard: “This is another Senna situation”

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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23 comments on David Coulthard: “This is another Senna situation”

  1. I also read he article about coulthards worries on removing tyre warmers – I think that he is quite right to question this move – not all of the changes are detrimental to racing but if you are racing you cant cut back on safety – fair enough cut back on other things which give minimal results for millions spent but they work and we want good racing not fatalities.

  2. I think he has a point, but:

    What is the ban hoping to achieve? Surely if that differential is there then the tyre manufacturers and teams will put a huge amount into development to ensure that the difference is gone as quickly as possible (as early in the lap as possible). Who knows what they will come up with.

    So what are the gains here? Certainly no cost savings, little if any on track action differences, more first corner pile-ups, Perhaps it will force less durable tyres that heat up quicker, but die quicker, but that will add more pit stops, is that what we want?

    I am not sure I see the point.

  3. If the Federation is very particular about dis-allowing tyre blankets then it should allow Bridgestone to make its compounds softer so that they get to the operating temperature quickly.

  4. exactly the question Andrew asked came to my mind .. What would that ban achieve ? nothing, only millions spent on heating up the tyres quicker on track, while there is simple solution now – the tyre warmers…

  5. powerline2007 said on 12th December 2007, 9:38

    The FIA has degenerated to be a committee ran by people who by themselves can’t get anything useful done & as a committee can’t do anything really useful.

  6. Nathan said on 12th December 2007, 11:11

    Just as Andrew and others have said, if anything this ban will cost more than it will save. So what is the point? All it does is make the racing less safe and cause more money to be spent, which I thought is exactly what FIA was trying to avoid.

  7. Daniel said on 12th December 2007, 11:37

    Keith: about Senna’s death, I thought it was more or less estabilished that he died because the direction bar (or “wheel bar”… I don’t know how to say its name in english, but I hope you understand me) was lengthened by William’s after his own request, and that new part broke, so he completely lost control… It was a widely-spread theory, at least in Brazil…

  8. Senna’s car went straight on without the front wheels being turned at all – the steering broke, it was that alone that caused the accident. Coulthard would have been better advised to point at Gilles Villeneuve’s death which was caused by speed differentials. That is his strongest point, that cars exiting the pits would be unable to get up to racing speeds for a lap or two and so become mobile chicanes.

  9. Michael K said on 12th December 2007, 12:06

    I don’t think involving Senna’s name in this discussion does anyone any favours, but I do agree with him. Not necessarily on the safety issue, but on the fact that I don’t think it’ll give anyone any pleasure to see cars with cold tires lumber around on track unable to really race until they reach the right temperature.
    This might be interesting at the start when everyone has the same problem but not really after a pit stop.

  10. Robert McKay said on 12th December 2007, 12:10

    DC knows his stuff, and if he speaks I tend to listen, but I don’t quite see what it is Champcar does so differently that means they don’t have the same issues. Is it because their tyres are completely different in philosophy and construction?

  11. I’m thinking about the slick tyres they used in Jerez last week. Will them be exactly like the ones F1 drivers are going to use in 2009?

    Maybe they wil change its construction or compounds. It’s not definitive i would say. It was a test to see how well the tyre managed to go around the track, in real situations.

    But if they will use that tyre as definitive, i don’t see any reason to go to that extreme. If the differences in speed between the cars with used tyres and the ones with fresh new tyres is so big, then why FIA ban the tyre warmers?

    But we all know how well FIA ‘knows’ F1. They are so capable of destroying something useful or ocnvert it in something really unnecesary and ridiculous.
    The organization suffers from lack of intelligent persons who really know what the technical side of F1 is. Those guys at FIA were overtook by F1 itself and the teams long time ago.

  12. DC has always been… girly.

    Every comment he makes is about being “safer” and all. The blankets should not be banned, this is about going as fast as possible, in the least time conceivable.

    Sensitivity to tires you say? Yes, at 280km/h on a corner, NOT on your pre-quali lap.

    DC should work for the FIA.

  13. Eric M. said on 12th December 2007, 16:47

    “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.”

    Wasn’t that because his cooler tires caused his ride height to drop, and then he bottomed out and lost all grip? I don’t think it was only due to lack of grip from cool tires. The minimum ride height has since been raised to prevent that scenario from happening again. As for the difference in speed, I thought I read somewhere that slicks build up heat quicker than grooved tires do, and that, combined with different compounds, might help minimize the speed differential problem. But I’ve never seen cold tires cause a problem in ChampCar, other than drivers out-braking themselves and going for a little tour out on the grass.

    And I know it’s not my place to say this, having never raced a car in my life, but I do think the F1 has become somewhat hyper-sensitive to safety. Just the other day I read an article (I think you linked it in your last blog round-up) when some drivers wanted barries at the Nurburgring to avoid colliding with trees, but others, like Jacky Ickx, were opposed because they thought it made the ‘Ring too safe, and destroyed the purity of true grand prix racing! How drivers have changed. Nowadays drivers don’t even like gravel run-offs, no matter how big they are. They much prefer pavement apparently. I know I’m an ass for saying that, but look at the circuits that kind of thinking is giving us now. Some of those run-offs are bigger than football fields.

    Oh, and Senna’s accident was due to a failure in his steering column.

  14. Vertigo said on 12th December 2007, 17:01

    DC just likes seeing his name in the press, he knows he can’t do anything about it because he’s just a driver and a rubbish one at that.

  15. verasaki said on 12th December 2007, 22:31

    I can’t see that tire warmers are an excessive safety measure. One thing to remember is that Champ Car does-or did when I paid them attention- a rolling start. Maybe things have changed the last few years. I’ve always wondered what kind of difference that does make to the temperatures, though, maybe none. I do think that launching from a standing start on cold tires would be quite different than taking a rolling start on cold tires.

    I don’t think Coulthard is being an alarmist at all. I do remember at the time of Senna’s crash there was a discussion that cold tires due to the restart may have caused deflation on one of his, but i never really bought into that. it did look more like a major steering malfunction. The fact is we’ve seen plenty of near incidents when drivers are on cold tires and yeah, ok they should be able to control that but, really, is it worth the cost of whatever these teams come up with to get those tires to heat up faster? actually, thinking about that, what they come up with actually worries me more than the FIA having so little faith that any of these drivers actually being able to drive.

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