Formula One's Traction-Control Ban: Good For The Sport, Or Mere Pandering?

William MaysCorrespondent IMay 8, 2008

Four rounds into the 2008 Formula One World Championship, and there are still many questions to be answered.


What's behind Alonso's impressive form in Spain? How much does McLaren miss the Spaniard's development skills? Will Lewis Hamilton find his way back to the top step of the podium?


What is seemingly not up for debate, however, is the near-universal fan approval of the removal of traction control and engine-breaking assistance.


The secretary at my place of work is a lovely woman named Carol. She's in her late 60s now, but she spent the balance of the 1960s and 1970s in Europe watching the likes of Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, and her personal heartthrob, Jacky Ickx.


On Monday mornings this year, she is all abuzz at the excitement of the previous day's Grand Prix. "Isn't it fantastic," she'll say, "to see the race being decided by the drivers for a change?" I happily concur.


However, lately I've begun to rethink my position. While it is certainly exciting to watch the back end of Felipe Massa's Ferrari kick sideways on corner exits, I wonder if this momentary excitement is at the expense of the sport's image. Formula One is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport technology. Traction control is something which can be found on many road cars, as well as launch control on some of the more exclusive models.


With each banning of (now no-longer) exotic technology, the sport's claims of technological exclusivity grow fainter, and no Kinetic Energy Recovery System will change that.


Yes, I understand that it has made the races more competitive, and that most people still come to the races to see drivers perform, not cars. The banning of traction control is really about the attraction of spectators to the racetrack.


I will even admit to an increased enjoyment of this version of the sport, so where does that leave us?


While the engineer in me longs for the pursuit of technical perfection, the fan wants to see the cars closer together on the racetrack. It would seem then, that the solution would be to heavily regulate anything considered solely a “driver's aid.” That way, the involvement of the driver would still be a major factor in the car's performance.


However, any such heavy regulation should be met with an equal deregulation in other area's of the vehicle, so that the teams which dream up the best innovations are still rewarded.


The traction control ban must be considered a success in terms of the quality of races. A careful approach to the sport's regulation, however, must be exercised in order to avoid the drift to NASCAR-levels of contrived parity.