On this day in F1 – 29 March, brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Bart De Pauw
– 1998: Braking systems controversy in Brazil
Following an overwhelming McLaren dominance in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix where Häkkinen and Coulthard sealed a commanding one-two and lapped the entire field, Ferrari in the build up to the next race in Brazil started a big political fight that was centered around the question whether or not the directional braking systems as developed by McLaren, Williams and Jordan were legal.
McLaren’s directional braking system featured a separate rear brake pedal that allowed the drivers to operate either of the rear brakes independently of the other brakes. The biggest benefit was that a heavier braking on the inner rear wheel made it possible to eliminate the understeer that the car was facing in certain corners, and hence the allegations that the primary purpose of the system was to steer rather than to break.
An additional advantage was that on the exit of slow corners the system could also be used to reduce wheelspin.
McLaren first used the tool during the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix, but at the time it attracted few attention other from the fact that some of the more attentive spectators wondered why the midfield-running MP 4-12’s rear brakes were glowing on the exit of some corners. The Woking-based team continued with their system in 1998, and over the winter they even decided to consult with FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting who gave his go-ahead on every aspect of their secondary braking system.
But it was really the supremacy displayed during the Australian Grand Prix that made their crushed rivals – and especially Ferrari – direct their arrows against McLaren’s ingenious system that in the meantime had been copied by Williams and Jordan.
On the Thursday before the Brazilian Grand Prix and after a lot of lobbying with the other teams to support its upcoming actions, the Italian team ultimately lodged their official protest against McLaren, Williams and Jordan alleging that their directional braking systems contravened the rules that ban four-wheel steering.
Tyrell, Arrows and Sauber were very quick to join Ferrari in their complaints. After a surprisingly short deliberation and despite Charlie Whiting’s earlier blessing of the McLaren system, the part-time officials ruled in favor of Ferrari and its cohorts.
By many their judgment was seen as yet another supply of Ferrari International Assistance.
And so McLaren and the other teams lost the fight to keep their contested braking systems, but during a race that was much duller than its proceedings the McLaren duo again dominated the entire feel, so the aftertaste for Ron Dennis must have been ultra-sweet, knowing that Ferrari had lost yet another excuse for its manifest inability to match the British team’s pace.
The die-hards can torment themselves by sitting out the below 15 minutes of German race summary, but probably better to fast-forward to 8:56 for a clumsy pit stop by Michael Schumacher immediately followed by an impressive overtake by Alexander Wurz on Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Ok, now I understand why only a German summary is still available…