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Unease over standard ECU

NEWS STORY
18/03/2006

One of the cornerstones of Max Mosley's F1 dream, the way in which F1 will develop from 2008 onwards, with costs cut and the teams more equal in terms of competitiveness, is the standard ECU.

Speaking in Malaysia it is clear that the standard ECU remains a contentious issue, and is still one of several stumbling blocks that must be overcome if there is to be F1 peace in our time.

"I think in principal, most of the manufacturers would prefer freedom with the ECU," said Toyota's John Howett, "at least the actual cost of the ECU itself is not of an extreme magnitude.

"OK, one would probably need to be more draconian in restricting electronic capacity to significantly reduce the cost area," he continued. "I think there is an issue of actually ensuring that there is no artificial aids which are intended to be eliminated, such as traction control in the future, and therefore by having a standard ECU it may make it very easy to police and avoid any rumours of a certain team having this capability or not and I believe that's one of the reasons that the FIA wishes to integrate the actual standard ECU, but I think as a preference we would prefer to keep freedom."

"I'm not convinced that it automatically follows that if you have a standard ECU that there's no more possibility of some sort of power modulation," admitted Patrick Head, "but if we all get put to a standard ECU then those of us, few of us, with devious minds will turn their attention to other means.

"It's a change," he continued, "and I can understand that a lot of people like BMW, building their own ECUs, it's an interesting challenge for them which I'm sure has some relevance and some knock-on to their road car development and it must feel very uncomfortable for engineers to be told 'no, you can't do this, no you can't do a job in that area' and be given what will probably be a fairly middle-of-the-road type piece of hardware, it doesn't feel very Formula One-ish but anyway, that's what we're told we're getting and it seems it's still Max and Bernie's game so that's what we've got to play."

"As we understand, the original aim was to rule out artificial driver aids and we fully support that," said Mario Theissen, "even if road cars have it, we want to see the best drivers out here and want them to cope with the car at the limit and that is certainly more exciting without driver aids.

"We have had talks between the manufacturers and some teams, I think it was a year ago - at least a year ago - about how to achieve that, and we came to the conclusion that it should be possible to do that with a controlled section, accessible to the FIA, to make sure that there are not artificial driver aids. We would prefer to go along this route because, as Geoff said, today there is not the mechanical parts, components, development on one hand and the electronics components on the other hand. Virtually everything comes with its electronics and virtually every functionality is controlled electronically.

"So in order to have the possibility to test new functionalities, we would need to have access to the electronics and then you are immediately down to the question: what is standardised? Is it a certain area of the hardware, is it the basic software as well, even, as the application software? It's quite a difficult and tricky area, so, as I said, we would prefer to have a common standard which ensures that there is no driver aids and it cannot even be perceived to be there but then to do our own stuff in order to use the same stuff for testing and racing."

Asked if he could define 'standard ECU', Theissen replied: "There is no precise definition, especially not when it comes to software."

"It's not really my area to comment that much," admitted Honda's Geoff Willis, "apart from the fact that in both road car engine design and in race car engine design the engine hardware and the controller is very much thought of as a complete package. So it's a thing where an engine manufacturer, a car manufacturer would always normally want to be developing engine and ECU together so in that sense, it's something we would rather keep and not go to an independent third party.

"The other issue from the team side is that changing ECUs and changing all the integrated code with it and the software the team uses is a very big challenge, and there's not a lot of time between now and the beginning of 2008 and none of us would want to be starting on January 1, 2008 with a new system. We want to be trying to test it earlier so I think there's a pretty tight timescale."

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