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Archive for the ‘Rules’ Category

The International Appeal Court has ruled that the diffusers used by Brawn, Toyota and Williams are legal. So now we have clarity and we move on, although there will be rumblings from the other teams, they can do nothing more and have to bring their own versions of the double decker to their cars as quickly as possible.

But bad feelings remain. The hearing yesterday certainly got nasty, it seems, as it dragged out into yesterday evening, Paris time.

It was a bruising encounter for the protagonists, with some real niggle between former colleagues and lawyers getting stuck in to others’ reputations. But some of the things said yesterday will surely come back to haunt those who said them.

The impression the protesters are keen to give is that they are unanimous in their feeling that the three diffuser teams have not only been crafty, but have violated the spirit of sporting competition.

Certainly I’m told that all the teams are backing the protest, with the exception of Toro Rosso (no point in paying twice if Red Bull have already paid) and Force India, for political reasons.

One argument, advanced by Adrian Newey and Flavio Briatore, is that the diffusers should be banned on safety grounds, the Brawn car in particular, because they make the cars too fast.

Although three teams are in the dock, only one team owner seems to be getting the flak and that is Ross Brawn. He had to sit there, while Nigel Tozzi, Ferrari’s lawyer and a man who was on the same side as Brawn until two years ago, described him as a ‘person of supreme arrogance,’ because he sees things one way when everyone else sees things a different way, “Only a person of supreme arrogance would think he is right when so many of his esteemed colleagues would disagree.”

Instead, Brawn is now looking like a person of supreme intelligence.

Tozzi then went on to say something which a lawyer representing an F1 team in an FIA hearing really should have thought twice before saying, because the words will surely be used against him one day,

“Anyone with a command of English will tell you it is a hole, so do not let someone attempting to be clever with words defeat the express purpose of the rules,”

Being clever with words to defeat the purpose of the rules in F1 is what getting an edge in F1 is all about. It happens every time someone comes up with something the others haven’t got and every time there is a protest and an appeal into some genius device, or loophole.

I remember in 1999 sitting in a steaming hot Ferrari office in Sepang after the race as Ross Brawn showed us with a ruler why the barge-boards had been ruled illegal by the stewards. And yet a few days later, through using words at a hearing in Paris, Ferrari’s lawyer managed to get the judges to agree that by viewing the car from a certain angle and by applying tolerances mentioned elsewhere in the rules, the barge-boards were legal after all.

Brawn may forgive and forget, maybe not. But I was very surprised to hear Tozzi having a go at the FIA for inconsistency. The FIA denies that other teams had applied to use a similar diffuser design and were knocked back. In any case I was surprised to see Tozzi using the terms he used,

“The position of the FIA is totally baffling. We urge you to save the FIA from itself,” he is alleged to have said, according to Press Association.

That is strong stuff. Whatever you may think of the historical relationship between Ferrari and the FIA, this line shows you that as of right now, they are at loggerheads and that there is a huge amount of frustration on Ferrari’s side.

Ferrari are frustrated by the FIA’s position on this issue, by the way they have allowed this uncertainty and dispute to develop. The FIA say that their position is clear and as always been consistent; the diffusers are legal.

But also bear in mind that Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo heads the team’s association, FOTA and is more than a little frustrated by the way the FIA World Council ignored all of FOTA’s hard work and suggestions and instead voted in a ¬£30 million budget cap for 2010.

These things work themselves through in the end and Ferrari and FIA will be friends again at some point in the future. But right now they are the focal point for the needle, which is central to this issue over the diffusers.

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Today in Paris the International Court of Appeal has been hearing the two sides of the debate into the legality of the so-called double decker diffusers, as used by Brawn, Toyota and Williams.

It all got quite passionate as the lawyers for Ferrari and Renault in particular stated their cases.

Andrew Ford for Renault said that the FIA had already established that a design which incorporated holes to improve the efficiency was illegal in F1, “It is not that Renault missed the boat, as Brawn have pointed out, it is because the FIA said it was illegal. It was at that point the diffuser was abandoned,”

This all goes back to a ruling the FIA made in 2001 about a design on the Williams car and a subsequent clarification the FIA issued in 2002 about where holes were not permitted in the floor. The three diffusers under scrutiny now, exploit a loophole in the wording of that rule.

There seems to be a fair amount of confusion in the media over what might happen if the appeal is upheld and the diffusers are banned.

The problem is that there are many possible outcomes, which the court has the power to impose. The most extreme is that the cars with the trick diffusers could be disqualified from the results of the first two races.

Another possible ruling is that the points from the first two races could stand, but a ban on the diffusers could come into force at the next Grand Prix, this weekend in China. Or, given the logistics involved a ban could be deferred to the Bahrain or even Spanish Grand Prix.

Another possibility, which would really cause confusion and unhappiness among the teams, is that the court could rule that the FIA should clarify the technical rule, thereby putting the ball back into its court.

Such a clarification could take several weeks and leave the teams in a kind of limbo through the remaining fly-away races and the early European ones.

This outcome would be very hard for the public to understand.

If the appeal is thrown out, then that is the end of the matter and the other teams will have to copy the double decker design and accept that they have lost the first part of the season.

A lot is at stake here, the difference in performance between the double decker and a normal diffuser is 15%, which equates to around a second per lap.

The plaintiff teams believe that the double decker violates both the letter and the spirit of the rules and are particularly aggrieved by the latter as the whole point of establishing the ‘overtaking working group’ was to find a joint teams’ solution to the problem of overtaking in F1. The teams worked together to find a way of making the cars more easily able to follow each other and overtake and part of that was an acceptance that the effect of the diffuser needed to be reduced by half and that it should not interact with the rear wing.

These diffusers fly in the face of that joint initiative.

The three diffuser teams argue that once the rules were set and defined, it was up to each team to find the loopholes and devise the cleverest solution, as has always been the practice in F1.

The word is that the idea of the step, or double decker diffuser was dreamed up by an aerodynamicist at Honda, who then moved to Toyota. Honda became Brawn over the winter and that is why the Brawn unit is the most sophisticated and effective,  because it is the one which has been under development the longest.

The ICA is due to make its ruling some time tomorrow.

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It’s been a fairly quiet Easter as far as happenings in F1 are concerned. I guess Malaysia was such a momentous weekend, with the McLaren/stewards affair and the crazy race, it’s hardly surprising that the sport needed to take a breather.

But tomorrow (Tuesday 14th) things will get intense again as the international appeal court makes its decision regarding the legality of the diffusers of Brawn, Williams and Toyota.

This decision could well decide the outcome of the world championship, certainly that is the view of former world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, who are on the wrong side of the debate. Ferrari, McLaren, Renault and Red Bull know that the first four races -a quarter of the season – will have been lost if the decision goes against them.

If the decision goes with the protesters, we will have to unpick the results of the first two Grands Prix, which will be very messy. We’ve already had a high profile reversal before the season started on the points system. To tell the world also that the first two races are meaningless would make neutrals wonder what the heck is going on in F1.

However that’s a risk we have to take because the important thing here is that we get the right decision, so everyone can move forward. The top teams all have their own versions of the ‘double decker’ diffuser in the wind tunnel at the moment and will be ready to run them either in Bahrain or Barcelona, depending on their manufacturing capability. This should give them a vault in performance.

The Brawn team hopes to keep its nose ahead and has some updates of its own to roll out in Spain, because the team has the luxury of being one step ahead of the rest. But it will be interesting to see whether these updates give anything like the returns that the diffusers will give to the rest. Meanwhile Toyota and Williams have benefitted from the diffusers and, for as long as it lasts, they are taking points off the top teams.

McLaren and Ferrari look out of sorts at the moment, McLaren because of a slow car and the strife they have brought on themselves. Internally there is some real soul searching going on and a threat that they may lose their lead driver over the damage done to his reputation. That is very destabilising.

Ferrari are on the ropes because they have made mistakes and had reliability issues. They need to get onto the right path as a team and I’ve no doubt that they will. This is not like turning an oil tanker around, an F1 team with a winning culture can adapt and change direction very quickly.

BMW should benefit greatly from the updated package they will bring out in Spain. They have combined the need to build a car with a trick diffuser with the need to make a lighter chassis for Robert Kubica, so he can use the KERS system and he will be driving essentially a B spec car in Spain. I expect him to start to feature in a big way after that. He’s been one of the few top team drivers to have given the diffuser cars a run for their money in the opening races.

Renault are coming from a bit further back, while Red Bull have a different concept to the rest and have been quick in the opening races. If forced to adapt to the trick diffusers, it will be interesting to see whether they gain or lose relative to the opposition.

If the appeal court decision goes Brawn’s way it will certainly give Jenson Button a fighting chance of winning the title, as he will have had four ‘open goals’ at the first four races, a head start that it will take the big teams a lot of the season to catch up.

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