Friday, March 27, 2009

Failing to diffuse the situation

You have to admire the evil genius of Max and Bernie.

After instigating an attempt to undermine the unity of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) with a voluntary budget cap of £30 million from 2010 - a measure cloaked by the confusion over this year's points-scoring system - Max has opportunistically utilised a vital ambiguity in the new technical regulations to sow further seeds of division.

Three of the teams, Williams, Toyota and Brawn, have taller diffusers at the rear of their cars. Diffusers, in motorsport parlance, are the upswept trailing edges of the underside of the cars, situated between the rear wheels. They generate a significant proportion of the downforce created at the rear of the car, and the regulations which govern their dimensions have been changed this year. The three aforementioned teams have exploited an ambiguity in those regulations to employ taller diffusers, which generate more downforce.

These diffusers were protested at scrutineering on Thursday for the opening race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix, but the stewards of the meeting rejected the protests. The matter will now proceed to the International Court of Appeal, which will pass a retrospective judgement on the legality of the Williams, Toyota and Brawn cars in the opening races of the season. Red Bull have already been moved to claim in public that there is effectively one race for the 'diffuser-gang', and another race for the others.

Formula 1 correspondent for The Times, the excellent Ed Gorman reports on his blog:

I would say the Formula One paddock has never been so frenetic in terms of the sporting side, the political and the poisonous. It has been crazy and difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. My guess is the "diffuser 3" will for "political reasons" and "Formula One financial reasons" and as part of the mission by the two most powerful people in the sport to destroy Fota, win their case. The others might as well give up now and start re-designing the back end of their cars.

However, pace Gorman, the crucial fact about the diffuser controversy is that Max has already sown the seeds of division between the teams, irrespective of the outcome from the International Court of Appeal. Such a technical dispute would normally have been settled by a rule clarification prior to the season, (despite what Max says). By allowing some teams to start the season with the more voluminous diffusers, and some without, any retrospective decision by the Court of Appeal is guaranteed to benefit some teams and penalise others.

If the Court of Appeal judges the larger diffusers to be illegal, and retrospectively strips victory in the opening races from the 'diffuser-gang', that might actually suit Max and Bernie's agenda much better. Williams and Team Brawn, at least, would likely feel most aggrieved at the other teams for protesting them, and would be more likely to splinter from FOTA. Straight into the waiting hands of Max and Bernie.

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