Wednesday, 15 April 2009

FIA International Court of Appeal declares the 'double-decker diffusers' legal

A Brawn-Mercedes car showing the double-decker diffusers below the rear wing, part of the car's underbody.
Well, the diffuser saga has finally come to an end when, earlier today, the FIA International Court of Appeal in Paris ruled that the double-decker rear diffusers used by the BrawnGP, Toyota F1 and Williams teams are indeed legal. Their opponents, mainly Ferrari, Renault, Red Bull Racing and BMW Sauber argued that this type of rear diffuser is not only illegal but also contradicts with the new 2009 aerodynamic regulations by increasing downforce, at a time when the cars are meant to have lower downforce in order to aid overtaking. They went on to argue that the three defendant teams (Brawn, Toyota and Williams) used a loophole in the technical regulations to use an illegal component in their cars. But the Court of Appeal decided today that these controversial rear diffusers are perfectly legal and that the race stewards at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix were also right in declaring them legal.

Now in my opinion, this is fantastic news for Ross Brawn and his team. The current driver's championship leader Jenson Button will probably go on to win his first ever driver's title. Although Button is very likely to be closely followed by the other two 'diffuser' teams, Williams and Toyota, the Brawn-Mercedes car probably has that bit of an extra pace to get it home ahead of everyone else. Although Renault has said during yesterday's hearing in Paris that they have got a prototype double-decker diffuser ready to be used in this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, I personally don't think it is still going to get the Renaults too much closer to the Brawns in front of the grid. But like Renault, all the other 'non-diffuser' teams will now have to play catch up and come up with their own versions of the rear diffusers.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Some of the cars are designed in such a way, that it is just not possible to fit a double-decker diffuser in the current arrangement. Cars like the Ferraris and the Red Bulls for instance will have to undergo major aerodynamic changes to be able to accomodate the rear-diffusers, and that will take time. Now is it worth it? Well it does give a big time advantage, as much as 0.5 seconds per lap, but by the time Ferrari and Red Bull come up with their own rear diffusers, it will probably be close to half-way through the season. By then, the Brawn-Mercedes team may already be too far ahead in the Championship for the reigning Constructor's champion Scuderia Ferrari to try and defend the title. So it is a big dilemma indeed, whether to spend all this time and money for this season without foreseeing any real results at the end or does it make more sense for Ferrari to start early development on their 2010 car to get a head start on everyone else and not make the same mistakes as they have done already this year? Only time will tell.

Red Bull on the other hand is in a slightly better position than Ferrari because thanks to good aerodynamic developments, the two Red Bull-Renaults are probably the fastest 'non-diffuser' cars on the grid. So they still have a good chance of staying reasonably close to the front of the grid. If they can come up with their rear-diffusers in time, who knows they even may be contending for the title.

McLaren on the other hand, has got a lot more to worry about. Following the incident between McLaren's Hamilton and Toyota's Trulli in the Melbourne race during the safety car, where the McLaren team and Lewis Hamilton have been accused of lying to the race stewards to gain a position on the grid, the FIA World Motor Sport Council have called McLaren and Hamilton to a hearing on the 29th of April. The FIA have particularly accused them of breaching the International Sporting Code the second time within two years, the previous one being the Ferrari spying scandal in 2007, when McLaren was stripped off all their constructor's points. Because of that, the FIA World Motor Sport Council is expected to come down hard on McLaren and the maximum penalty they can choose to impose is totally up to them, being anything from a two-race suspension to an outright expulsion. So it will be very interesting to see what comes out of this. Besides, Hamilton's relationship with the team is said to be on a knife-edge, with Lewis Hamilton's father and manager Anthony Hamilton said to be particularly dissapointed regarding McLaren's conduct in this whole incident. There are also rumours that if McLaren is suspended, Hamilton may use that chance to get out of his contract with McLaren to try and get to a team that has a better car and better ethics. Brawn-Mercedes is being highly regarded as a likely candidate for that, with Rubens Barrichello likely to make way. But for now, these are all just rumours and we have to wait until the 29th of this month to see what actually happens.

So one of the two main controversies that have been surrounding the sport since the start of this season has come to an end, and now the teams move on to Shanghai for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix which promises to be a very exciting race, and even more so given the fact that the teams now know that the double-decker rear diffusers are legal.

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