Brawn rides the storm
I simply can't remember a start to a Formula One season quite like this. If it is high-pressure now, imagine what it will be like towards the end? Steve Slater examines...india Updated: Apr 18, 2009 01:57 IST
In the week leading to a long-haul Grand Prix such as China, the flow of news stories normally goes quiet as the teams embark on lengthy flights to Shanghai from Europe. Not so this week. First we had a courtroom battle at the FIA in Paris, followed by an even bigger stir as McLaren boss Ron Dennis effectively offered himself as the 'fall guy' for his team's misconduct at the post-Australian GP stewards' meeting.
I simply can't remember a start to a Formula One season quite like this. If it is high-pressure now, imagine what it will be like towards the end?
For Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota, there was vindication in Paris. The three teams had started the season with a radically different interpretation of the regulations defining the diffuser. Their interpretation was protested by the Renault, Ferrari, BMW and Red Bull teams. All of a sudden, diffusers, normally invisible pieces of carbon fibre, became big news.
Particularly in Paris, where hordes of lawyers and expert witnesses descended, picking through the rulebook with a fine-tooth comb.
Given that Formula One is looking to save money, one wonders how much all these counsels cost. The debate went on for a whole day and was apparently so mind-numbing that one FIA delegate reportedly fell asleep!
The 2009 rules demand a maximum diffuser height of 175mm above the reference plane, this is measured from below - using 'bodywork facing the ground' articles in the rules. However, the actual diffuser structure can be taller provided it maintains a continuous line where it meets the flat floor of the car at the axle line.
Brawn, Williams and Toyota it seems, simply raised the level of the floor to allow a double-deck structure to be created. The most vocal howls of indignation came from Ferrari, whose legal counsel Nigel Tozzi QC, used to defend Ross Brawn in FIA hearings. Now he went for his former client's jugular, saying "Only a person of supreme arrogance would think he is right, when so many of his esteemed colleagues would disagree".
Actually, it made Brawn seem even more clever, because the FIA adjudicated in his favour, not Ferrari's. The Ferrari team are probably glad all this has been going on, as it has been a good smokescreen for their worst start to a season in two decades. The team arrives in Shanghai after a major shake-up. Former race tactician Luca Baldiserri has been moved to a factory role, while Chris Dyer, formerly Kimi Raikkonen's race engineer, moves into the hot seat on the pit wall.
Meanwhile McLaren still suffer from the lying scandal in Australia. Dennis has relinquished all F1 commitments.
I wonder whether his sacrifice will be enough? Possibilities of big penalties, even disqualification haunt them. The FIA World Motor Sports Council meets on April 29 to discuss the matter.
Another reason for Ron's departure might be to rebuild the relationship between Lewis Hamilton and the McLaren team. Hamilton's father and manager Anthony is said to be furious over his son's involvement in the lying scandal and was rumoured to have been looking at offering his son to other teams.
Meanwhile, on the racetrack in Shanghai this weekend, I put my money on Button again. Toyota too will be strong, maybe on target for their first GP win. And Hamilton is fully fired up by all that has gone on in the past two weeks. Watch out for him.
As for Ferrari and the rest —back to the drawing board!
(The writer is an F1 commentator with Star Sports)