There have been many court-room tussles in Formula 1 over the past ten years or so. 2005 saw the FIA appeal against its own stewards in order to disqualify BAR from the San Marino Grand Prix; ‘Spygate’ in 2007 saw McLaren chucked out of the constructors’ and fined $100m; the diffuser debate in 2009 soon defused itself; 2013’s ‘testgate’ was more annoying than anything. The sport rarely gets through a season without at least one visit to Paris for a hearing.
However, 2014 has wasted little time. Just one race into the year, and we have our first court date set. Following Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix last weekend, Red Bull appealed against the result and triggered the first case of the season as the team looks to get its driver re-instated in second place.
The Australian driver was disqualified after the team was deemed to have exceeded the maximum fuel flow of 100kg/h on his car during the race, according to the FIA’s measurements. Red Bull on the other hand has its own measurements that the management opted to follow, and the team insists that this was under the limit, making the car legal.
The fall-out of this debacle has led to a few questions being asked and plenty of finger pointing. Essentially, it comes down to a yes or no question: did Red Bull exceed the fuel flow limit of 100kg/h on car #3?
One of the facts that might be working in Red Bull’s favor is that the FIA made a change to the frequency level used to measure the fuel flow on the Saturday night following qualifying. This might suggest that the initial measure was not entirely accurate, and perhaps the change will not have successfully fixed this problem.
Red Bull was not the only team to have reservations about the FIA measure, either. All of the other teams did raise concerns about it.
However – and here’s the kicker – the other teams kept to the FIA measure to ensure that their cars were legal.
The measurement system is also interactive. Teams can see in real time what their ‘figure’ is, and race control (led by Charlie Whiting) issued warnings when they were exceeding the limit of 100kg/h. Red Bull were warned on three occasions that Ricciardo’s car was above the limit, yet the team still ignored the orders.
A big question also comes in Malaysia. The FIA has reinforced its faith in the measurement sensor supplier, but with the hearing set for April 14, a lot can still happen.
In Malaysia, if there is a similar situation, what will Red Bull do? By flouting the limit once again, the team risks getting both of its cars disqualified again (although it would show unbelievable and perhaps misplaced self-confidence). By adhering to the limit, though, would the team not be admitting guilt? That the FIA measurements are the right way to go? That Ricciardo’s car ran illegally in Australia after all?
With two races between now and the hearing, a lot can still happen. The odds are stacked against Red Bull, though, and they have few allies that will come and help.