Red Bull and the FIA man their weapons ahead of Paris date

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The FIA faces its first major challenge of the 2014 season in Paris tomorrow as Red Bull’s appeal against Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix is heard.

Ricciardo had finished his home race as the runner-up behind Nico Rosberg, marking a great turnaround in fortunes for Red Bull after a disastrous winter. It was also an emotional result for the Australians in attendance at Albert Park, having never seen a home driver step up onto the podium at the circuit.

However, this elation soon turned to dismay as the FIA found that car #3 – Ricciardo – had “exceeded consistently the maximum allowed fuel flow of 100kg/h” in the race. The new regulations are very strict when it comes to fuel usage, and the team had failed to adhere to them. In fact, it transpired that the FIA had informed the team throughout the race that Ricciardo’s car was using too much fuel; the team simply ignored these calls.

Red Bull’s management was outraged by the decision, given that the team’s own meter showed that the car was well within the fuel limit. As the FIA had encountered problems with its meters earlier in the weekend, there appeared to be some argument here. However, the sport’s governing body insisted that “rules are rules”; Red Bull broke them and Ricciardo was subsequently excluded.

In Malaysia, the war waged on as team principal Christian Horner reached out to the FIA for talks following multiple fuel sensor failures on the cars. The FIA responded by again pointing to the regulations. Red Bull’s argument was that the fuel sensor used was merely a directive (despite being homologated by the FIA and used by every other team), allowing them to use their own if they wanted to. Again, the FIA stood upright: they’re the rules.

Article 5.10 makes it quite clear in my view that the only way the fuel flow will be measured is with the homologated sensor,” race director Charlie Whiting explained in Malaysia. “To me, it is perfectly clear.”

The races in Malaysia and Bahrain went by with little more being said in the fuel sensor debate (or – given that it is common place in Formula 1 to gate-ify topics – fuelgate), and the camps remained defiant: Red Bull sure of victory, the FIA sure of victory.

Earlier this week, a report by British website Autosport only furthered Red Bull’s self-assurance.

“We have got a very strong case,” Horner is quoted as saying. “As more races have progressed, issues have become more evident – and new evidence has come to light, new understandings have come to light. So hopefully we can present our case fairly and get our second place back that Daniel deserves from Melbourne.”

Yes, Daniel does deserve P2. He drove a perfect race in a car that hadn’t even completed a full race distance during testing. However, if the team was in the wrong, then it does not deserve P2. The FIA did acknowledge that Ricciardo had done nothing wrong in this saga; he simply drove a great race.

What undermines Red Bull’s argument is the fact that the other teams also had reservations about the FIA’s measurements, yet they still kept to them. If a marathon finish line is at 26 miles, do the runners keep going for another 385 yards? No, you play to the guidelines that have been set. ‘Thems the rules’.

After so many years of success, Red Bull appears to have gotten a little too confident in its own perceived righteousness.

For the sake of the sport, the FIA must win this case, judging by the information we have. Anything else would open the door for self governance and regulation by the teams.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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