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GP Week : Issue 227
OPINION MIKe DOODsON Over the years there has been the occasional memorably nail-biting wait for the F1 stewards to make up their minds about the eligibility of the winning car. ever since a freshly clued-up FIA started taking the ambiguity out of the hazy old regulations in the 80s, though, the tendency has been to allow no leeway at all. As long ago as 1985, Alain Prost's winning McLaren was thrown out at Imola because it was two kilos under weight on the post-race weighbridge. It took two hours to settle that one, and I don't think the McLaren boys greatly helped their case by claiming that Prostie was legit because the TAG Turbo V6 had burned more than that weight in fuel while being trickled round on the slowing-down lap! At Monza on Sunday it took the men in blazers a good three hours – from being informed pre-race that both Mercedes cars had one tyre each at an illegally low pressure to the moment when they delivered their verdict – to rule that the Silver Arrows were kosher after all. I should mention here that I wasn't at Monza on Sunday (I was at home, watching the BBC's deferred highlights on TV). But given that the discrepancies – Lewis Hamilton 0.3psi under the new 19.5psi minimum, Nico Rosberg 1.1psi under – had been recorded on equipment which had been certified accurate, this should have been a cut-and-dried case which needed only moments to decide. It was a pity that nobody had a camera in the Stewards' room, because I guess there were some bizarre scenes as loopholes were juggled and fine print decoded. If we are to believe the testimony which Benz boss Toto Wolff offered to the BBC, the dilemma facing the four good men and true was that they had incontrovertible evidence to support both the complete innocence and the abject guilt of Mercedes in the supposedly mundane procedure of putting air into rubber. This confusing evidence was, I presume, offered by the most important witness available, namely Pirelli. Wolff says that the pre-race pressures of his two cars was measured as showing legal by his technicians "under the super vision" of Pirelli. But the FIA informed Wolff that some minutes later, when its own operatives checked the same tyres on the grid, after the assembly lap, the pressures on one rear wheel of each car were below the permitted minimum. The FIA men, too, had made their measurements in the presence of Pirelli personnel. The explanation for the variation is, of course, that when the first check was done, the tyres had just come out of their heated blankets. By the time the FIA inspectors turned up on the grid with their gauges, however, the tyres had been standing unblanketed long enough for them to have cooled down a bit. However, following the final assembly lap, complete with all that side-to-side steering malarkey, the tyres had warmed up enough (we may safely assume) to restore pressures to the legal approved minimum as the drivers lined up on the grid. One imagines that the hours of agony suffered by the stewards were spent in deciding whether it was safe to make the above assumption, which would have resulted in Mercedes being absolved; or whether the concrete evidence of under-inflation took precedence because the FIA is the sole final arbiter in such matters. Back in the Middle Ages, before motor racing was invented, the governing body (it was the Catholic Church) used to conduct similar discussions, also involving learned men, into exactly how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. It is plain, now, that the new 'minimum pressure' rule is deeply flawed for the rather obvious reason that tyre pressures are dependent on the temperature of the tyre, and can therefore vary quite widely. As an unusually talkative Lewis Hamilton told the BBC post-race, every team worth its competitive salt runs as close to the legislated limits as it possibly can. If you want to win, you can't allow the opposition a scrap of leeway. That is the very essence of any competition in which technology is involved, yet the pen-pusher in Paris who drafted the rule was plainly unaware of it. It was with this compulsion to improve his competitiveness in mind that Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari took some ill-fated risks at Spa two weeks ago, with unhappy but other wise harmless consequences. Perhaps Ferrari can be forgiven for running its tyres with rather less air in them than recommended by Pirelli, because it improved lap times and because others were doing the same. But Seb was well out of order when he claimed, in defiance of what millions of F1 fans were seeing on their TV screens, that he was not running off-track at Raidillon and elsewhere. Having publicly abused Pirelli about the quality of its tyres at Spa, Seb was given cause to recant when Pirelli produced evidence before Monza which indicated that the track surface at Spa had been unusually dirty, with sharp carbonfibre shards which can only have come from clashes between competitors in lower- category races. I'm not convinced that accidents will be reduced by the imposition of minimum tyre pressures, but I do believe that Pirelli's views deser ve our attention. It is common sense, not excessive fussiness, for the tyre company to demand, for example, that circuits be properly cleaned over the course of a race weekend. Meanwhile, Formula 1 has to put the ignominy of the Monza fiasco behind it. The FIA will have to re-visit its new rule, introduced so hastily after the tyre failures involving Messrs Rosberg and Vettel in their separate incidents at Spa two weeks ago, in order to ensure that compliance can be checked under specific standard conditions. It won't be easy but it will probably present fewer practical difficulties than those confronting the scrutineers charged with enforcing the fixed ride- height rules which the old CSI introduced in 1983 with the aim of eliminating ground effect. Someone overlooked the fact that the chaps delegated to check the ride-height would need to be able to run alongside the cars and whip out a ruler at speeds of up to 180 mph. The teams got away with that one. In the interests of safety, we can only hope that a practical solution is found to ensure that Pirelli's recommendations are enforced in future. Lives, we must not forget, are at stake. 14 GPWEEK.com // 14 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION the fia BooBed on this one