F1 Opinion: A Rant on Diffusers, Rules, and “Fairness”

What Happens When F1 Travels and News Slows

12:38am EST — With little news coming out of the F1 community in an off week, the following is a re-publishing of my weekly opinion column at Formula1Blog, as published Sunday.

Nearly a week ago, I wrote an article here at F1B, detailing the 2010 version of the diffuser debacle.  Days later, SJ wrote this article about the FIA response.  To make a long story short, it had come to the attention of the FIA that four teams (namely McLaren, Mercedes,  Force India, and Renault) had used the loophole in Article 3.12.7 of the technical regulations stating that “a single break in the surface [of the diffuser] is permitted solely to allow the minimum required access for the” starter motor.  Since the regulations did not make any specifications regarding said hole, those teams made interestingly shaped starter motors that required a hole or holes in the diffuser that gave advantage to those teams.  The FIA, having found that these innovative holes broke the spirit of the rules (fairness in racing, et al), have sent a note clarifying the previously mentioned Article and informing the above-mentioned teams that they have to make changes in order to race next weekend in Melbourne.

I began the following rant in my article when the first mention of the FIA’s investigation into these diffusers was noted:

This sort of thing is what tends to make my blood boil about rules in F1.  Perhaps I am out of the ordinary, but isn’t the point of F1 that it isn’t fair?  Aren’t special, clever technicians who exploit the loopholes in the rules the ones who are most feted?  It seems to be the wisest course of action to improve the car performance, and just maybe the show, to not “clarify” or change the rules to make things more fair, but to allow these men and women to design every sneaky but legal thing they can for the fast cars they build.
In fact, the article says “there is some unease about teams utilising [sic] start motor holes to make their diffusers more effective.”  Isn’t a more effective diffuser the idea?  Imagine that one guy at Ferrari last season, standing around the factory, asking the other designers and technicians, “what do you think? Build a less effective diffuser this year?”  He’s not working at Maranello this season.  Still, it appears as though another clarification of the technical regulations is in order.

I will now continue, since the FIA has so very nicely quashed all my arguments with it’s clarification and closing of loopholes.  Obviously, we want to see close racing, and the more similar the cars (the more “fair” the rules) make for closer racing.  Still, isn’t Formula1 marketed as the pinnacle of motor racing, design, and technology?  Shouldn’t the clever designers be allowed to continue with their clever design?  Of course, as SJ correctly notes in his article, regarding the Autosport article that informed us all that the design had to be changed, ” ‘This concept was pioneered by Brawn GP in 2009.’ Is it just me (or really Todd’s influence on me), but does that last sentence drip with sarcasm? I feel like there are bright blinking lights reading: ‘Yep! They shoulda done this last year!’ “  So, is this a response to the hoopla around the 2009 championship-winning Brawn?

Finally, in my rant about how closing the loopholes is precisely what the FIA shouldn’t be doing, I wonder if those in change noticed the dichotomy of their decision.  The named teams who were using the loophole to advantage (a reminder: McLaren, Mercedes, Force India, and Renault) weren’t actually gaining all that much of an advantage.  Did any of those four teams run away with the GP of Bahrain?  No.  They finished the race as high as third (Lewis Hamilton, who was gifted third after Sebastian Vettel’s spark plug problems dropped him to fourth) and as low as twelfth (Adrian Sutil) of seventeen finishers.  If the spirit of the rules were fairness, wouldn’t it be more fair to these just-about-mid-pack teams to allow them to use their clever designs in order to attempt to catch up to the, for now, better-running teams?  The FIA just allowed Renault to modify some parts of their engine to make things more fair, as the engine freeze froze their engine at a disadvantage, according to Christian Horner.  Wouldn’t the ensuing design war utilizing all the loopholes make for more interesting racing, if the winner changed around each race or two?  and, if the idea truly is fairness instead of clever technological advantage, allowing these teams to use their clever technological advantage to gain position in comparison to those teams who didn’t use it but are still racing faster would make the racing closer and more fair, no?  Or, am I either too logical or too illogical for the FIA rules?


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