Shanghai is the next stop on the world circus, and yet with only two flyaway races left before the European leg begins, the entire F1 world is overshadowed by imminent decisions from the World Motorsport Council.
First up is the diffuser row to be settled by the WMSC tomorrow. Brawn, Toyota and Williams are running a double decker diffuser design which meets the letter of the regulations, but they somewhat defy the intent. While the other teams charge that these diffusers are illegal, Max Mosely rendered his opinion on the matter before the season saying that they were a novel idea. Even though it was well known that there were diametrically opposed designs, the FIA chose not to clarify the situation before the season began. Ross Brawn even suggested that the regulations be tightened up over a year ago, but the teams decided that they were fine as they were.
It is clear that the diffuser teams have an aerodynamic advantage on the track, since they generate more downforce on the car in a season when the FIA regulated that downforce be reduced by 50%. It is rumored that several of these teams have already started development on their own diffusers, while Ferrari has made claims that they will have to invest of 30 million dollars to implement their own design.
Judging by past opinions from the WMSC, the teams face a variety of possible judgments ranging from exclusion of race results for the first two GP’s to banning of the future use of the diffusers. Also possible is the FIA deciding that the diffusers are a correct interpretation of the rules. Whatever happens tomorrow, a substantial portion of the grid will likely be very upset. Whether ruled in favor of the diffuser teams or in favor of the non-diffuser teams, both would face substantial redesign of the rear structure of their cars. With limited (no) testing, this has the potential to decide the championship before the season has truly started.
In a season where cost containment is the rule, it would appear that the FIA’s normal fast and loose rule book open to living interpretations will cost the teams a substantial amount of money. Some have suggested that the FIA is attempting to break up FOTA and they are using this diffuser issue to be the wedge. With so much money at stake in the form of championship points and development dollars, it is clear that FOTA will most likely be unhappy as a body, whatever tomorrows decision.
But, before we rest too easily after tomorrows decision, the current lying scandal between McLaren and the FIA which has already cost Dave Ryan his job has all the potential to cost McLaren another multi-million dollar fine and drivers and constructors championship points. Not to mention the rumored possibility that Lewis Hamilton is tired of being embroiled in McLaren’s scandals and is trying to get excused from the team for their apparent breach of his contract by putting him in such an awkward position. There have even been wild farcical allusions to the possibility of Lewis moving over to Brawn GP, but in an era when testing is limited, the drivers ability to set up their car becomes even more important. And while Lewis certainly possess speed, setup is not a talent he is blessed with. Consider Brawn a pipe dream for him at this point.
Again, we can only theorize what McLaren’s punishment will be, but given the severity of their last round with the FIA and the warnings they received about future conduct, I would consider it highly unlikely that they will be left in any position to contend for either title this year. But then again, their current level of car development would suggest that they had no real title hopes this year anyway. McLaren have been summoned to the WMSC on April 29th.
While there is a continual backlash from the fans and media alike in support of having the championship decided on the track, this season has already started in a manner that can only leave the world shaking their heads. We are even left with the real possibility that after WMSC proceedings Fernando Alonso and Nick Heidfeld may be tied for the lead in the world championship.