Elf upset with the FIA

Elf and the FIA are in dispute over whether the French state-owned oil company's fuel used by Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard in Brazil is in line with the regulations or not. The matter will be solved when the FIA International Court of Appeal meets in Paris on April 13.

Elf is upset because it feels that its 28-year history in F1 is being blackened by the FIA, which threw Schumacher and Coulthard out of the race for using fuel which did not match the fuel it was supposed to.

Elf-Antar's director-general Yves Edern says: "We are not in F1 to cheat. A company like Elf is respectable and respected. No-one has the right to destroy the work of 28 years."

But the FIA says it does not think that Elf was cheating but that the wrong fuel must have been sent to Brazil because fuel tests repeatedly proved that Elf's fuel was not as it should have been.

The problem has arisen because of new regulations introduced this year to enable checks to be completed at each circuit to avoid long delays if there are problems with the fuel. Ironically, this method of checking was first proposed by former Elf boss Alain Guillon in 1993.

The new system calls for fuel suppliers to send samples to the FIA to be analyzed before the racing season begins. From these the FIA produces a chemical "fingerprint" of the fuel and all samples are then supposed to match the "fingerprint."

In order to test at the circuits, the FIA uses a Hewlett-Packard gas chromatograph, which is operated by highly qualified chemists. Tests done on Elf fuel after qualifying on Friday suggested that Coulthard's Williams was running fuel which did not conform. The FIA says that this was ignored because the chemists "did not believe the results," but when a sample from Schumacher's car tested the same on Saturday, the technicians decided to check and recheck the samples. This was not completed until late on Saturday night; and so their report was not read by the stewards until Sunday morning, by which time it was impossible for Elf to replace the fuel it was supplying to its seven teams.

Elf says that its fuel for Brazil was given the green light by the FIA on March 9 and that exactly the same fuel was shipped to Brazil that day.

Elf insists that it did not send the wrong fuel - and this is backed up by the fact that none of the cars had any fuel problems, which is unlikely to have been the case if the fuel was incorrect. However, the FIA disputes the suggestion that its fuel analyses were faulty. This problem is easily solved, because when fuel samples are taken, they are split into three separate cans and sealed. One can is taken away to be analyzed by the FIA, the second is given to the team and the third is kept to be sent to an independent laboratory in case of a dispute. If, as Elf suggests, the FIA analysis in Brazil was faulty, this will show up when the other samples are tested. The results of the various tests will be put before the FIA International Court of Appeal, which will then rule on the matter. The Court of Appeal will meet on April 13 in Paris, France, and can overturn the decision of the Brazilian GP stewards if necessary. If, however, it feels the rules have been broken, it can take firm action against Elf.

The FIA is clearly confident that its analyses are correct and the fact that Ferrari's Agip fuel (in qualifying) and McLaren's Mobil (in the race) were both checked and were found to match the "fingerprint."

The only thing backing up Elf's case is the fact that during the analysis process on Sunday night in Brazil, there was an electrical failure which disrupted the gas chromatograph test, and forced the technicians to begin again.

Elf has never been found guilty of running illegal fuel in F1 racing, but the company has twice been found to have used the wrong fuel in motorcycle events.

If the exclusion of Schumacher and Coulthard is confirmed, incidentally, it will have no effect on Aguri Suzuki's one point for sixth place, despite the fact that his Ligier was using the same Elf fuel as the two excluded drivers.

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