OCTOBER 18, 1999
A mess in Malaysia
MIKA HAKKINEN is the 1999 Formula 1 World Champion - at least on paper. Eddie Irvine and Michael Schumacher finished 1-2 for Ferrari in the Malaysian Grand Prix, putting Irvine into the lead in the Drivers' World Championship and giving the Italians a good lead in the Constructors' title. After the race however the scrutineers found that the Ferraris did not conform to the technical regulations and the FIA Stewards ruled that both should be excluded. Hakkinen was given the win and is the champion. The decision has been appealed by Ferrari and the FIA is expected to announce that there will be an appeals court of some form in Paris, probably at the start of next week so that the issue can be settled before the contenders go to Suzuka for the Japanese GP on October 31
The problem for Ferrari was that the cars infringed a rule which states that when viewed from below nothing must be visible except the rear view mirrors unless it is parallel to the flat bottom of the car, or the underbody "plank". Ferrari has been using air deflectors which curl slightly at the top and this means that they protrude 10mm on either side of the car. In theory they should have what are called shadow plates on the underside of the deflectors but, for some reason, this was not done. The FIA Formula 1 Technical Delegate Jo Bauer spotted the problem and reported it to the three stewards of the meeting.
Ferrari's decision to appeal suggests that the team thinks it has a suitable explanation to impress the FIA and we expect that the team will argue that there was a mistake in the production process and that the curved air deflectors do not give any performance advantage. The most likely tactic would be for Ferrari to throw itself at the mercy of the court which would give the FIA the opportunity to come up with a punishment which will leave the World Championship open at Suzuka.
It is worth pointing out that there was no major celebrating going on at McLaren in Malaysia as the team is expecting to discover that the battle is not over yet...
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