AUGUST 29, 2003
Trouble coming over tires
The FIA has sent the Formula 1 teams a letter warning them that it has been brought to the federation's attention that some cars may be running with front tires which have a tread width of more than the 270mm limit which is laid down in the FIA Sporting Regulations. This is a matter of interpretation as it depends on what one considers "the tread width" to be. It is no secret that Michelin has tires which are different in design than those of Bridgestones and it seems that there are allegations that some of the shoulder of these tires is deforming and acting as tread at high speeds when the tires are loaded. There are claims that this may increase the tread width to 280mm or more which, according to some sources, could result in "a very significant competitive advantage" for the teams using these tires.
The problem is in the definition of "tread width" and how one can measure it.
When measured at rest, all the tires in F1 at the moment comply with the tread width regulation, but if the tires flatten out as is claimed the contact patch may increase. The first issue therefore is to define "tread width" and how it should be measured in the future. It is possible that the FIA scrutineers could decide that they will measure any area of the tire that appears to have been in contact with the road, rather than what is in contact with the road when the cars are at rest. Having said that it is very hard for scrutineers to prove that this is happening systematically and that any scuffing of the tires was not caused by running over curbs.
In fact the FIA traditionally does not feel the need to prove anything, turning the question around and asking the teams to prove that they are not doing what is being claimed.
FIA sources say that the federation is simply reacting to information that has been brought to its attention and playing the role of referee and giving teams a warning, before the Monza test and before the Italian GP, that there is the potential for a problem at Monza.
If there is a protest at Monza it will be decided upon by the FIA Stewards. If the teams involved are not happy with their decision the matter could then be referred to the FIA International Court of Appeal for a final judgement.
With the World Championship so finely balanced at the moment, it would be a shame if the season was ruined by discord over tires, but clearly there are teams on both sides of the argument that feel very strongly about the issue. There is talk of legal action if decisions go the wrong way but legal action against the FIA has rarely worked in the past and since the FIA's role was more clearly defined by the European Commission a couple of years ago, any legal action is less likely to be successful than used to be the case.
However, upsetting the apple cart of tire regulations could open a can of worms for Formula 1 as there are questions as to other things which may or may not be happening, notably teams running different compounds at the front and at the rear of their cars, which is illegal.
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