AUGUST 31, 2003
It is not a new rule!
Most of the reports about the FIA letter to the teams last week warning about the contact patch of the front tires have implied that there is a new regulation involved. Changing the rules in F1 these days is not that easy. The fact that the measuring technique may be altered is something which can, if necessary, be challenged by the teams involved if they choose to do so, particularly in the light of the fact that Michelin claims to have a document which indicates that "our front tire profile has been deemed 'to comply with the F1 Regulations' in writing by the FIA. The controls have been made on new tires, which confirms the interpretation of article 77)c)."
In addition to this Michelin has made a very valid point that there is nothing that can be done to change the situation unless the FIA makes it known what procedures will be employed to measure the width of the contact patch.
The FIA has made no indication at all as to how this will be done.
"We can expect some difficulties in the definition," a Michelin statement said, "since a tire in its use can be in systematic contact with various 'objects', for example kerbs, which, according to their profile and position, can touch up as far as the middle of the side walls.".
This is a very valid point.
It is the duty of the FIA to react to any complaints it receives and that appears to be the motivation in this case. The fact that the federation issued a warning to the teams suggests that the FIA felt it was necessary to do something (ignoring a complaint from a major competitor would simply stir up more trouble) but this does not mean that there is a workable solution to the issue of how to measure the contact patch. That will have to be decided by the FIA stewards at Monza if the scrutineers decide to refer the matter to them. And if those involved are not happy with the decisions of the stewards then the whole matter will have to be referred to the FIA International Court of Appeal for a final decision.
While this decision-making structure is in existence it is not perhaps the best way to solve complicated technical issues and the conclusion one reaches is that the FIA needs to tighten up its rules and regulations to avoid such problems arising.
The complaint itself is rather suspect in that the tires being used by Michelin are the same as they have been for most of this season and if there was a question about their legality it should (and would) have been addressed much earlier than now. The fact that Michelin has been more intelligent in its interpretation of the regulations than its rival is not something that should be punished to appease a powerful team which is now struggling. The fact that Michelin claims to have clearance from the FIA suggests that the French tire company has played everything by the book in which case the federation should stand by its earlier decision and not play around with the measuring techniques at a critical point in the World Championship.
However, it should also be taken into account that the complaint could simply be a device aimed at diverting the attention of the Michelin teams from the important matters in hand and that whoever made that complaint hopes to "chance" a different interpretation while at the same time disrupt its opposition.
Such are the games of F1 these days.
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