JULY 31, 2006
Mass dampers to return
The question of mass dampers is in the spotlight this week after the appallingly poor showing of the Renault team in Hockenheim. Much of this loss of performance has to be put down to the decision not to run mass dampers as the team could not blame Michelin tyres for the performance as both McLaren and Honda used the Michelins to good effect. The debate over the mass dampers is a bizarre one as the FIA has known about them and accepted them since last autumn but has only recently decided to ban them by reinterpreting the regulations. The Renault team forced the issue by presenting a car for scrutineering and the FIA Stewards came out with a very well-reasoned decision which indicated that they felt the dampers were fine. There are worries that teams will develop such things for next year and that these could be considerably more elaborate than the current systems because if the FIA accepts a vertical mass damper as being legal, it is very hard to argue against a horizontal or longitudinal unit and we believe that some teams have been studying much bigger systems for 2007.
The FIA says that it will appeal the stewards decision but there has not yet been any official confirmation that an appeal has been lodged, although this must be done within two days of the decision of the stewards. The International Court of Appeal is unlikely to sit before August 22 and could be delayed even more than that and so there was no way that Renault could quickly get a definitive answer on the mass dampers, which meant that the team had to err on the side of caution lest the devices are found to be illegal, which could lead to a retrospective loss of points. Obviously some of the other teams argue that if the system is illegal now, it should have been illegal all season and that Renault should lose some of the points it has accrued this year. However, the FIA is clearly aware that it has stirred up a problem with the new ruling as FIA Race Director has now written to the teams saying that the FIA would ask the court not to penalize any team who had used them in races that took place before the hearing. This guarantees nothing but so bad was the performance of the cars at Hockenheim that Renault has to take the risk and run the cars with the dampers because otherwise it is going to lose the World Championship on the race track. This at least will enable the team to fight for points and then argue the case later. It does not, however, make up for the points that the team could have scored at Hockenheim.
All things considered, the FIA decision to redefine its own rules has created a mess, disrupted the World Championship and shown that the federation needs to have a serious look at its own rule book so that teams know where they stand.
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