JANUARY 20, 2002

Cheating and accusations - as bad as each other

The one thing that Formula 1 does not need right now is cheating - or allegations that cheating is going on. Both are as damaging as the other.

THE one thing that Formula 1 does not need right now is cheating - or allegations that cheating is going on. Both are as damaging as the other. The latest suggestions of rule-bending come from McLaren boss Ron Dennis, who is never slow to level such accusations against opposition teams.

Dennis told F1 reporters in Spain that there is "a difference of opinion at the moment about one particular interpretation" of the rules. Dennis says that he thinks that this is outside the rules. This is his opinion but clearly the FIA does not agree as if it did believe that the rules were being broken it would take stops to ensure that this did not happen.

Dennis is always the first to level attacks against the opposition and often in the past these have been warranted as one team in particular (which obviously cannot be named) is peopled by a number of engineers who in the past have shown scant regard for the rules. They argue that they are not cheating but rather finding creative ways to circumvent the regulations. This is the famous cry of the F1 cheat but nowadays only an incredibly stupid team boss would risk getting caught blatantly cheating. Most err on the side of caution just to make sure.

The problems were at their worst over the question of software which became so complex that in the end the FIA was forced to throw the rules open.

Now it seems the spectre of cheating is back again - and that is terrible news for F1. The last year was a great deal more pleasant than in other seasons when accusations poisoned the atmosphere in the paddock.

Cheating is not something that can be condoned but because of the commercial pressures that exist in the sport and the fact that some of the players are less principled than others there is little that can be can be done to argue that the perpetrators are only cheating themselves. This does not seem to bother them.

The onus must be on the rulemakers to create a set of regulations which do not allow loopholes and while everyone is keen to blame the FIA it must be remembered that nowadays the technical rules of F1 are largely made by the F1 designers. So if the teams want to stop rule-bending (or cheating, depending on how you look at it) they must learn to write more precise regulations.

Having said that the rules are now so tight that designers have to spend a lot of their time liaising with the FIA to check what is legal and what is not legal. The problem with the current system is that the FIA engineers can only give opinions not hard decisions and these have been known to change over a period of time or depending on what words are used by the team asking the question. A great deal of time is wasted in the interpretation of words rather than the spirit of the rules and this is whether there is a moral issue as different teams have different beliefs of what is right or wrong.

The only obvious solution to the problem is for the FIA to adopt a more rigid line on what can and cannot happen. The best way to do this would be for the FIA to constitute a "Technical Recognition Board" of a number of retired F1 designers who can judge what is right and what is wrong so that there are no "grey areas".

Team bosses also need to understand that they have a responsibility to the sport to try to solve the problems out of the public eye rather than turning every accusation into a media circus. The major problem is that some of the team bosses tend towards being paranoid and the FIA finds this highly annoying. Getting the two groups to act together and ensure that rule-bending is not allowed is not an easy task because of all the problems in the past.

There is no doubt that some engineers are bending the rules but the issue is as much about the personalities within the sport as it is about actual cheating.

One way or another, it is probably inevitable in a sport where every tenth of a second is important.

Sadly human beings are by nature flawed...

A "Technical Recognition Board" is one answer with their findings being made public. This would mean that anyone trying to bend the rules would have to do so in a furtive manner and that would make real cheating easier to identify.