FEBRUARY 1, 1999

Is the Benetton B199 legal?

THERE are likely to be battles this year over the legality of the new Benetton-Playlife B199. Despite disappointing performances to date in testing, the new car features an unusual "Front Torque Transfer" system which, rival designers say, is illegal. Benetton says that the system has been developed in constant dialogue with the FIA Technical Department and that the governing body says that the system is acceptable as it is. This, however, is no guarantee judging by what happened last year. In Brazil several teams protested McLaren's system of brake-steer which had been cleared by the FIA Technical Department. The FIA stewards decided that the system was illegal and overruled the technicians - setting a curious precedent by doing so.

As a result it seems that Benetton's system will not be officially legal until it has been challenged - which means that we are likely to see a fight when the F1 circus arrives in Melbourne. This is inevitable as the current F1 regulations are open to a variety of different interpretations and the decision of the FIA Technical Department cannot be taken as definitive.