APRIL 26, 2005

The meaning of the word "underweight"

There has been a lot of rubbish written in the last 24 hours about cheating in Formula 1. There is no question that there are some people in the F1 paddock who operate on a different set of rules than others. There are teams where if the rules says that something must be 50mm thick, allowing for tolerances, it is built to be 48mm thick because they know that later they can argue about tolerance. Outright cheating is rare because the flow of information in F1 is such that secret fuel tanks would not remain secret for long. The only way to keep secrets in Grand Prix racing is to ensure that the minimum possible number of people know. That is easier to do in the world of software but it is not easy when you are talking about big components.

The most important point to make is that all the talk of extra fuel tanks and quoting Article 6.1.1 of the F1 technical regulations is naive at best. If there had been extra fuel tanks outside the "single rubber bladder" the FIA Stewards are very unlikely to have decided that the BAR was legal. The FIA Stewards may make mistakes from time to time but they are not complete fools and they do not want to put themselves into a situation which means that they will not get the chance to enjoy being FIA stewards again.

If there are extra fuel tanks, therefore, they must be inside the main tank (and thus surrounded by the single rubber bladder). There is nothing in the FIA rules which have been published (although there are constant clarifications being issued to the teams which are not made public) that says that teams cannot have tanks within tanks within tanks. If engine designers feel this is necessary to ensure a proper flow of fuel to the engine then there is nothing that stops the team doing this. Nor is there any reason why this information would be imparted to the FIA. The rules state that "should a competitor feel that any aspect of these regulations is unclear, clarification may be sought from the FIA Formula 1 Technical Department. If clarification relates to any new design or system, correspondence must include: a full description of the design or system and drawings or schematics where appropriate". This does not mean that if the FIA has seen drawings of a system and finds out later that a system is different that the team has been cheating. It simply means that the team did not feel the need to ask for a clarification about a modification because it believed the rules to be clear enough.

Thus the discovery of something the FIA does not know about is not necessarily an infraction of the rules.

The important question is whether or not the team complies with Article 2.4 of the Technical Regulations which states that "automobiles must comply with these regulations in their entirety at all times during an event". The question of fluids in a car is a difficult one and, given the levels of competitiveness these days, everyone is pushing to the limit. The BAR was weighed at the end of the race and apparently weighed 606.1kg. The car was weighed after qualifying and so the FIA will have known the weight at the start of the race and there will be fuel consumption data. There is data from the refuelling machines which will indicate how much fuel was put aboard at the pit stop and so calclulation can reveal the weight of the car on every lap of the race. If these numbers are all above 600kg there is not a problem. Logic says that this was the case on Sunday as the FIA Stewards ruled that the car was legal.

So how was it that the car apparently weighed in at 594.6kg after the race. For a start, one must consider the cooling-down lap. The F1 cars use fuel during that lap and the definition of "an event" in the FIA Technical Regulations is "official practice and the race". This does not include the slowing down lap because it happens after the race is over. So it is possible that a car could be underweight in the scrutineering bay because it has used that extra fuel. The other point that will, no doubt, be made is that the car cannot be illegal when it weighs 594.6kg because it cannot run without fuel onboard. If a car cannot run in that configuration, how can it be illegal?

Article 2.6 of the Technical Regulations states that "it is the duty of each competitor to satisfy the FIA technical delegate and the Stewards of the Meeting that his automobile complies with these regulations in their entirety at all times during an event". The fact that the stewards at Imola accepted that the car was not illegal is an indication that BAR must have done that.

Thus it may end up being a question of whether or not BAR has been clever enough to have found a loophole in the rules.

The other question which is fascinating is whether the other teams are doing the same thing.