• Australian GP

Red Bull ... saint or sinner?

Martin Williamson March 17, 2014
Red Bull - innocent victims of the stewards or caught try it on? © Getty Images

It took the stewards more than five hours to announce the disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo but the technical debate over fuel flow regulations is likely to rumble on for some time yet. An appeal has followed the late-night decision and more experts and better lawyers are likely to be thrown at the dispute from both sides.

At the heart of the row is a tiny sensor supplied by the FIA to monitor fuel flow. Put simply, the greater the flow, the more power to the engine.

The authorities insist the team was made aware several times that it was playing with fire and breaking the rules; Red Bull counter that the device was faulty and that it did nothing wrong. It is a defence built on shaky ground. A technical directive issued at the start of the month makes clear only the FIA and not teams can make a call to use alternative measures.

Christian Horner's comments also seem to be based around one simple argument; Red Bull did not trust the technology. "We believed in our readings, otherwise we faced a situation where we would have been reducing significant amounts of power into the engine when we believed we fully complied with the regulations. It's immature technology, so it's impossible to rely 100% on that sensor which has proven to be problematic in almost every session we have run in. So it's surprising this stance has been taken."

Race director Charlie Whiting was clear and unsympathetic. "We advised them twice after qualifying and five laps into the race to take the necessary steps to comply with the regulations. They chose to use their own calculations to show they complied. If they had followed the advice we gave them at the time, we would not have had a problem and they would not have been penalised.

"If their sensor was kaput, then things would have been different. It is a human thing because they have the ability to do what was needed to comply." All the other teams in the race used what they had been given and got on with it.

A fair amount of the feedback we received was sympathetic to Red Bull and critical of the stewards for throwing out Ricciardo over what was seen as a minor infringement. But it is not that simple.

Red Bull is a multi-million dollar operation with a bank of very clever technicians. It knew what it was doing when it decided to ignore the rules and the warnings. Perhaps it genuinely believed it knew better than the FIA and that the system was flawed. Perhaps it was desperately looking to remedy a dismal pre-season and thought it might just get away with it.

There is a fear that the raft of technical changes and the even greater complexity of the cars means this kind of post-race confusion may be more common in the opening races. If so, then the FIA needs to come up with a quicker means of reaching a decision and to try to explain as much as it can in laymen's terms when speaking to the majority of F1 followers who are not welded to in-depth technical detail.

Either way, the whole affair has left a bad taste in the mouth and once more Formula One is making headlines for the wrong reasons.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo