Theissen: Level playing field needed

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Mario Theissen
Dr. Mario has suggested that change is sometimes a good thing. The predictable Ferrari and McLaren battles are now relegated to midfield while Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota are now on at the sharp end of competition. But the changes are only good if all teams are playing from a level field.

Conventional wisdom in F1 is that the best engineered car will have an advantage and this year seems to be no exception. Or is it? The controversial Double-Decker diffuser has prompted serious opposition all of which was proffered today at the ICA hearing on the matter.

“It is good to have fresh people, fresh teams [up there], and good to have a different picture from time to time – I would just wish that everybody plays on the same playing ground,” said Theissen. “We need a level playing field as soon as possible.

“An F1 car is the most complex sports tool you can think of, so it is unavoidable that there are grey areas here and there.

“You cannot frame such a complex technical tool in words, but if it pops up like now, you have to react quickly and get it under control and come to a common view.”

The world hangs on the decision which is supposed to come on Wednesday. The decision is crucial for Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams (teams using the design) as they could potentially have their current results impacted leaving Jenson Button with only one win in his career instead of three. It seems unlikely to me that they would choose to erase the previous results but then again, stranger things have happened in F1. It also seems unlikely to me that they will deem the design illegal as the diffuser design has had a large impact on the performance of the smaller teams allowing them to leapfrog over the much larger teams like McLaren and Ferrari. But is it just the diffuser? Red Bull seems to be able to hang on the back of the Brawn’s even without the diffuser and one could argue that the diffuser isn’t worth the 7/10’s that seems to be separating the haves and have nots. The argument may be the technical design and exploitation of the regulations but the true test will be how much gain will BMW, Ferrari and McLaren have if they fit their cars with the diffuser kit.

The exploitation of the regulations have provided the smaller teams an opportunity that is an advantage but just how much advantage remains to be seen. Conjecture runs amok on both sides of the issue but in the end, Max has created a regulations debacle of which the FIA notoriously remains vague about given them ultimately flexibility to “clarify” the issue in context with the current affair or moment. The 2009 regulations are already being hailed as a master stroke of Max’s Technical Working Group and a raving success for a thrill-packed season.

My opinion? Smoke and mirrors. I have followed this sport a long time now and know all to well that these types of drastic changes by the FIA usually end in increased costs, no reduction of speed and no increase in overtaking. I can be accused of being blind as overtaking is perceived by “professional” F1 reporters as significantly increased this year. They have attributed it to KERS and the 2009 regulation changes. I am not sure I am sold yet. I truly hope I eat crow on this as I would like to see the changes become beneficial to the sport but pardon me if I am wary of the FIA’s meddling with regulations.

Prediction? My hunch is the diffuser will be deemed legal because the small teams are leading the championship and it will take time to get up to speed for the big teams to adapt to the new diffuser. This is exactly what Max wanted barring a reversed grid rule. Keeping Ferrari and McLaren out of the lead and giving smaller, less resource-laden teams on their back foot. He can blow his own horn about how great his idea was and champion the small budget teams as being capable of delivering exciting racing without the overhead of a McLaren or Ferrari. Well played Max.

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