Then and Now – Fuel irregularities and appeals

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With Red Bull formally announcing that they are to appeal to the FIA over Daniel Ricciardo’s exclusion from second place in the opening Grand Prix of the season, it brought to mind other fuel related exclusions. None have been for the same offence, as this is the first year where the fuel flow has been regulated.

In 1984 refuelling was banned, and most of the teams ran with turbo charged engines. Tyrrell were the exception, sticking with the less powerful but cheaper Cosworth DFV. In order to try and remain competitive against the more powerful turbos, Tyrrell had a cunning plan. The minimum weight of the car was only measured at the end of the race, so if they could find a way of adding ballast during the race they could run underweight and remain competitive. Water cooled brakes provided the excuse, with the water tank needing to be topped up before the end of the race, it gave the team the opportunity to add the necessary weight before the end of the race.

Despite the driver’s (Martin Brundle) innocent questions about why they couldn’t simply make the water tank a little bigger so that they wouldn’t need to pit a few laps from home, the team continued with this design. The team were adding lead ballast along with the water so that the tanks could carry the required weight in a smaller volume.

Whether any water actually was used to cool the brakes is debateable, the tank was there just to enable the cars to run underweight. Interestingly they were excluded not for running underweight, but because traces of hydrocarbons were found in the water, and therefore the charge as that the team was refuelling the car. The hydrocarbons got there simply because the team used old fuel drums to store the water / lead mixture before pumping it into the car, these drums had been inadequately cleaned, and small traces of fuel remained. The penalty was banning from the final three races in the 1984 season and exclusion from the results of the entire year.

In 1995 the regulations for fuel were changed. In addition to the chemical make-up of the fuel having to be within certain limits, a sample of the fuel to be used at each race had to be submitted to the FIA in advance of the event. Both Benetton and Williams used Renault engines with Elf as their fuel supplier. The fuel taken to the first race of the season in Brazil by Elf was entirely legal, but it didn’t match the sample previously submitted to the FIA. This lead to the cars of Schumacher and Coulthard (the first and second placed finishers) being excluded from the results. Subsequently the drivers were reinstated after appeal, however the teams did not get their constructors points back as it was deemed to be the teams responsibility to ensure the correct fuel was taken to the event.

By 2005 refuelling was again allowed, BAR aimed to take advantage of this in a similar fashion to Tyrrell had 21 years earlier. The car was built with a ‘reserve’ fuel tank which would remain full of fuel when the main tank was drained after the race for weighing. In this way the car could run some 5.4kg underweight until the final stop for refuelling. The reserve tank was discovered in post-race scrutineering after the San Marino Grand Prix. The penalty was the loss of the ten points scored by the team in that race and exclusion from two further races. The FIA had asked for exclusion from the entire season, so the team could be said to have gotten off lightly.

While none of these events are the same as the offence that Red Bull has been excluded for, it does indicate that at present their punishment is relatively light. Also to bear in mind is what happened to Eddie Irvine when he was banned for a race following being found guilty of causing a three car pile-up taking out Jos Verstappen and Martin Brundle. His team Jordan appealed against the ban, lost and got the ban extended to three races. It is not always wise to take on the FIA unless you are sure of winning. Red Bull may yet regret formally lodging the appeal.

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