Diffusers dominate build-up to first practice 27 Mar 2009
Protests over the diffusers on the Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars kept many people out of their beds until the early hours last night, as Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull sought clarity over the technical regulations. It was not until 00.45 on Friday morning, Australian time, that the stewards declared all three teams cars to be legal ahead of the first practice sessions later today.
All three rival teams lodged official protests, while a similar one from BMW Sauber was rejected because they did not complete the paperwork on time.
The race stewards - Radovan Novak, Olafur Gudmundsson and Steve Chopping - started three separate hearings around 7pm local time, investigating each protest on its own merits. All three were made pursuant to Article 171 Chapter XII of the 2009 International Sporting Code.
Basically, the protesters believe that the diffusers on the Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars exploit a loophole in the regulations to extend the diffuser higher than they believe to be acceptable under the regulations.
Toyota president John Howett was confident that the designs would be deemed legal.
"As far as I know in motor racing anyone is allowed to protest and I don't have an issue with that," he said. "It is in the sporting regulations, it is in the main regulations and as far as we are concerned we have studied the regulations in detail and we are very confident that we have interpreted them correctly.
"We've used the consultation process with the FIA technical department and we are satisfied that they have verified our interpretation. Now we wait to see what the stewards or subsequent court may decide."
When the Williams FW31 was launched in January, Williams technical director Sam Michael said: To be honest we were surprised that it even turned into an issue because for us it was very clearly inside the regulations.
"It was something that in various forms teams have been doing for two years, so it wasn't really a big issue for us or the FIA. So it was something that we clarified with the FIA well over a year ago.
"There wasn't really any confusion from our side, although there appeared to be some confusion from the other teams, but I don't know on what basis that was.
"During the development, to be quite honest, we thought everyone would do it. It wasn't something that we really thought was trick. It was a previous interpretation of the new regulations.
Toyota welcomed the stewards decision and said in a statement: Toyota Motorsport have studied the wording of the new 2009 regulations in precise detail to ensure that we have interpreted them correctly.
Toyota Motorsport Chairman Tadashi Yamashina said: We are pleased with the decision of the race stewards but we prefer not to comment further on the situation. This weekend promises to be a tremendously exciting Australian Grand Prix so we are now looking forward to starting the competition on track with the first practice sessions on Friday."
Williams also issued a brief statement, in which Michael said: We are pleased with the stewards decision and have no further comment to make.
Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull have confirmed that they will now go to the FIA Court of Appeal, which cannot convene until next weekends Malaysian Grand Prix has been run. Thus the outcome of the opening two races could be in doubt.
Shortly before this political drama unfolded, Lewis Hamilton found himself having to backtrack on comments attributed to him to the effect that he might consider a change of teams.
After he had been quoted as saying: "I haven't had offers from other teams, and I am not talking to anyone. But I would listen to an offer if someone asked. It would be a compliment, and it would be silly if I did not," he clarified the situation.
"I'm happy where I am, he said. It doesn't really have any grounds. All I said was that it's quite cool if you find out other teams are interested in you. It's good to know you are wanted.
"I honestly want to see out my career with McLaren. I do feel it's my family, it's where I am right now and it's where I'm happy."
Felipe Massa made everyone laugh in the press conference when he was asked how he felt about suggestions of Hamilton joining him at Ferrari.
I drove alongside Michael and Kimi, and I heard for many years already that Fernando will come, he said with a chuckle. So Lewis is just another one! Valentino Rossi as well! Maybe my father will drive for Ferrari next year. We dont know!