The FIA’s zero-tolerance decision to ban BAR for bending the rules must be good for F1
The sight of the BAR-Honda trucks pulling out of the Barcelona paddock on the Saturday of the Spanish Grand Prix weekend was an extraordinary one — at least for anyone not around in the days of oversubscribed entries when teams faced non-qualification and regularly had to pack up early.
The two-race ban was a clear sign that the FIA will display zero tolerance when it catches those transgressing the rules. The team’s case rested on the claim that the Formula One regulations don’t expressly say that weight is recorded with all the fuel pumped out after the race. That is true, but it is the form of policing accepted by everyone else in the paddock, and it has been since refuelling returned in 1994.
The team may continue to protest its innocence, but this was not a case of an aero part being found to be a millimetre or two out of true, or a complex, airy-fairy software issue. Fuel weight is absolutely fundamental to the way modern grand prix racing works, and BAR had been gaining an advantage by running to its own rules.
The sums were pretty straightforward. Even if, as the team maintains, the cars never actually ran below the magic 600kg, they would still have been lighter than rivals in qualifying and until the pitstops, giving a clear lap-time advantage of perhaps 0.2-0.3sec. Or to put it another way, for a given starting weight they could run two or three laps further to the first stop.
The revelations certainly made a few people think about last year. How many races were there in which a BAR benefited from this strategy to gain a spot or two on the grid, or overtook someone by staying out a lap longer? Sadly Jenson Button’s brilliant 2004 season has, to some degree, been tarnished.
At the end of the day the finer points disputed in the Paris hearing by the FIA and BAR’s hotshot lawyer were almost irrelevant. In everyday life the accused is judged by his peers, and what really mattered was what the other teams thought about BAR’s claims. Rival technical directors were angry that they had been fighting an unfair contest, gobsmacked that the team thought it could get away with its strategy and extremely happy that justice had been seen to be done. Nobody came out and said, ‘I wish we’d thought of that…’
Of course it’s easy for cynics to suggest that others had done exactly that, and indeed since 1994 there could well have been cases which went undetected. But BAR was caught and has to pay the price. If it means we now have a more level playing field — and that others think twice about pushing the envelope in the future — then that can only be a good thing.