Timeline: Ferrari's power unit problems and FIA investigation

F1

An almost year-long debate has raged on over the legality of Ferrari's power unit, and fresh statements from the FIA has only added fuel to the fire

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The controversy surrounding Ferrari’s power unit and whether it was legal or not has been an ongoing theme for well over a year now.

Rivals have been sceptical over the legality of the Italian team’s power unit and how it was operated since as early as the first quarter of the 2018 season, though recent revelations have thrown the topic into chaos.

A statement released by the FIA, Formula 1’s governing body, admitted that while it reached an agreement with Ferrari that has so-far remained private, it was not fully satisfied that the engine was operated legally.

With seven of the 10 F1 teams threatening legal action against the FIA over the scandal, here is a look back at the journey that led the sport to its current predicament.

 

May 2018, Rise in performance arouses suspicion

While inquiries throughout 2019 centred around the trickery of fuel flow sensors, initial speculation focused in on the possibility of Ferrari running a dual-battery set-up that would circumvent FIA measurements.

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Following the rise in performance of Ferrari during the initial stages of the 2018 season, rivals Mercedes and Red Bull began to speculate as to illegal methods of boosting power unit performance, and ideas started to form on how the Italian team might be doing so.

By Monaco of 2018, conjecture from rival teams had reached a point where the FIA allegedly fitted an extra sensor to the supposed second battery on the Ferrari car to monitor energy output, yet race director Charlie Whiting categorically denied the team was utilising such a solution at the time.

Later in the season, Whiting also moved to deny theories that Ferrari’s loss of performance was due to a second sensor being fitted to the theorised second battery.

Though ideas relating to a second battery allowing the Scuderia to bypass energy limits wouldn’t fade away, the exact methods in which they were able to do so only evolved from this point on.

 

 

June 2019, Ferrari power attracts attention from rivals

As early as the Canadian Grand Prix of 2019, rival teams began to question the level of power Ferrari could achieve with its power unit once more.

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Ahead of the race in Montreal, Renault admitted it was surprised with the level of performance achieved by the Italian manufacturer, and initial speculation centred around the operation of the battery unit of the SF90.

The team failed to score a race victory until after the summer break, though this only fuelled speculation, given the performance contrast after the summer break

 

 

September 2019, Back-to-back victories arouse further suspicion

Charles Leclerc recorded the first and second race wins of his career at Spa and Monza and the first of the season for Ferrari, ahead of both championship-leading Mercedes cars.

The performance of the upgraded Ferrari, particularly in a straight line, attracted serious attention from rival teams.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff suggested that while the other three power unit manufacturers were operating within a competitive spectrum, the performance of the Ferrari unit was by far exceeding the rest and was up to 50hp ahead.

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It was around these two races that the suggestion of battery trickery picked up momentum, with speculation based around the kilowatt allowances being exceeded in the search for boosted performance.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner also revealed at the Belgian Grand Prix weekend that his team had submitted queries to the FIA over the operation of Ferrari’s engine though was yet to receive an answer from the governing body.

 

 

November 2019, The Prancing Horse is halted

Ahead of the United States Grand Prix, the FIA issued a technical directive that indicated any subversive tactics centred around the tricking of the fuel sensor was illegal.

Passing of electrical current through the FIA-mandated fuel sensors would theoretically allow for excess fuel to be used and hand an advantage in terms of engine performance.

Having achieved the best results through the speed traps compared to its rivals at top-end speed, all of a sudden, the straight-line pace had vanished and served to bolster theories centred around the exploit.

Max Verstappen suggested that the clipping of Ferrari wings was “not strange” and expected “when you stop cheating.”

While Leclerc and his team fired back in the media, a retirement and distant fourth place on-track in Texas only heightened suspicions.

 

 

December 2019, Sting in the tail

Before the Formula 1 paddock could reconvene in the United Arab Emirates for the final race of the season, the FIA announced it had seized the Ferrari power unit and would be conducting analysis on the engine.

With many already convinced the Italian team had been cheating throughout the season, the announcement that a fuel weight discrepancy had been discovered on Leclerc’s car before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix set tongues wagging.

The Monégasque driver kept his third-place finish eventually, though the team was fined €50,000 for the infraction.

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That might have been the end of it from the FIA’s side, but rivals were far from convinced.

Post-season, Ferrari maintained that it had operated fully within the regulations throughout 2019, with Mattia Binotto explaining at a team event post-season the team was fully within the rules.

“We have never changed our way of operating the engine for the last part of the season, showing that our power unit is fully legal.”

 

February 2020, Article IV (ii) 

With the dust seemingly settled over the entire saga and winter testing for the 2020 season approaching the final half an hour ahead of round one, the FIA dropped a bombshell in the form of a statement addressing the situation.

A settlement was reached between the governing body and Scuderia Ferrari team relating to the running of its power unit last season, but the details of the agreement would be kept confidential, much to the dismay of rival teams.

Several days later, a joint statement from all of the non-Ferrari affiliated teams threatened legal action against the FIA over the confidential arrangement, objecting to the lack of transparency.

A day later, the governing body responded with its own statement, admitting that while it felt it was well within its legal rights to reach a confidential settlement, it was not fully comfortable with the manner in which Ferrari operated its power unit in 2019.

It added that in accordance with Article Four (ii) of its Judicial and Disciplinary Rules, such an agreement was well within legal bounds.

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