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Reader's Comments

The FIA have, from time to time, been mentioned in passing during the course of my scribbling�s for making decisions that were less than totally coherent. Once (well, twice but I�ll get to that) again they are coming up with rulings that defy logic.

The rules state that the Stewards have the right to impose certain penalties for inappropriate (read damn fool or dangerous) behaviour. During the German Grand Prix Ralf decided to try Michael�s usual path off the start line and discovered that driving sideways only works if you have either Michael�s talent or Michael�s luck. He took out both Barrichello and Raikkonen in doing so. The Stewards hit him (quite rightly) with a ten place demotion on the grid at his next start and that should have been the end of the matter.

Williams appealed that penalty and the FIA in their wisdom decided that Ralf was guilty but not really to blame, or something like that - he copped a $50,000 penalty anyway �and overturned the Stewards call. If the FIA Appeals Tribunal is to be believed then the �incident� was really caused by a combination of Barrichello recklessly driving perfectly straight down his racing line and Kimi failing to give up the opportunity to overtake Rubens and therefore not giving him (Rubens) the chance to relinquish his position on the track to Ralf. The message the FIA has sent with this ruling is that it�s OK to meander all over the track and expect others to get out of your way if they don�t want to get squashed. Of course if you do that and it results in your having a prang then you will end up having to pay a fine that probably equals � the petty cash used during an off race weekend. Oh yes, it also means that the Stewards calls are pretty meaningless because (if you�re from a major team) if you don�t like their decisions then you can just appeal.

The Stewards have a hard enough job anyway; decisions like this just make it even harder. The rules are the rules � lets make the guilty live by them too.

Talking of the rules, the latest triumph of the FIA is the debacle surrounding tyre widths on the Michelin shod cars. Charlie Whiting, about the only FIA bod I have any respect for, is between a rock and a hard place. Bridgestone, through Ferrari, have challenged the legality of the Michelin tyres, showing that while the Michelin�s are legal when new they wear into an illegal state something akin to a new rear dragster tyre, giving the teams using them a significant advantage. At the time of writing it is not known what the outcome of this will be � if the Michelin teams run with the same tyres used before the challenge they run the very real risk of disqualification. If they opt for new tyres that are going to stay legal then they run the risk of not being competitive (given the huge impact the tyres have on car set-up and the lack of testing time available to find the best settings). My reading of the rules is unambiguous, front tyres cannot have a tread width exceeding 270 mm � it doesn�t say �when new� or �after x laps� it says that is the width limit. As with the Ralf issue, my stance is that the rules are to be complied with; if the tyres don�t comply then they are illegal. If the rules are dumb, as many of the FIA�s edicts are, then change them, but obey them till you do. End of story. Why though did it take ��s of a season to discover that the tyres didn�t comply?

Jean Todt has received a bucketful of criticism for lodging a complaint, with cries of sour grapes from many sources. If the position had been reversed I assure you Sir Frank and Ron would be tripping over each other to lodge a complaint against Bridgestone (read Ferrari). The FIA scrutineers stuffed up � they should have, but didn�t, picked this up in Australia or Malaysia or �..

Don�t shoot the messenger, Todt was simply highlighting the FIA�s failure and pointing out a breach of the rules. Whether Ferrari now challenges the results of every Michelin point gained so far this season is an unknown. I hope they don�t but I believe they would be entitled to do so.

And so on to Monza. Politics (and there will be plenty of it) aside this is shaping up to be yet another great race. The Ferrari�s seem to be very quick in testing, the McLaren and Renault appear pretty competitive and the BMW is still at the top of the engine tree. If Bibendum can come to the party with a tyre that will pass the scrutineers (now that they have been shown what the tape measure they were given before Australia is for) then we run the very real chance of having a championship or two that won�t be decided till Suzuka.

Monza really will be make or break for Michael, if he can�t do well there then a good result in Japan (a much stronger likelihood) won�t be enough to get him over the line. Juan Pablo must see here as being his best chance of getting in front of Michael, with a coin toss in Indy and (Bridgestone willing) Suzuka going to the red cars again. Kimi would just be hoping for a DNF from both of them.

Who will be the driver of 2003? None have been without fault although some have been occasionally brilliant. For the first time in many years Michael�s name is already off the short list, he�s still leading the championship and he�s still the most complete driver in the world but there have been too many pedestrian performances this year. 2003 has been unusual in that no driver (Webber excepted, and he�s had some pretty ordinary drives ruling him out too) has shown significant and consistent dominance over his teammate. Kimi and Fernando enjoy large points buffers to their teammates but like Michael they have both been convincingly out driven on occasions. Juan Pablo is brilliant but Ralf (who isn�t but has had some good performances, like DC) has matched him for much of the season. Rubens had the drive of the year at the race of the year but nobody can gain the ascendency over Michael for a season. No, this year there hasn�t been a driver who stood out the way the likes of MS, Kimi and Mark Webber have in the past. The big task is not culling the short list to find a winner; it�s finding names to put on it.

It�s a damn shame; the best racing for many years has coincided with a set of damn fool rule changes. Unfortunately those who should know better are now claiming that its those very rules that have created that racing, ignoring the real issues of weather, Michelin�s learning curve and the ascendency of first McLaren then Williams along with the ever improving Renault plus a Ferrari that has reached a development plateau. Throw in a few brilliant drives and you have all the ingredients for a great season, despite, not because of Max�s best efforts.

The Quali-flyer
The Real Race Archive

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Reader's comments:

The width of Michelin tyres hasn't been called into question before because Ferrari (and Bridgestone) thought the advantage wouldn't be significant enough to make a difference. Once they realised Michelin had thought of something Bridgestone hadn't (e.g. a way to 'get around' the rules - an activity all teams spend vast sums on let's be honest) they went looking to close the loophole they had failed to exploit. 
The reason for the upset is not that the change in the regulations to close a loophole - but the timing. When a team have found a way of exploiting the rules it makes more sense to ensure they can't keep on exploiting it into the next season. If the FIA ruled this to be effective from 2004 no-one would have a problem - but introducing it with three races to go they've probably ruined the best World Championship we've had in years. 
If Michael wins it now everyone will believe it's because Ferrari had the rules changed to stop McLaren and Williams beating them. I'm sure that won't stop Michael and co. laughing all the way to the bank - Rob S - Scotland


An interesting perspective on this issue. Not sure I would go along with it though. Bridgestone would have been scratching their collective heads for months trying to match Bibendum. I really believe that it was not until Germany that someone at Bridgestone got hold of a photograph with a very clean reference point and actually calculated the tread width after use. Michelin would certainly not have provided a tyre for Bridgestone to inspect and the FIA hadn't bothered to check the worn tyre width for compliance. It is fairly obvious that the infraction is not centimetres off specification but at best a few millimetres.

The reason that I question your explanation on timing is fairly simple. The illegal tyres will have had the smallest impact on these last three races. Narrower tyres (as Renault have already stated) are actually preferable on lower downforce circuits because they offer a smaller frontal area, providing greater aerodynamic efficiency. The most significant benefit would have been gained at the slower circuits where mechanical grip is more important. Ferrari and Bridgestone did not need to wait till now to raise the issue if their intent was to challenge prior results. Basically anytime from mid season would have guaranteed Ferrari both championships were a protest to be upheld against prior results. As at now (just post Q1 at Monza) it appears that JPM is not suffering significantly from the narrower rubber.

It will be interesting to see how many Michelin runners continue the common past practice this season of leaving front tyres unchanged at pit stops. This practice, if abandoned, would clearly indicate that significant advantage was gained in the past from the 'old' tyres. I'm sure both Ferrari and the FIA will be monitoring this as an indicator to whether a protest should be lodged and if so, what the findings of such a protest should be.

Ferrari have been known to play this same game in the past, with bargeboards, wings, electronics and anything else they could come up with. That's life in the expensive lane. Ferrari have been caught before, now its the Michelin cars turns. I have said it before, I hope prior results are not challenged, but I'm not sure Ferrari are not entitled to lodge such a challenge.

You are right though, if the championships are decided in the courts instead of on the tracks then the season will be ruined, regardless of the outcome - The Quali-flyer

From the first to the last line a masterpiece of intelligent remarks. I couldn't agree more, even if I'd written it myself - Andre B - Brazil


Gee, thanks for the support - The Quali-flyer

ps: Thanks mate - the cheque's in the mail!

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