On Sunday morning Red Bull Racing were at the centre of another regulation furore after the FIA, the governing body of motorsport, declared that the team had been using an engine map that mimics traction control.
The FIA technical delegate, Jo Bauer, referred the Red Bull software to the race stewards and said that the “it became apparent that the maximum torque output of both engines is significantly less in the mid rpm range than previously seen at other events. Furthermore this new torque map will artificially alter the aerodynamic characteristics of both cars.”
The matter was then discussed at length by the stewards before the start of the German Grand Prix but the panel found that both Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber could start the race without penalty. The stewards met with technical representatives from Red Bull and while they admitted to not accepting Red Bull’s reasoning for the software they could not confirm that regulations had been broken.
The statement released by the stewards on the issue which stated that, “While the stewards do not accept all the arguments of the team, they however conclude that as the regulation is written, the map presented does not breach the text of the Formula 1 Technical Regulations.”
It sounded very similar to a detective who while knowing that a crime had been committed had yet to amass enough evidence to punish the perpetrator. With only a week until the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest it is unlikely that this matter will be resolved by then either.
Regulation likely to be clarified
However it seems all but inevitable that either the regulation will be clarified or Red Bull will be investigated further by the FIA in the near future.
The regulations that Red Bull were accused of contravening related to a new for 2012 rule that was brought in to ensure that throttle position must be linear in relation to available torque from the engine.
If Red Bull found a way to ensure that this relationship was non-linear they would have established a traction control system that would allow both of their drivers to open their throttle more than rivals while not suffering from a loss of traction and spinning the rear wheels.
The system would offer Red Bull a significant advantage in slow and medium speed corners with their drivers able to attack corner exits more aggressively than rivals. From the FIA statement it is clear that the stewards felt that there was little they could do at the scene to determine the full extent of the system but that there was doubts in their minds as to the arguments put forth by Red Bull and their engine supplier Renault.
However it is also clear that they feel that the Red Bull system is not within the “spirit of the regulations” and as a result the rules will need to be adjusted to avoid an issue such as this arising in the future and to remove a key advantage that Red Bull has found and exploited.
Red Bull can rightfully say that their system is within the regulations and legal to race but the regulations of Formula 1 are much more fluid then other sports with the FIA constantly making changes to the text to ensure that teams are not “moving the goalposts” so to speak.
Adrian Newey, the technical chief of Red Bull, once famously said that “there is no spirit of the regulations, there are simply the regulations” but in the coming weeks another loophole will be closed to the teams.
It is unfortunate that, once again, when a team finds and exploits a loophole in the regulation that it will be rapidly closed but this example shows just how imaginative the engineers in Formula 1 are as they constantly look to find a performance advantage.
Post race penalty costs Vettel podium
On the track however Red Bull were also involved in a post race storm with Sebastian Vettel losing his second place finish after the stewards penalised the world champion for overtaking Jenson Button while outside the confines of the Hockenheim circuit.
The home crowd hero made his move with just over one lap remaining of the 67 lap race when he drove around the outside of Button at the hairpin. With the duo side by side through the apex of the corner Vettel accelerated hard and drove onto the exit kerbs and “grasscrete” over and beyond the white lines that define the track.
The stewards declared that this was an illegal move to make and struck the Red Bull driver with a 20 second time penalty that dropped him to an eventual fifth place finish with Button moving up to second and Kimi Raikkonen rounding off the podium.
The race however was dominated by Fernando Alonso with the championship leader claiming his third win of the season and saw him extend his championship advantage to 34 points over Mark Webber who could only finish eighth after a poor weekend.
Raikkonen’s fourth podium of the season elevated the 2007 world champion to fourth in the standings as he continues to impress in his return to the sport. The Finnish star has readapted to life in single seater racing exceptionally well and at times has looked every inch the superstar that he was in the past.
The Lotus team consolidated their position in fourth in the constructors’ championship with the “iceman’s” podium finish and with Mercedes struggling to refind their early season form it is likely that the Enstone squad will finish the season in that position.
Halfway through the season it is still uncertain just how fast the Lotus is but with Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean consistently in contention it is still possible that Formula 1 could see yet more race winners in the coming months.