Lowe: No 'spirit of the rules'

10/04/2012
NEWS STORY

Mat Coch writes:

The pioneering spirit that gave birth to Grand Prix racing has been bludgeoned into rampant commercialism with teams viewing rules as loopholes waiting to be exploited.

"There's no such thing as 'spirit of the rules'," claims McLaren's Technical Director Paddy Lowe in the latest Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in.

Regarded as one of the more ethical teams on the grid, the whole Spygate saga not withstanding, Lowe's comments are a reality check that Formula One has no place for idealists.

"It's a term often used but the rule book is just text that has a meaning, and you decide what that meaning is and you work to them," he continues. "There's no headline regulation that says 'and above all else you've got to maintain within the spirit of what was intended'."

Lowe had been asked about the spirit of the regulations with regards exhaust blown diffusers, given Ross Brawn is suggesting some teams continue to exploit the system. It was a point effectively conceded by Lowe who suggests that while exhaust blowing has been banned, it's not actually illegal according to the wording of the regulations.

"It kind of depends what you really mean by a blown diffuser," he says. "Blown diffusers in themselves have never been defined and therefore also were never banned, and I think that's an important point to make.

"What we were doing last year was exploiting the exhaust to deliver a huge amount of aerodynamic performance and what's happened for this year is that performance has been severely reduced by changing the rules around exhaust exits and engine mode.

"Are people still generating performance from the diffuser, from the floor, that includes some elements of exhaust generated downforce, the answer is yes. We're doing that. I think most of the teams are to a greater or lesser extent.

"That is a direction you can find some performance but it's not anything like as extreme as it was in 2011. Therefore the regulation change has achieved what it set out to do. I think you can't pick a moment to say 'ah but that was the banning of blown diffusers' it was never advertised as such in terms of the actual regulations."

The system has largely been swept under the carpet as media attention has been focussed on the legality of Mercedes DRS activated wing. It's a debate which has rumbled on despite the system having been declared legal by Charlie Whiting three times. McLaren, predictably, has chosen to sit on the fence while its engine supplier feels the wrath of the media, expressing a wish to have had the matter brought to a close, even if it is a good example of something perhaps not in-keeping with the 'spirit of the rules'.

"You could get in to agreements there - is that in the spirit of what was intended with DRS? Well, it definitely wasn't. DRS was a set of rules created in order to move the rear wing flap and not to do anything else.

"To turn that around can they keep the system on the car is not about whether it's in that spirit or not, it's about whether the text that's written in the regulations permits it or not.

"What we really need to have is clarity," Lowe implores. "It would have been better if we could have had clarity before now, so we'll see what this event in China brings us in that sense."

A similar device will not appear on a McLaren in the near future, and is certainly not among the updates heading to Shanghai this weekend. Until there is clarification on the system McLaren will not be investing a great deal of resources in to its development.

Instead the team continues to follow its predetermined development programme, which includes updates to most every sector of the car for China. However according to Lowe these will simply keep McLaren competitive, the Englishman anticipating the team's nearest rivals to have similar packages.

"We're in to the relentless battle of in-season development, particularly between the top teams," he says. "That's started already and we'll have to play our part and see if we can maintain the qualifying lead we had from the first two races."

Qualifying has been one of the strong points for McLaren so far in 2012 - strong on Saturday before losing some of that edge during the race. "It's the characteristic attitude that we had in reverse with Red Bull last year where we felt they were very strong in qualifying, and therefore got the grid positions, but actually in race pace they weren't particularly better than us. They just had track position," says Lowe.

"It's fantastic to get the grid positions we got in Australia and Malaysia," he adds. "But we do come away from the first two races slightly disappointed that we haven't translated those two qualifying results in to more points.

"Of course we have got some good points but in this championship, which is long and hard, you need to score the points when you've got the performance because you can't rely on it staying with you throughout the whole season."

Having won the last two Chinese Grands Prix, the team is heading to a happy hunting ground a fact which puzzles Lowe. "You find these trends where certain teams do well at certain races - not every time, but they seem to have circuits that seem to generally give them wins and ones that don't. I frankly don't understand it! It may just be how the dice fall or whatever!

"Malaysia is a similar circuit in terms of the characteristics and what it demands of the car and yet we haven't been so successful at Malaysia."

The team will be keen to see Malaysia fade in to a distant memory after it managed to third and fourteenth having claimed the front row in qualifying.

Somewhat fortuitously the team leads the Constructors' Championship while its drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button find themselves second and third in the drivers title. It's also the only team to have finished on the podium in both races so far this season, with Hamilton the only driver who can boast the same record.

The Chinese Grand Prix should therefore witness more of the same, with McLaren and Mercedes quick in qualifying while Ferrari struggles for pace. Expect other media outlets will continue to make a storm in a tea cup over the Mercedes DRS system, which has been declared legal on three separate occasions, while teams artfully dodge questions about the situation in Bahrain - especially those whose shareholders hail from the Gulf state.

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Published: 10/04/2012
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