Mat Coch writes:
The FIA's reinterpretation of the technical regulations surrounding holes in the floor has caused a stir in recent days. The reigning double world champions had interpreted the regulations in a manner which meant it could effectively direct air under the car to increase downforce.
It was a design the FIA saw and initially deemed legal, though admitting it was a clever interpretation of the regulations. That interpretation, it has since been revealed, was taking advantage of regulations which did not expressly forbid the presence of a hole in the floor ahead of the rear wings. It wasn't in the spirit of the rules, but as McLaren's Technical Director Paddy Lowe said some weeks ago, there is no such thing.
In most sporting categories the rules are written in such a way that unless it is stated that you can, it is to be assumed that you can't. Formula One, the beast that it is, does not adhere to this standard practice, which goes a long way to encouraging designers to exploit loopholes.
Rival teams caught on to what Red Bull had done and threatened to protest in Monaco. Those protests never happened, thankfully, and instead the matter was pursued behind closed doors. It saved a lot of red faces and uncertainty as a protest post-race is never especially welcome. Instead as we head in to Canada we know who won in Monaco and we know what Red Bull must do to comply with the regulations, it's a much tidier outcome.
Discussions among the sport's Technical Working Group took place on the Monday after Monaco and eventually resulted in the FIA sending a clarification to teams late on Friday night, accepting the technical arguments presented by Red Bull's rivals. The note means Red Bull will be forced to change its car for the Canadian Grand Prix, though no penalties will be applied to the Milton Keynes squad.
It's not the first time the FIA has been forced to clarify an interpretation of the regulations mid-season, without applying penalties as a result. Winding the clock back to 2003 the sport's governing body clarified how the tread width of tyres would be measured. This had an impact on Michelin shod teams, which had benefited from an exaggerated contact patch on the front tyres. Effectively the ruling declared the 2003 Michelin rubber illegal, though nothing came of it and things quietly changed for 2004.
The latest ruling means Mark Webber's Monaco win and that of Sebastian Vettel in Bahrain will remain safe, at least for the moment. Since breaking the story on Saturday a respected source has confirmed to this writer that it is possible, as the sport reaches the season climax, that the results could be protested.
Should Red Bull be leading the championship by a handful of points heading in to the season ending Brazilian Grand Prix it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a protest be submitted against the Monaco and Bahrain results. Teams are able to protest previous results until the end of the championship year, and while such a protest seems incredibly unlikely, it is worth noting the possibility.
There are millions of dollars at stake, and Formula One has a history of shooting itself in the foot for reasons of self-interest. Red Bull's results are therefore safe, but only for the moment. It could be almost six months before an official protest is lodged.