Flow-gate: Red Bull got off lightly


Along with disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix, the FIA's International Court of Appeal has also ruled that Red Bull must pay the costs associated with the appeal process.

Earlier in the week the Court of Appeal upheld Daniel Ricciardo's exclusion from second place in the Australian Grand Prix for fuel flow irregularities. However, Red Bull can consider itself lucky to have got off relatively lightly after Mercedes asked for the penalty to be increased.

Mercedes took part in the appeal proceedings as a third party, which is allowed under the FIA's Judicial and Disciplinary Rules, and forwarded its submission to the court on April 8. McLaren, Williams, Lotus and Force India attended as observers.

In its submission Mercedes asked "that the Court not only confirmed the penalty imposed on (Red Bull) but that a more severe sanction of a ban of no less than three races, plus disqualification for a further 6 months, suspended for a year", be imposed.

Mercedes argued that "if (Red Bull) is correct, this would mean that every team could ignore the Technical Directives and the FIA measurement systems; for instance, the measurements of the car's weight and many other measurements that are made before, during or after a race."

Mercedes submission echoes sentiments from within the paddock in which a number of teams felt Red Bull had blatantly attempted to circumvent the regulations, but while the Court of Appeal did side with the stewards of the Australian Grand Prix and confirm the exclusion, it stopped short of any increased punishment.

What the process highlighted were some rather eyebrow raising decisions made by Red Bull during the Australian Grand Prix. The report produced by the Court reveals that the team first acknowledged and adhered to the FIA's instruction to reduce its fuel flow, only to then wilfully ignore them when performance began to suffer. "(Red Bull) asked its driver to apply the correction and turn that engine's settings down," the report states. "Since, according to (Red Bull), this caused a loss of power of 0.4 seconds per lap, an internal discussion took place within (Red Bull), and after just seven laps, most of them having taken place while the safety car was on the track, (Red Bull) instructed its driver to turn the (engine) back up."

By doing so Red Bull was effectively thumbing its nose at the FIA, trusting that its own calculations would prove it to be correct. Indeed that point is more or less confirmed as the report acknowledges Paul Monaghan, Red Bull's Chief Engineer, saying during the race that he "would defend before the Stewards the (team's) decision not to follow (the FIAs instructions)."

It was this point the Court, and Mercedes, was especially critical of with the German team stating the calculations were less than accurate. "The test provided by (Red Bull) to demonstrate the accuracy of its method, does not replicate race conditions, such as fuel burning or vibrations," Mercedes counsel, Mr Paul Harris QC, claimed, going on to call the results "imperfect."

It's a point the Court agreed with, saying in its summary that "(Red Bull) did not prove that its fuel flow model estimates the fuel flow (very) accurately and/or more accurate than the (Fuel Flow Sensor) and does not find any element in the present case that could prove that (Red Bull's car) did not exceed the fuel mass flow limit."

The Court therefore rejected Red Bull's appeal, and given the critical nature of some of its comments Red Bull can perhaps count itself lucky not to have Mercedes wish for a harsher penalty granted.

"Considering the technical issues at stake and the fact that this was the first official race under this technology, the Court does not find that (Red Bull's) attitude in Australia was fraudulent."

That the Austrian team was found guilty, and that the Court heard it had deliberately chosen to ignore the FIA's instructions, it's an extraordinary statement. No wonder Red Bull gladly accepted the final verdict.

The full FIA document can be found here (Pdf)

Mat Coch

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Published: 19/04/2014
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