The FIA announced on Friday that Red Bull’s appeal against Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix will be heard on April 14.
Ricciardo was excluded from the Australian Grand Prix for exceeding the maximum fuel-flow rate, according to the FIA sensors that are there to make sure that teams must not exceed a maximum rate of 100 kg/h.
If the decision to disqualify Ricciardo was met with puzzlement by many F1 fans, the appeal date appears equally bewildering as it comes on the Monday before the Chinese Grand Prix.
By that time, Red Bull will already have competed in two more grands prix, and it means that Christian Horner faces a tricky decision whether or not to stick to his guns and use their own fuel readings or bow to FIA pressure and use its sensor data.
It’s almost as if by setting the date before the Chinese Grand Prix, the FIA is testing Red Bull’s resolve by saying, “go on then, we dare you...”
Horner and Red Bull’s argument is that the fuel sensors that the FIA is using have been problematic from the start and that the one fitted to the car during Sunday’s race had an error.
The FIA had informed the team during the race that their flow rate was too high and to adjust it, but team boss Christian Horner decided to ignore the directive because he believed the FIA's sensor was producing the wrong data and that their own readings were correct.
Horner is quoted on Autosport.com:
These fuel-flow sensors provided by the FIA to measure fuel have proved problematic down the pitlane since their introduction in testing. There have been discrepancies and they have been unreliable - indeed some cars may well have run without them in the race itself or failed in the race itself.
We had a fuel-flow sensor that was fitted to the car that we believed had an error. Based on our calculation on the fuel that the injectors are providing to the engine, which is a calibrated piece of equipment and is consistently standard across the pitlane, there is zero variance.
They informed us [to turn the flow down], and we informed them that we had serious concerns over their sensors. We believed in our reading, otherwise there was a situation where you are reducing significant amounts of power in the engine at a time when we believe we fully comply within the regulations.
Should Red Bull opt to defend their stance and further ignore the FIA sensors in Malaysia and Bahrain, they risk further disqualifications before the hearing. And if their appeal is thrown out, as is likely, they could well be starting the Chinese Grand Prix with zero points to their name and terminal damage to their championship chances.
Conversely, should Red Bull back down and fall in line with the FIA sensor readings, they are in effect admitting defeat. In setting the hearing date before China, the FIA is cleverly attempting to maintain the upper hand in the dispute, as Red Bull would be foolish not to fall in line with their readings until the results of the hearing.
But testing the resolve of one of the most important teams in motorsport is a dangerous thing for the FIA to do. Red Bull owns two F1 teams and also the venue of the Austrian Grand Prix, which returns to the F1 calendar this year.
In a response to the FIA’s actions, Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz appeared to offer a thinly veiled threat of his own in an interview in Austrian paper Kurier that he will not stand for such discrimination for much longer.
Mateschitz is quoted on BBC Sport:
The question is not so much whether it makes economic sense but the reasons would be to do with sportsmanship, political influence, and so on. In these issues there is a clear limit to what we can accept. You have to make F1 like it used to be - the top discipline of motorsports.
F1 is not there to set new records in fuel consumption, nor to make it possible to have a whispered conversation during a race. It is absurd to race a lap seconds slower than last year. GP2 partially provides more racing and fighting and almost equal lap times as F1 with a small fraction of the budget.
The bigger picture, however, in this unfortunate squabble that has arisen from Ricciardo’s disqualification, is that surely it is again the Formula One fan who is losing out. Whatever happens in Malaysia and Bahrain, fans will be wondering if the FIA’s readings are correct or not and where Red Bull would or could have finished had they relied on their own readings.
Why not just get the whole thing sorted now so we all know where we are and can get on with the racing with every team singing from the same hymn sheet? Sadly, it’s not all only about the racing any more.