A day in the #F1 appeal court – sifting the evidence

It’s interesting that pretty much all the English speaking F1 news providers of supposed authority have published very little about what happened today in Paris.

To be fair, most of the evidence was submitted prior to today, and done so in confidentiality, so it could be going out on a limb to make any bold predictions about the FIA’s International Court of Appeal’s likely decision.

Yet there is a lot we already know about this case. Firstly, Red Bull’s appeal is twofold. Firstly they are arguing that they have evidence that the fuel flow sensors are unreliable. Specifically they bring evidence of ‘sensor drift’.

Secondly, Red Bull argue that the technical directives issued by the FIA regarding the fuel flow sensor being the sole and only device for measuring fuel flow, are not binding. Christian Horner has cited the case of Mercedes ‘testgate’ as evidence of this.

The International Court of Appeal who heard the case today is an independent court, which draws its judges from the panel of judges approved by both the FIA and the F1 teams. It is a different body from the International Tribunal, which heard the Mercedes test case last year, which deals with disciplinary matters.

The senior judge, Judge Duijm, commenced proceedings and urged all parties not to waste time. “The facts are in the statements”, he stated. The lawyers were directed to restrict their questions to the witnesses only to details that are not already listed in the filed evidence.

To that end, today’s proceedings were very much about posturing and emphasis. There was in fact very little revealed which was not already in the public domain. The single biggest reason for this is due to the FIA’s decision to fight their corner in the media with Red Bull, by facilitating an unprecedented mass media presentation on the issues involved during the weekend of the Malaysian GP.

Lotus, McLaren, Force India and Williams chose to send observers, whilst Mercedes elected as is there right to engage legal counsel to cross examine the Red Bull evidence.

Ferrari were conspicuous by their absence, though as we now know they have their own in house problems to resolve.

It is difficult to second guess how the court will rule on Red Bull’s claims that technical directives are not legally binding, but for clarification only. Christian Horner had previously cited the Mercedes case before the International Tribunal last summer as a precedent for this.

Though having read the International Tribunal’s decision, it is not clear their judgement upheld this view. Mercedes were sanctioned despite the fact that they received a technical direction from Charlie Whiting which suggested they were able to conduct a tyre test under the auspices of the F1 tyre manufacturer, Pirelli.

Clearly, there were issues surrounding the fuel flow sensors during the winter testing such that the FIA felt it pertinent to issue a technical directive before battle commenced in Australia proper.

The stewards decision in Melbourne cited this Technical Directive 01614 (1 March 2014) and explained that it provided the methodology by which the fuel flow sensor should be used, and, should the sensor fail, the method by which the alternate model could be used.

‘a. The Technical Directive starts by stating: “The homologated fuel flow sensor will be the primary measurement of the fuel flow and will be used to check compliance with Articles 5.1.4 and 5.1.5 of the F1 Technical Regulations…” This is in conformity with Articles 5.10.3 and 5.10.4 of the Technical Regulations.

‘b. The Technical Directive goes on to state: “If at any time WE consider that the sensor has an issue which has not been detected by the system WE will communicate this to the team concerned and switch to a backup system (emphasis added.)

‘c. The backup system is the calculated fuel flow model with a correction factor decided by the FIA.

If the technical directive is accepted by the court as a clarification of the regulations proper which themselves state the only sensors acceptable to the FIA, are those approved and homologated by them, Red Bull are dead in the water.

Red Bull attempted to argue they resorted to the backup system stated above, because they believed the sensor to be faulty. The problem is that this system is provided for in the technical directive, which itself is in dispute by the team from Milton Keynes.

Further, it is clear from the regulations that the teams are not free to unilaterally decide to switch from the approved sensor measurements to another backup system unless it is sanctioned by the FIA.

Red Bull made no representations to the FIA regarding this technical directive prior to their unilateral decision to disobey the FIA’s technical delegate during the race, and can therefore not claim they acted in good faith.

The technical directive is clear to any layperson what the FIA intend. Should Red Bull prevail, it will be due to a preconceived calculated decision which was not designed to clarify matters, but challenge the entire premise of the fuel flow sensor.

The Red Bull evidence referred to today, which appears to be the grounds upon which the team claim the sensor was failing – or ‘drifting’, is based upon measurements taken during the Free practice sessions of the Australian GP.

When the sensors are calibrated, the FIA provides an offset to the teams’ calculations to which they must run. This is to cover any of the inaccuracies the sensor may be showing. However the FIA claim these sensors are accurate to within +/- 0.25%. Further calibration checks are made during the weekend of a Grand Prix.

The teams measurement of fuel flow, is clearly done by a calculation, based upon the time the injectors are open,  the volume of fuel allowed through in that time, the alleged density at that time of the fuel and the ambient temperature of the fuel.

Red Bull claim, given the exact same set of measurements for the above criteria, they observed a shift in measurements of the fuel sensor. This meant that an offset given by the FIA of 1.2 kg/hr should have been adjusted to 1.3 kg/ph – by Red Bull’s own model.

Yet we need to be careful, because the inference from the Milton Keynes team was that by observing the FIA’s offset, they would suffer a lap time penalty of 04 seconds per lap. This figure was agreed by Mercedes.

However, Red Bull’s beef was not that they were penalized 0.4 seconds per lap, rather that the shift from 1.2 to 1.3 in the offset demonstrated the sensor was not fit for purpose. This in fact would be a shift of 8% in the prescribed maximum flow allowed by the FIA – which would result in a reduced lap time of 0.03 seconds (8% of 0.4).

So the sensor according to Red Bull is now not fit for purpose – not inaccurate by 0.03 seconds per lap – was the call. Throw the baby out with the bath water and reclaim the entire time for the 1.2 offset ie 0.4 seconds per lap.

Mercedes admitted they had been instructed during qualifying to adjust their fuel flow by a similar amount, which affected Nico Rosberg’s lap time by at least the 0.03 seconds per lap.

I stressed at the start of this piece that there may well be evidence within the statements filed to the court, which has not yet been disclosed, which may vindicate Red Bull entirely. However, this would surely have been the subject of cross examination today, particularly from the Mercedes legal advocate who was described as delivering a ‘pit bull’ like performance.

Other pertinent matters today included the observations on Christian Horner’s body language; described as disengaged as he spent some time tapping on his smartphone during evidence discovery and cross examination.

Either Christian is extremely confident, or resigned to a known fate.

Further, the speed of the tribunal’s anticipated verdict would suggest that despite the incredible amount of technical detail involved in the evidence, much of this work has been done already.

In a few hours we will know whether the FIA have a humungous headache over their fuel flow regulations, which will impact upon the whole of the concept behind the new F1 engines. Either this, or Red Bull will inevitably face incremental sanctions over and above the DQ already handed down to Ricciardo from the race in Melbourne.

If the decision goes against Red Bull, not many people in F1 will be surprised, and the fans will question the motives behind the decision of the team from Milton Keynes to act as they have done.









4 responses to “A day in the #F1 appeal court – sifting the evidence

  1. Interesting that in Merc’s case, they received approval in concept but failed to actually follow through w/r/t notifying other teams. IT called it unsatisfactory but never dismissed it legally.

    RB on the other hand were told multiple times by race officials what they were doing wasn’t allowed and ignored that. Pus, if you accept the accuracy of the FFM they also violated the technical regs.

    The only counter they offered, that their exhaust readings didn’t change when the FFM registered a different offset is impossible to parse, as it can just as easily be read as a lack of accuracy on the part of their data model

    Lom’s testimony about the meters reading the same on Friday and Sunday was also pretty damning, I thought and unless there is something genuinely revelatory in the documents RB seemed to be tilting at windmills here

  2. I don’t think the FIA has the balls to inflict any serious punishment, like a ban or further points deduction, on RBR lest this make Didi pick up his ball and not play any more.
    And I think the FIA also wouldn’t seriously sanction Ferrari, MB, Renault or Pirelli, since they can’t afford to lose those major players from their struggling series either.

  3. Glad to see this first hand account. Thank you for this.

    Interesting about Mercedes’ pit bull tearing into Red Bull’s case. It’s nice to see their memories are long over in Brackley.

    The thing that disturbs me most is RB sacrificing Ricciardo’s performance. It’s a surprisingly callous valuation of their driver.

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