Analysis: FIA Weighs in on BAR's Fuel Tank

The revelation that Jenson Button's BAR was underweight without fuel on board in post-race checks at Imola has prompted fresh speculation that teams could be trying to gain an unfair advantage by running their cars below the minimum weight limit at certain points of a Grand Prix

Analysis: FIA Weighs in on BAR's Fuel Tank

According to documents seen by Autosport-Atlas, Button's car, including driver, weighed 606.1kg with its fuel on board after the San Marino Grand Prix - but only 594.6kg without the fuel. This is below the 600kg minimum weight limit laid down by the FIA and indicated almost 12kg of fuel and fluids on board.

Although the stewards accepted BAR's explanation for the discrepancy, the FIA believes that there is reason for further action - which is why the FIA Court of Appeal will meet on May 4.

There has been no official confirmation about why the FIA have chosen to examine the case further, but high level sources have claimed that the matter could revolve around the use of a secondary fuel tank.

This could be illegal on two counts. Article 6.1.1 of F1's technical regulations states that, 'a fuel tank must be a single rubber bladder', while there are ways of using that secondary fuel tank that would also go against the sport's rules.

One way would be for a secondary tank to be filled with fuel for the final stint of the race to allow the weight of the car to fall in line with the minimum weight limit at post-race checks - even if the main tank was emptied to check the weight of the car.

During the race itself, this tank could be run until empty and, when the car has little or no fuel on board at the end of stints during the race, then it would be theoretically running underweight. This would give it extra speed.

Teams are not allowed to use fuel as ballast and such use of a secondary fuel tank to provide extra ballast would be in contravention of the regulations and would almost certainly be deemed as an act of deliberate cheating.

Moreover, the FIA have long maintained that such a course of action by teams was impossible to get away with because the weight checks take place post-race both with fluids (including fuel) and without them.

Since 1982, the Formula One regulations require the cars to meet the minimum weight without any fluids at all. Furthermore, the regulations specifically state the car must be equal or above the minimum weight at any given point during the event.

Back in 1982, teams were permitted to refill their cars with cooling fluids in the parc ferme after the race. Brabham and Williams built pseudo-brake coolers into their vehicles and while the tanks were empty during the race - making the car lighter and under the minimum weight - they would refill them before scrutineering.

The FIA moved forward and officially outlawed the process that year, and since then cars are pumped out of all liquids during scrutineering and weighed empty and bare.

There is no ambiguity about the regulations where it comes to using fuel as weight, and it would therefore seem quite strange if BAR-Honda were to use fuel as weight. Most certainly, it seems inconceivable this was done deliberately.

Should the FIA find any evidence of deliberate cheating, then there would likely be severe consequences for the BAR-Honda team. The FIA showed in the past - when Toyota were banned from the 1996 World Rally Championship after they were found cheating, and Tyrrell were banned from the 1984 F1 World Championship for failing to meet the technical regulations - that they are not afraid to take harsh action against front-line teams.

Teams have, however, long known how harsh penalties are for cheating. The possibility of bans, and the negative publicity such a move would entail, have always been too much of a deterrent for teams to risk being caught breaking the rules.

Finally, even if BAR-Honda made a mistake without any cause for malice, should the FIA's Court of Appeal find that indeed the car was underweight without fuel - and therefore did not meet the technical regulations - the team are likely to lose their podium finish from the San Marino Grand Prix and possibly pay a fine.

In 1994, the FIA had appealed the British GP stewards' decision not to penalise Michael Schumacher for ignoring the black flag during that race. Subsequently, the Court of Appeal not only disqualified him from that race but also imposed two race bans on him.

A spokesman for the FIA refused to confirm any details about the BAR case. "It is inappropriate to comment on this matter at the moment," he said.

BAR-Honda were unavailable for comment.

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Series Formula 1
Author Jonathan Noble
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