F1 braced for diffuser protests

Formula 1 is bracing itself for a showdown over the diffuser row in Melbourne tomorrow, with at least one team expected to join Red Bull Racing in lodging a protest against Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams

F1 braced for diffuser protests

With the controversy already overshadowing what looks set to be a thrilling start to the season, it is understood that there will be a joint effort from a number of outfits to seek clarification about whether the diffuser designs of the three teams in question are legal.

Teams were tight-lipped about the matter as F1 personnel gathered at the Albert Park circuit on Wednesday, but talks were taking place behind-the-scenes to finalise the expected course of events on Thursday.

It is understood that if, as expected, the cars of Williams, Toyota and Brawn GP are declared legal by the race stewards in official pre-event scrutineering, then protests will be lodged against them.

It is not clear yet, however, whether teams will protest a specific team as a test case, or choose to protest all three on different grounds because of their varying designs.

Despite the looming threat of a protest, sources involved in the situation have expressed regret that the matter has to be resolved in such a way - especially as it detracts from what should be a focus on racing.

"This is an unfortunate situation - but a protest is the only way we can get the rules clarified," one senior source told AUTOSPORT. "This situation has nothing to do with us being against any of the teams involved - it is just to get an answer about the regulations."

Whatever the outcome of the stewards' reaction to the protest, it is almost certain that an appeal will be lodged by the losing party - whether it is the three teams to state their diffusers are legal, or their rivals to state that they are not.

Such an outcome would mean the matter going to a hearing of the FIA's International Court of Appeal, which would at the earliest take place following the Malaysian Grand Prix.

It is understood that Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota are so convinced that their diffusers are legal that they have not thought it necessary to come up with a contingency plan to run a different design if the stewards rule against them.

Williams technical director Sam Michael has said several times that he believes his team has done nothing wrong, and that the FIA has approved its design.

"To be honest we were surprised that it even turned into an issue because for us it was very clearly inside the regulations," said Michael recently.

"It was something that in various forms teams have been doing for two years, so it wasn't really a big issue for us or the FIA. So it was something that we clarified with the FIA well over a year ago.

"There wasn't really any confusion from our side, although there appeared to be some confusion from the other teams, but I don't know on what basis that was."

The row over diffusers is also taking place against the backdrop of further tension between the teams and Formula 1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone over television rights income.

There are suggestions that teams have not yet been paid money owed to them by Ecclestone, and are demanding the situation be resolved immediately if they are not to take further action.

It is understood that a team principals' meeting has been called for tomorrow to discuss the situation.

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