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Ferrari Tyre Heaters Stir Controversy

Ferrari's recent upturn in qualifying form has almost certainly been helped by the use of special wheel-heating boxes, Autosport-Atlas has learned

The boxes, which were introduced for the first time at the Monaco Grand Prix, have stirred up controversy among some of the team's rivals who have questioned their legality - but Ferrari have been given the all-clear for their use by the FIA.

Ferrari's qualifying struggles at the start of the season were believed to be down to the inability to generate enough heat in their Bridgestone tyres over a single lap. The team spent a great deal of effort trying to find out a way to improve the situation and eventually settled on the use of special tyre heating boxes - which effectively heat both the tyre and the wheel rim.

Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn revealed recently that outgoing chief designer Rory Byrne had been asked to help focus on improving the qualifying situation now that responsibility for car design had been handed over to Aldo Costa.

"Aldo is responsible for this car, that's given us Rory's capacity to use on other projects," Brawn said in Montreal, during the Canadian Grand Prix. "Rory crosses a lot of disciplines, from his huge experience as a race engineer, as a designer, and on the technical side.

"So it's one of the projects that Rory is involved in, to identify and develop first-lap performance, and try and overcome our weakness. It's just his experience and racing mentality. Rory is a real racer. He'll do anything that's legal to find an advantage. He's a great lateral thinking mind."

The metal box is flat on the bottom and curved at the top and features a device to fix the wheel in the middle - so that there is clear air surrounding the entire wheel, roughly 20 centimetres on all sides.

Autosport-Atlas understands that the inside of the casing incorporates the kind of electrical heating elements that are found in normal tyre heating blankets. The space around the tyre allows the air inside the box to be heated and, because there are no heating elements in direct contact with the tyre, the subsequent heating is more constant over the entire rubber surface than experienced with traditional blankets.

Crucially, the box also allows the wheel rims to be heated, which helps keep the tyre at its operating temperature for longer once it is out of the box.

Some of Ferrari's rivals are understood to be unhappy about the team's use of the boxes, however, because they believe they contravene Article 75F of Formula One's Sporting Regulations. The rule states: "The only permitted type of tyre heating devices are blankets which use resistive heating elements."

One leading engineer told Autosport-Atlas: "If Ferrari are allowed to use this system then it seems strange, because it is clear that you can use only a blanket to heat the tyre and not a metal box."

But Autosport-Atlas understands that FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting has inspected the boxes and declared them fully legal - because the box is simply a different way of housing the fully legal resistive heating elements that are found in blankets.  A source close to the FIA revealed: "It is not a proper oven but a blanket in a metal box. It's the same thing as a blanket and it conforms to the rules."

But while teams may be questioning the Ferrari system, Autosport-Atlas understands that some of them are considering introducing their own alternative to blankets in a bid to better heat the tyres.

It is believed that one system being used already is a special heating blanket that is put inside an encased wheel - which will then heat the rim and the air inside the tyre. This in turn heats the tyre in a more uniform way than the traditional tyre blankets.

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