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Red Bull and the FIA man their weapons ahead of Paris date

Apr 13, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT

Red Bull Formula One driver Ricciardo of Australia celebrates finishing second in the Australian F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne Reuters

The FIA faces its first major challenge of the 2014 season in Paris tomorrow as Red Bull’s appeal against Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix is heard.

Ricciardo had finished his home race as the runner-up behind Nico Rosberg, marking a great turnaround in fortunes for Red Bull after a disastrous winter. It was also an emotional result for the Australians in attendance at Albert Park, having never seen a home driver step up onto the podium at the circuit.

However, this elation soon turned to dismay as the FIA found that car #3 – Ricciardo – had “exceeded consistently the maximum allowed fuel flow of 100kg/h” in the race. The new regulations are very strict when it comes to fuel usage, and the team had failed to adhere to them. In fact, it transpired that the FIA had informed the team throughout the race that Ricciardo’s car was using too much fuel; the team simply ignored these calls.

Red Bull’s management was outraged by the decision, given that the team’s own meter showed that the car was well within the fuel limit. As the FIA had encountered problems with its meters earlier in the weekend, there appeared to be some argument here. However, the sport’s governing body insisted that “rules are rules”; Red Bull broke them and Ricciardo was subsequently excluded.

In Malaysia, the war waged on as team principal Christian Horner reached out to the FIA for talks following multiple fuel sensor failures on the cars. The FIA responded by again pointing to the regulations. Red Bull’s argument was that the fuel sensor used was merely a directive (despite being homologated by the FIA and used by every other team), allowing them to use their own if they wanted to. Again, the FIA stood upright: they’re the rules.

Article 5.10 makes it quite clear in my view that the only way the fuel flow will be measured is with the homologated sensor,” race director Charlie Whiting explained in Malaysia. “To me, it is perfectly clear.”

The races in Malaysia and Bahrain went by with little more being said in the fuel sensor debate (or – given that it is common place in Formula 1 to gate-ify topics – fuelgate), and the camps remained defiant: Red Bull sure of victory, the FIA sure of victory.

Earlier this week, a report by British website Autosport only furthered Red Bull’s self-assurance.

“We have got a very strong case,” Horner is quoted as saying. “As more races have progressed, issues have become more evident – and new evidence has come to light, new understandings have come to light. So hopefully we can present our case fairly and get our second place back that Daniel deserves from Melbourne.”

Yes, Daniel does deserve P2. He drove a perfect race in a car that hadn’t even completed a full race distance during testing. However, if the team was in the wrong, then it does not deserve P2. The FIA did acknowledge that Ricciardo had done nothing wrong in this saga; he simply drove a great race.

What undermines Red Bull’s argument is the fact that the other teams also had reservations about the FIA’s measurements, yet they still kept to them. If a marathon finish line is at 26 miles, do the runners keep going for another 385 yards? No, you play to the guidelines that have been set. ‘Thems the rules’.

After so many years of success, Red Bull appears to have gotten a little too confident in its own perceived righteousness.

For the sake of the sport, the FIA must win this case, judging by the information we have. Anything else would open the door for self governance and regulation by the teams.

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