Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Friday, October 22, 1999

Verdict Awaited on 10-Millimeter Call

FORMULA ONE


By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - The outcome of the 1999 Formula One season may be decided at an International Automobile Federation court of appeal on Friday in Paris.

The FIA said Thursday it would wait until Saturday to announce the results of the appeal lodged by Ferrari after the team was disqualified following its first-place in the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The Geneva-based organization that governs Formula One (and writes its regulations) said that five impartial judges would decide whether the disqualification for a technical infraction was too harsh for the crime.

A Formula One race car is made of about 3,000 parts, while the technical regulations it must conform to comprise some 350 stipulations. There is room for interpretation, but apparently there is no excuse for making a car's aerodynamic deflector panel 10 millimeters outside the norm, which is what Ferrari was punished for.

Ten millimeters, or a centimeter, is the length of the word ''title'' printed twice on this page. And two titles are precisely what Ferrari lost all hope of winning the drivers' and constructors' titles for that single centimeter.

Before the disqualification, Formula One fans were guaranteed a grand finale at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on Oct. 31. Ferrari's first and second places in Malaysia put the team and Eddie Irvine, one of its drivers, into first place by four points in each title category. But the margin meant that Mika Hakkinen and his McLaren team could still take the titles.

Nearly two hours after the race Sunday, Jo Bauer, Formula One's technical delegate, reported to the stewards of the race that one of the 3,000 parts of the Ferrari cars was 10 millimeters outside the size required by the technical regulations. (The regulations are on the FIA's Web site at: www.fia.com.)

The deflector is a highly visible appendage on the side of the car that helps both aerodynamically and with the air distribution for the engine cooling intake. Ferrari said tests revealed that no advantage was gained by what they described as a flaw in the design of the deflector.

Inspectors missed the one-centimeter sin at the previous race and throughout the race weekend in Malaysia. Press reports, including one in the German newspaper Bild, have said that they were tipped off by McLaren.

Ron Dennis, McLaren's director, said, ''This is not the way to win a championship. It is bad for the sport.'' But his team later released a statement advising that while they ''sympathize with Ferrari,'' the regulations must be followed. Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's chief executive and commercial promoter, and a vice president of FIA, was quoted in The Times of London as saying the decision was bad for the sport, and ''nonsense.''

Ferrari fans see plots and conspiracies, but it is also easy to forget that one of the most commercially successful and popular sports is run by human beings. Bauer and his inspectors and the three stewards two are appointed by the FIA and one is appointed locally are called upon to make quick judgments that often carry heavy consequences.

And no one is helped by the arcane nature of the rules.

Here is rule 3.12.1, which was broken last weekend: ''All sprung parts of the car situated more than 33 centimeters behind the front wheel center line and more than 33 centimeters forward of the rear-wheel center line, and which are visible from underneath, must form surfaces which lie on one of two parallel planes, the reference plane or the step plane. This does not apply to any parts of rear view mirrors which are visible, provided each of these areas does not exceed 90 centimeters when projected to a horizontal plane above the car. The step plane must be 50 millimeters above the reference plane.''






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