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The Mass Damper Judgment

The FIA’s Court of Appeal has ruled that the mass dampers are illegal after all. Which also means that it was optimistic to suggest the court might take into account the unfairness of banning technologies halfway through a season.

As we all know, the team that will suffer the most from this ruling is Renault. It is suggested that the dampers are worth half a second a lap to them, which would explain their loss of form ever since the ban came into effect. And the Hungarian race was no pointer to their having found a solution; what made the difference there was the superiority of the Michelin wet tires, a fact demonstrated by the resurgence of the other Michelin-shod teams in that race.

Renault

Renault R26

Although several teams, including Ferrari, have used the dampers at various times through the year, Renault seems to have been the only constructor to incorporate them into their design from the beginning. Since the system had been used in 2005 without objection from the FIA or the stewards, it was reasonable to assume that there would be no problem in this integration into the design. But, of course, that takes no account of the unpredictability and arbitrariness of the FIA.

The implications for the future are more far-reaching than might be thought at first. It is more than just one championship that is affected by the decision. What encouragement does this give to the designers in their quest to break new technological ground and so gain a performance advantage? If the FIA can ban previously-accepted technology in mid-season, what guarantees are there that any team that, through inspiration or hard work, gains a slight advantage over the others will be allowed to keep their new tweak?

Obviously, as long as the FIA continue to behave in this manner, there are no guarantees and the motivation to advance technology must suffer as a result. The situation is complicated further by the fact that the FIA does not ban all new tweaks and so it becomes a gamble to introduce anything new. It is tempting to say that, if your name is Ferrari, you can go ahead, but otherwise you had better be pretty careful about anything you put on the cars. But I won’t; I think things have moved on a bit since the days when it seemed that the FIA was a rubber stamp in Ferrari’s hands.

As for introducing a revolution, like Cooper’s idea of putting the engine in the rear or Chapman’s ground effect, forget it. Anything that gives such an enormous advantage will be banned as soon as it sees the light of day. I wonder how long it will be before F1 becomes a standardized car formula…

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