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Controversies dog 2009 season

Text by Thibault LIEURADE

Latest update : 2009-03-27

The weeks leading up to the first Formula One Grand Prix of the 2009 season, in Australia on Sunday, have been full of controversies. While teams and racing authorities traded accusations, on the track, new entry Brawn GP caused some surprise.


These are difficult weeks for Formula One. Like Spain’s twice world champion Fernando Alonso, drivers have unanimously rejected the new rules set out by the Formula One’s ruling body, the FIA.



On March 17, the FIA announced that in future, titles would be awarded to the driver who had won the most Grand Prix, a revolutionary change in the world of Formula One. For 50 years, the title has gone to the one who has accumulated the most points.


The overwhelming opposition to the new rules forced the FIA to step back on March 24. "We are happy that they regretted their decision," remarked Alonso.


However, FIA CEO Bernie Ecclestone, commonly called “the F1 Supremo” is pushing for the new system to be put in place by 2010.


A matter of rights


A second issue has dogged the season’s build-up. This one pits FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) against Ecclestone, who holds the Formula One commercial rights, notably television rights.


The teams claim the payment of sums due for the last three championships (2006, 2007 and 2008). While waiting for an agreement, the McLaren, Mercedes and Renault teams have threatened to boycott the Australian Grand Prix. They finally received their transfer late Wednesday.


New rules and techniques


Moreover, the FIA has introduced new technical rules this season, which remodel the cars. Among the most important is the return of "slick" tires (without grooves) and the introduction of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which was taken off the circuits in 1998.


Another controversial rule concerns modifications of the fins. The Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault teams have, in effect, accused three other teams - Toyota, Williams, and Brawn GP - of using rear spoilers which they argue are against the rules.


After inspecting the cars for six hours, racing authorities announced that the teams involved could take part in the race, to the great displeasure of the three plaintiffs who promptly sought an appeal. The points accumulated in Australia by the three incriminated teams could therefore be called into question…


Brawn GP, the surprise guest?


Amid all the squabbling, there has been little talk of actual racing. Brawn GP appears in a good position to garner its first points at the Australian Grand Prix. Born out of Ross Brawn’s purchase of the Honda team, which was withdrawn due to the crisis in the automobile industry, the team could well be the surprise guest of the season.


During the pre-season tests, its drivers, Brazilian veteran Rubens Barrichello and Briton Jenson Button, clocked the fastest times, to everyone’s surprise. In the 2008 ratings, Honda was ranked ninth out of 11 teams.


Meanwhile, the Mc Larens of Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen and Britain’s reigning champion Lewis Hamilton have struggled to match expectations. Which all suggests that the 2009 season might be nothing like the preceding one.




Date created : 2009-03-27