• British Grand Prix

McLaren and Red Bull lock horns over exhaust regs

Laurence Edmondson July 8, 2011 « Rosberg cautious over wet pace | »
Martin Whitmarsh and Christian Horner in the press conference © Sutton Images
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Concessions made by the FIA over its supposed ban on off-throttle blown diffusers kicked off a row between Red Bull boss Christian Horner and McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh on Friday.

During the team principals' press conference at the British Grand Prix the pair argued over who had been hit hardest by the regulation clarification, which was changed during first practice on Friday.

Ever since the Spanish Grand Prix the FIA has made clear that it is not happy about the teams using exhaust gases to improve the performance of the diffuser when the driver is off the throttle, but this is the first race at which it has taken action. Originally it announced it would restrict the throttle opening to just 10% when the driver is off the accelerator, but Whitmarsh revealed that the Renault engine, which powers Red Bull, is still running at 50% for reliability purposes.

"Well we learnt half-way through the session that Christian hadn't lost as much as we expected, as obviously the rules are slightly fluid and appear to change by the hour at the moment," he said.

Whitmarsh added: "I think the expectation is that when you are off the throttle the engine throttles would be closed but there has been a negotiation and as I understand Renault's throttles are 50% open under braking and I think that is probably not what most of us expected coming into this event. That's been a little bit of a revelation that we gathered during the course of the sessions today and we are trying to understand what we have to do."

Horner hit back saying that, while his engines cold-blow the diffuser for reliability purposes, the Mercedes engines powering McLaren had also been offered a concession, and both were based on previous years' engine configurations. He revealed that one of the FIA's six technical directives on the subject allowed for fuel to be fired through four of the engines eight cylinders on over-run (known as hot blowing), which favoured McLaren and Ferrari.

"Martin's interpretation is interesting," he said. "My understanding is that Mercedes are firing on over-run. There has been a series of technical directives that have happened since Valencia and the latest technical directive is quite clear in that engines that have been run in previous configurations the FIA would take into account on an equitable basis.

"Mercedes argued that they're over-running that they currently do was permitted, which was granted I believe on certain handling characteristics that if offered on a historical basis, and Renault is no different to that. Renault is in a situation as an engine supplier, not just to Red Bull but to two other teams as well, where again precedents have been set in 2009 and 2010."

Christian Horner and Martin Whitmarsh debate the new regulations © Sutton Images
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The pair later kicked off into a full-blown row over who had been hit hardest.

Whitmarsh argued: "I think that to do this and to do it in a fairly cloudy and ambiguous and changing way inevitably, in a competitive environment, every team feels that it's been hard done by. At the moment, I think potentially a lot of teams will end up making the argument to cold blow. Renault have been in that domain for some time, other teams haven't and don't have that experience but we're talking about a very substantial performance benefit here."

Horner disagreed: "Why is it any more of a performance benefit than fired over-run? If you can operate your engine in the same way as the Renault, then you are welcome to do it. The secondary effect, I think it is wrong to suggest that there is a benefit beyond that."

The only factor they could agree on is that the regulation changes should have been postponed until the end of the year and that it has left F1 in a complicated mess.

Lotus team principal Tony Fernandes summed up the thoughts of many in the paddock.

"As someone who is very new to the sport, in that I think it's a little bit of a shambles that we're having these kind of discussions, I think you don't have that in many other sports," he said. "The rules should be very clear, everyone should understand them and they should be pretty black and white. It costs the sport a lot of money. I think that one of the dangers of the sport is changing the interpretations, it's really got to be black and white and I think it can be."

Laurence Edmondson is the deputy editor on ESPNF1

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Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010