The Great Diffuser Confusion – Are the Brawns, Toyotas and Williams illegal?
Published 11th April 2009 - Written by Adam Le Feuvre
As we have come to expect from Formula 1 – politics seem to be taking over the racing in the headlines and after the recent Lewis/McLaren fibbing saga, the real story is set to unfold early next week – over the legality of the Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars. There were murmurs from upset teams over the diffusers before Australia, but the Aussie stewards deemed the three teams’ cars to be legal. In response to this news, Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault appealed the decision. This appeal will be heard on Tuesday (April 14th) and could affect the championship rather dramatically.
“Hang on a minute… what exactly is a diffuser?” I hear you ask. To be straight-forward, a diffuser is the name give to an aerodynamic part of the car that you’ll find underneath, at the rear. Many high-performance road cars have diffusers because, just as F1 cars do, they need lots of down-force to give them grip. When air rushes under a car at speed it creates down-force (the fast moving air underneath compared to slow moving above creates pressure pushing down on the car) which is great until the air reaches the back of the car where things can become untidy. Diffusers help the air and it’s transition from being at high-pressure under the car to the ambient pressure around the car. See below for an Road/F1 car comparison.
There’s not a great deal different in the general appearance between this Ferrari road car and the BrawnGP F1 car and the same can said for the appearance of the F1 cars designed by Red Bull, Renault and Ferrari. The diffuser is the plastic-tray like gizmo bit that sweeps up from under the car with fins on it. F1 cars have always had such aerodynamic additions, but with a new set of rules giving the designers more of a blank canvas than usual, there was always going to be an argument somewhere over what’s legal and what’s not.
The reason that the BrawnGP, Williams and Toyota cars are being deemed as illegal by the protesting teams is because their diffusers have an additional gap. This additional gap (or hole) is between before the end of the ‘floor’ of the car and the diffuser, which means the airflow from under the car is split into two channels just as it reaches the diffuser. This means air can be rushing under and also through the diffuser. With this airflow through and a around, a cleverly designed diffuser shape could effectively create an additional wing, which would create some extra down-force at high speed. All other teams, bar these few do not have the additional gaps with cleverly designed diffusers and believe that such a design contravenes the rules and regulations created for the 2009 season.
So, what’s with all the handbags style protesting then? The main problem is a lack of clarification within the wording of the rules. Nowhere in the rule book does it state that a design such as on Brawn is forbidden, but it seems that many of the F1 teams have seen what the rules are getting at and have acted accordingly – with no holes in the floor of the car acting a way of ‘feeding’ air through the diffuser to create additional down-force.
The two sides to the argument:
- The opposing teams (Red Bull, Renault, Ferrari and co) missed a trick to gain extra down-force – a loophole in the rules if you will and should just get on and make their own new diffusers.
- The Brawn, Toyota and Williams teams have acted in a manner and designed cars that are not in the “spirit” of the rules and should be penalised and their diffusers should be outlawed.
Before we go on to look at the possible outcomes of the appeal hearing on Tuesday, let’s just make one thing clear – the FIA appointed stewards declared the diffusers legal at the Australian Grand Prix and all the three teams were allowed to race.
Possible outcomes for Tuesday – complete with Badger’s “likelihood rating.” We’re 100% sure something will happen and the percentage weights after each statement indicate, which we believe the more likely:
- BrawnGP, Williams and Toyota designed diffusers are found to be illegal and an infringement of the rules. For the FIA to now go back on their Melbourne judgement and penalise the teams would be far more than farcical – possibly apocalyptic for Formula 1’s credibility. Badger’s likelihood rating: 20%
- The ‘alternative’ diffusers are deemed to be legal and well within the rules. The rest of the teams rush out and design their own clever diffusers for the forthcoming races. This will be tricky with very limited testing allowed, but no doubt the majority of these teams’ designers will have already started/finished their new gadgets. Badger’s likelihood rating: 50%
- The opposing teams win their appeal with the ‘alternative’ diffusers not being in the spirit of the rules and they are outlawed from here on for the rest of the season, leaving Toyota, Williams and BrawnGP with some work to do. For anyone to win a case in courtroom claiming something was not ‘in the spirit’ of a situation would be just ridiculous and prompt the usual Ferrari International Assistance conspiracy theorists to rise from the wood work. Badger’s likelihood rating: 25%
- Something else happens. Badger’s likelihood rating: 5%
From elsewhere in the media; David Coulthard has said:
“They said in Melbourne that the cars were legal and I think the FIA will confirm that judgement on the fourteenth. The other seven teams are probably going to have to change their cars.”
In response to the fact that 7 teams having to spend lots of money on new diffusers in the midst of a recession DC responded:
“That is right, but it does not mean that the diffusers are illegal, you shouldn’t necessarily be punished because you have interpreted the rules differently and thus taken an advantage. Those three teams also spent money to develop their aerodynamics, so that money would also be wasted. Formula one is not just about saving money, it is also a championship!”
Well said David. Then we have Flavio Briatore – who’s well known for Alonso-like childish outbursts and who took a shot at Ross Brawn who heads up the Overtaking Working Group (OWG they collectively designed the new rules) by saying that Brawn should have told everyone else what his designers were up to – you can imagine how this made the rest of the F1 paddock chuckle! F1 designers are sworn to secracy and keep their cards close to their chests – as you would with many millions of pounds at stake in front of a global audience. Flavio’s outburst clearly indicates the fact that his team’s appeal doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on – he’s just annoyed that his car isn’t as fast as the Brawn, Williams and Toyota cars.
Also, to add salt to the wound that is likely to be the result of an embarrassing outcome for Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull is Williams and their little jab at around the time of the Australian Grand Prix. After the protests were announced, Williams launched a counter-protest at the legality of the Ferrari and Red Bull front wings, only to later withdraw this protest and publicly state that they did so in the ‘interests of the sport‘ – a brilliant PR stunt makes a mockery of the current diffuser confusion.
One has to hope that come Tuesday, a sensible decision is made and that F1 can have it’s next grand prix in China without any more controversy over aerodynamic bits of cars – here’s novel idea – why don’t we see who can go the fastest over a long period of time and then make them the winner. Genius.