FIA to rule on legality of Brawn, Williams and Toyota diffusers (Poll)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Williams' diffuser design is among those under protest
Williams' diffuser design is among those under protest

The FIA International Court of Appeal will today finally rule on whether the ‘double decker’ diffusers used by Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams are legal.

Should the Brawn / Toyota/ Williams diffusers be banned?

  • Yes (23%)
  • No (69%)
  • Don't know (5%)
  • Don't care (2%)

Total Voters: 2,847

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The technical decision

Back in January John Beamer described the new diffuser regulations as ‘opaque’ and it seems the result of that lack of clarity has been a protest against three teams who many of the other believe have interpreted the rules incorrectly.

Last week John offered this view on the likely outcome of the technical side to the diffuser debate:

(1) The rules don?t prevent double-decking as the diffuser is defined in the articles labelled ??bodywork facing the ground? – the upper tier does not face the ground.

(2) The reference plan and step are not treated as a single continuous surface so holes can be carved in the step transition to feed more air to the diffuser.

(3) A longer, higher central section that integrates with the rear crash structure is allowed – Toyota exploits this (think of this as a narrower version of the central section allowed last year).

The prevailing view in the paddock is that the FIA will not outlaw the double-diffuser, at least not this season. Expect 75% of teams to be running them when the F1 circus lands in Europe.

See the links below for more on the technical side of the discussion. But as ever in F1 the implications of today’s decision could go far beyond the technical…

The political decision

Anyone who remembers the Ferrari barge board controversy of 1999 knows that technical accuracy means little next to what the governing body thinks is in the best interest of the sport. On that occasion, allowing the championship battle to continue into the final race of the season was viewed as being more important than punishing a team whose interpretation of the rules was, at best, questionable.

The situation is complicated in that the FIA originally said the diffuser designs were legal. When the cars were scrutineered at Melbourne they were passed as legal, and now several teams have protested against that decision.

Here’s some of the poits of view on the debate the FIA may take into consideration:

  • “Brawn GP have benefitted from the diffusers more than anyone, and as they represent the FIA’s vision of future, inexpensive F1 teams, they will get an easy time from the stewards.” I’m not really convinced by this argument as Toyota – F1’s most profligate team in recent years – have the same technology.
  • “Because of the diffusers, F1 cars in 2009 are faster than the FIA intends them to be, so they will ban them.” I think this argument has some merit but the way Flavio Briatore put it forward smacked of sour grapes.
  • “The designers have gone against past precedent in their interpretation of the rules.” This was a view put forward by Ferrari’s Rory Byrne, but what confuses me is that if it was this simple, I don’t see why the FIA wouldn’t have passed the diffusers as legal in the first place (of course, this link of thinking can be used against many other arguments). Besides which, recent rulings have shown past precedent carries very little weight in FIA appeal hearings.
  • “The FIA will not re-distribute points from past races because it would further tarnish the sport’s reputation.” If they have an ounce of sense, they’ll leave the results of the first two races alone.

My instincts tell me the diffusers will be passed as legal.

Although technical reasons will be put forward by the FIA as the justification for their legality, this will be a decision taken more out of political pragmatism.

F1 has these ‘interpretation of the technical rules’ argument from time to time, as Williams’ counter-protest against certain teams’ side pod wings made clear. The wiggle room in the regulations seems so great we might as well toss a coin instead of going to the time and expense of having a hearing.

In short, the FIA can pick whichever decisions suits them best and then find a technical means of supporting it.

The FIA has recently proposed F1 has two sets of technical regulations next year in order to make its budget caps proposal work. It can’t very well do that and then hold hearings where it contradicts previous decisions made by itself and its stewards, which undermine the results of the first two races of the championship. It has to demonstrate its competence.

Do you think the diffuser appeal will succeed or fail? Vote above and leave a comment below.

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149 comments on “FIA to rule on legality of Brawn, Williams and Toyota diffusers (Poll)”

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  1. @ Giuseppe

    totally agree with you

  2. The rules should make it possible to reduce turbulence in a car’s wake, but it is not a teams responsibility to make their cars overtake friendly.

  3. Contrary to popular opinion, I think the diffusers will be declared illegal – but with the results from the first two races to stand. I have no rational basis for my opinion, other than that the FIA have a habit of doing the opposite of what almost everyone thinks is reasonable and correct!

  4. I guess it is just a matter of understanding and interpreting the rules correctly. There might be loop holes in it that not all designers saw and took advantage of it. Ross Brawn did exactly what that loop hole is and gain every advantage from it. Now, is it illegal to be wiser and smarter than everybody? if it is, then ban those three teams.

  5. Bigbadderboom
    14th April 2009, 10:26

    @Giuseppe “If they are deemed legal its the fans who suffer”
    Not sure how the fans suffer, there has still been vast improvements in reducing wake due to the front wing rule changes. And I think the first 2 races has shown better overtaking and closer racing action.
    If deemed Illegal then its the sport as a whole that suffers, F1 looses any credibility it has left. If the stewards decision is overturned and the diffusers declared illegal, then I fear it would be more to do with the protests from ferra

  6. I have a simply question to ask.

    What is the difference between the wake a car with a Double Decker diffuser leaves behind it when compared to a ‘normal’ diffuser?

    If the wake is worse, they should be banned in my opinion. Though the FIA must have clarified this about late February for sure (and this is a lot of time I’m giving them). Lately, the FIA has been acting very strangely as well on other circumstances, such as the ‘lie-gate’ saga. But I won’t go off-topic.

    1. My understanding was that the double/triple deck diffusers had a cleaner airflow exiting them, but I am no engineer/designer and know nothing about it really… I just read that somewhere, or read something and understood/misunderstood it as that.

      If I understood right, then thoeretically that would make overtaking easier with the “controversial” diffuser design.

  7. Having read this…

    …I’m wondering if maybe it would be better for the sport to ban them after all. Not officially declaring them illegal, but banning in the interests of the sport and therefore keep the results of the first two races.

    1. Thanks Dougie, that should make an interesting read.

  8. I think the FIA will leave the results of the first 2 races alone no matter what they decide about the diffusers.

    As the FIA has shown before decisions of this sort are often influenced by politics, rather than what is the correct interpretation of the rules, for example banning new technology because it gave someone a performance advantage not because it was against the rules. For this reason I think it is more likely the diffusers are deemed legal because the teams who currently have them are teams that have not been successful recently and also other teams like the Red Bull are not that far behind at the moment in terms of pace. If the only teams with the diffuser were McLaren and Ferrari and especially if just one of those two had the diffuser, I think there would be a higher chance of them being banned as those are the teams who have dominated F1 in recent history.

    If I had to predict the outcome it would be that they will be ruled legal for this season but the FIA will probably redo the regulations for next year to ban them. Or if they go ahead with the stupid idea of two sets of regulations for different budgets, they will allow it for teams who choose the budget cap but not for those with limited budgets.

    Does anyone know why McLaren decided to join in the protests late? Does it make any difference how many teams protest it?

    I have a question for the technically minded out there, I have seem some people claim on message boards that the ‘double decker’ diffusers make it harder for cars to follow due to increased turbulence, and also some people claim that it actually cleans up the airflow making it easier to follow the car in front. Which view is the correct one?

  9. KingHamilton
    14th April 2009, 12:27

    does anyone know at what time the case is to be heard?

    Im very anxious to find out the verdict………..

  10. KingHamilton – Verdict won’t be out until tomorrow afternoon.

  11. KingHamilton
    14th April 2009, 12:59


    I have to wait over 24 hours for a probably unfair verdict? Blimey……….

  12. I think the case should be decided on whether the Brawn-type diffuser goes against the effort of making it easier for cars to follow close behind. If it dirties the air more it should go.

    Regardless, the results of the first two GP´s should not be affected.

  13. I read that diffusers of that type (and floor design) were not used anymore after Sena’s accident, because of safety isues. If this is that way, it would be a pity that either Buton or Rubens (or someone else) have a bad accident one day.

    1. Never heard of a diffuser having anything to do with Senna’s accident. Senna’s actual death was a freak occurrence of a suspension component piercing his helmet. If it hadn’t been for this he would very likely have survived.
      Correct me if I’m wrong however!

    2. I meant to say the accident occurred after Senna’s steering column sheared…

    3. thanks for your answers. As far as I understood (I’m not engineer!) they say that it can generate turbulence under the car, so that’s why it is not so safe. But I don’t know more details.

  14. It’s not been discussed here yet but the fact that Ross Brawn drew it to everyone’s attention that there was potential for exploitation in the regulations some time ago.
    When the OWG rejected this observation they effectively accepted this condition.

    This ‘Spirit of the Rules’ business is just nonsense. This argument requires strong hard fact objectivity not some airy fairy ideology that is instantly swamped by tens of millions of dollars as soon as you show any sign of competitiveness.

    The double decks should stay and the engineering prowess that developed them should be applauded. This is precisely what drives F1 above all else. Ground breaking engineering solutions within the limits of the regulations. With no need to get spiritual!

    Did for example Ferrari (or Renault or…) have such a design, on paper – ready to test but then turned to each other and said “No, that would give us a advantage – maybe we should consider instead the spirit of the regulations. So what if we look like crap during the season..?”
    Nah, they just didn’t have it and they are simply envious of superior design.

    1. I was going to put a nice post on this topic about what I think on this – but this pretty much sums up everything i was going to say perfectly pSynrg.

      ‘Spirit of the rules’ is what amuses me most. That is effectively saying they dont think it breaks any real regulations, just that it isnt fair that some people have it and others dont – if they want to restore the ‘spirit of the rules’ – then they should catch up with the others! Since when has any team given up any legal advantage (and technically it is legal at the minute, unless the appeal proves otherwise) they have just because a couple of other teams dont have it?

      Plus, surely if the appealing teams are already coming up with their own new diffuser designs, does this not undermine thier appeal in the first place. If they truly 100% beleive it is illegal, then they shouldnt be making a new design. By making a new design, they must, at least in part, beleive that the design is legal – else why spend the money on it. If they dont beleive the design is 100% illegal, then their case, in my opinion, is massively dented.

      Goodness me i really hope this appeal gets dismissed and everything continues as it is.

  15. Well – as all people with a smidgen of common sense would agree (and that means even you, Ferrari fans) the diffusers are legal, and ought to be ruled as such especially if you take into account the history of the debate so far, beginning with the development work last year.

    Common sense, of course, is what you get under the heading of “Antonym” when you look up FIA in your thesaurus. This should have been ruled on (one way or another, for better or worse, but CLEARLY) as soon as there were grumblings from some teams before the first race.

    I wouldn’t bet on getting what our guts tell us from these hearings. If we do – so much the better, but I’ll brace for more ridiculousness. To paraphrase Murray Walker: “Anyhting can happen at an FIA hearing, and it usually does!”

  16. I voted legal because of all of the information I have read up to now, and the key reason being that the FIA has already deemed it legal.

    There have been many regulations mentioned in the articles about the design of the double diffuser, and both sides seem to be able to explain their way around them and in the end, both sound right. So the problem is that the rule(s) needs to be clearly defined, and this is something Brawn, who heads the Technical Working Group, already tried to do (

    So the other teams are now embarrassed, because they didn’t care then, as they were arrogant, and this is what happens.

    I see no reason to ban them. Clarify the rules, maybe don’t allow more steps, maybe ban them for 2010, but to ban them because some enginnerres are embarrased that they didn’t figure it out… really doesn’t cut it.

    As for the whole “Spirit of the rules”, really, that’s a joke, certainly in F1, when you always try to find that edge. If I have to choose between rules or racing, I will go with racing, some great races occurred when Ferrari ran a flat 12, Renault was running a turbo, and Williams was running a Cosworth V8 with it’s first wing car design. The start of this season reminds me of that time, with some running the magical diffuser, some running KERS, and some more focused on an electronic pit lolipop. :)

  17. @pSynrg,

    Is there any indication that DDDs are examples of engineering prowess and innovation? Or are they just clever interpretation of the rules? (or both).

    Given the insight into the “loophole,” was there any _engineering_ innovation (new understanding of airflow characteristics, materials, interactions, etc.) after that insight?

    I’m not claiming this is germane to whether they should be banned or not, just curious.

    1. I would have to say ‘both’. In my mind at least, engineering is the practice of manipulating physical characteristics/constraints to suit a particular purpose.

      Should limits to these manipulations exist, be it artificial (constraints) or physical (characteristics) then the engineering solution that best interprets these boundaries should be the most successful.
      This is the driving force behind F1 development since the beginning.

      Yes, there is a requirement for clarification should ambiguities emerge.

      But the creative teams that expose these ambiguities in the artificial is to be applauded. Certainly not penalised!

      If necessary rewrite your regulations removing this ambiguity but do not impose their influence retrospectively.

  18. Well said pSynrg and Maciek.

    Common sense not being the major constituent of the air breathed at FIA Bloody Assizes where a Witchfinder General giving evidence would not be out of place !

    In a sense though, it would be good for a certain amount of politics to intervene in any decision about diffusers. A political decision for example, which rested on the effect for good or evil on F1’s fan base and TV audience would force these guys to realise that the only decision worth making is for them to leave well alone. Diffuser Three Go Free !

    Wrapped up in clever technical jargon of course !

  19. i hope they ban them

  20. @Choltz,

    As for the whole “Spirit of the rules”, really, that’s a joke, certainly in F1, when you always try to find that edge.

    Most other sports have this concept, and these sports are all equally competitive, trying to find the edge, and involve high dollar figures at stake. Why should F1 be any different?

    To me, it’s no coincidence that the teams that were part of the OWG all don’t have DD diffusers. I wouldn’t blame them at all if their respective designers are a bit unhappy with how the rules have been interpreted by the other teams. In fact that’s a fundamental conflict of interest.

    Imagine if only the three OWG teams had come up with these DD diffusers; there would have been a huge hue and cry about conflict of interest, inside knowledge, FIA being Ferrari biased, ad infinitum …

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