The conspiracy theorists enjoyed a thoroughly-deserved field day at the Turkish Grand Prix.
Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher, who may now be just fourteen days from announcing his retirement after a 15-year career, arrived in Istanbul ten points away from championship leader Fernando Alonso, with five races to go.
Speaking to a gaggle of journalists on Friday, his eyes glistened. After free practice, the great German had tasted a clear car advantage over rivals Renault, boosted in no small part by a couple of technical controversies that wound up nicely in the red team’s favour.
Two days earlier, the International Court of Appeal agreed with F1’s governing body, the FIA, that a system of moveable “mass dampers” in the front and rear of Alonso’s Renault car was illegal. The team’s reluctant removal of the system, at an unmistakably crucial stage of the championship battle, was clear to see on the stopwatch at Istanbul Speed Park.
At the same time, Ferrari were on the verge of debuting their own controversial innovation. Carbon-fibre fairings covered the wheel rims at the rear of Schumacher’s red racer throughout the weekend in Turkey, and team officials insisted that they simply aided brake cooling and were therefore legal. The FIA agreed.
Other and numerous sources in the paddock, however, noted that — just as on a Tour de France racing bike — the wheel covers improved aerodynamic efficiency.
Actually, there are at least four reasons for their illegality. First, any aerodynamic device must be stationary (rather, the wheel covers rotate at mind-boggling speed). Second, any aerodynamic device must be rigidly attached to the chassis (rather, the wheel covers are attached to the wheels). Third, wheels must be composed of a single material (rather, Ferrari’s Turkey wheels are made of metal and carbon). Four, “parc ferme” conditions forbid changes to aerodynamics or brakes during qualifying (rather, by replacing tyres during the session, Ferrari changed both).
Even so, FIA stewards and technical delegate Charlie Whiting gave the wheels the green light, after banning Renault’s “mass dampers” following little more than an informal letter from McLaren. Added to the fact that the Renault system had been in play for no fewer than 16 grands prix, including a successful championship campaign in 2005, it is little wonder the conspiracy theorists so enjoyed their trip to Turkey.
In the end, Schumacher and Ferrari messed up the weekend by committing simple driving and strategy errors, allowing Alonso to extend his lead by another two points. But at Monza in a fortnight, the red team and the FIA have another chance to put it right.