BAR-Honda may be thrown out of title race

BAR-Honda face a situation even more serious than the potential loss of the valuable points Jenson Button scored after finishing third in Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix if they are found guilty of malpractice at a court hearing in Paris next week, after Formula One's governing body took the extraordinary step yesterday of appealing against a post-race decision by the stewards to take no further action when Button's car was found to be below the minimum weight limit.

BAR-Honda face a situation even more serious than the potential loss of the valuable points Jenson Button scored after finishing third in Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix if they are found guilty of malpractice at a court hearing in Paris next week, after Formula One's governing body took the extraordinary step yesterday of appealing against a post-race decision by the stewards to take no further action when Button's car was found to be below the minimum weight limit.

All cars are weighed as a matter of course after a race, and must reach a minimum of 600 kilos. When first weighed, Button's car reached 606.1kg which, in accordance with the regulations, also included the driver's weight. However, against normal practice, all the fuel was siphoned out and the car was weighed again - and was found to weigh 594.6 kg.

Having earlier penalised Ralf Schumacher 25sec on his race time after Toyota had released him from their pit into the path of Nick Heidfeld, the stewards heard representations from BAR-Honda and deliberated for six hours before finally deciding that Button's car was legal and that further action was unnecessary.

Yesterday the FIA decided that was the wrong decision and lodged an appeal. It is thought that the stewards were "tipped off" by unnamed parties who allege that some teams have been running their cars underweight during the middle sections of races and then ballasting them with fuel during their final pit stops near the end of the race in order to bring them back above the minimum weight limit. It has also been alleged that an endoscope test revealed a second fuel tank in Button's car and that the team denied its existence. Such a thing could be perfectly legal, however, as it is up to the designers to decide how big to make the tank.

If the FIA decide that BAR-Honda deliberately cheated, as Toyota did in the World Rally Championship back in the Nineties, they could face exclusion from the championship. That happened to Ken Tyrrell's eponymous team back in 1984, after allegations that they ran their non-turbocharged cars underweight against more powerful turbo-charged cars, and ballasted them with water and lead shot in their final pit stops.

Such a catastrophe would almost certainly allow Button to leave for Williams-BMW for 2006. Yesterday BAR-Honda, run by people of widely acknowledged integrity and character, said they were "surprised" by the appeal but were confident they could prove their car was fully legal.

Their chief executive, Nick Fry, said: "We will provide the same rigorous data presented to the stewards last night and are confident we can prove once again that the car was fully compliant with the FIA technical regulations throughout the San Marino Grand Prix."

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