“Grand Farce”, trumpeted Melbourne’s Herald Sun yesterday, summarising exactly what Australia thought of the exclusion of big-smiling local boy Daniel Ricciardo from the first podium position ever won by an Australian in his home grand prix.
The Red Bull driver had not been able to hold a candle to Nico Rosberg’s winning Mercedes. But surprisingly his car had been transformed from a pig in testing to a silk purse in the race as he beat McLaren’s impressive rookie Kevin Magnussen to second place until – nearly six hours later – he fell foul of the race stewards.
This year, each car’s fuel allowance per race has been slashed and is monitored by FIA-supplied flow meters. But instead of being heralded as a great step in making the sport more relevant to everyday road cars, the Ricciardo incident brought to public attention problems that have afflicted the meters since winter testing began in January.
The FIA found that the Red Bull had consistently exceeded the legal flow rate, and the fun began. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, who lodged an immediate appeal, declared: “These fuel flow sensors have proved problematic throughout the pit lane since the start of testing. There have been discrepancies in them and I think some cars may well have run without them during the race itself, or even failed during it. We had a fuel flow sensor fitted to the car that we believe to be in error.
“We had an issue with a sensor that changed its reading through Friday practice. It was replaced on Saturday, but failed during qualifying. We were then asked to put the sensor from Friday back in the car, which we didn’t feel was correct.
“As we got into the race we could see a significant discrepancy between what the sensor was reading and what our fuel flow, the actual injection of fuel into the engine, was stating. That is where there’s a difference of opinion.
“We wouldn’t be appealing if we weren’t extremely confident we have a defendable case. It’s just extremely disappointing this has happened. It’s certainly no fault of Daniel’s. And I don’t believe it’s the fault of the team.”
However, the FIA’s race director Charlie Whiting countered that Red Bull were warned twice about their fuel flow after qualifying, and again five laps into the race, but chose to ignore it.
“Regardless of the team’s assertion that the sensor was at fault, it is not within their discretion to run a different fuel-flow measurement model without the permission of the FIA,” an official statement said.
F1 had a golden opportunity to showcase the successful inauguration of its new-look ecological formula, with its lean, mean and green 1.6-litre turbocharged hybrid engines. Instead it ended up shooting itself in the foot.