FIA's bump decision dampened by its own stewards

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Michael Schumacher second fastest, Fernando Alonso 15th. On the face of it, not a promising first day's practice at Hockenheim for the world champion. And perhaps, for the paying public, it was a less than satisfying day, with Schumacher not even running in the morning. Welcome to Formula One, 2006 style.

Away from the track, Toyota confirmed that they will be retaining Jarno Trulli and that they will supply Williams with engines for three years.

Of greater import, however, was the news that the FIA's stewards had overturned the governing body's contention that special dampers on the Renaults (and the Ferraris and the Red Bulls) are illegal. The so-called "mass dampers" are designed to limit the vertical reaction of a car to serious bumps. By doing this, the FIA contended, they breach the rules on movable aerodynamic devices, even though engineers admit they can influence the aerodynamic performance far more significantly by legally adjusting the conventional dampers in a car's suspension.

Step forward Tony Scott Andrews, the FIA permanent steward, who in Monaco saw through Michael Schumacher's parking subterfuge and inflicted an appropriate penalty. A humble man who describes himself as "a country solicitor", Scott Andrews agreed with Renault that their mass dampers did not contravene the technical regulations.

The FIA, however, has indicated its intention to appeal against its own stewards' opinion - to its own court of appeal. This is reminiscent of the situation in which BAR Honda found themselves at Imola last year, where the FIA stewards declared their cars to be legal after a post-race inspection, only to have the FIA overturn their decision the following day.

Those who recall how the FIA retrospectively reassessed its own measurement of acceptable tyre wear back in 2003, to the detriment of Michelin, whose teams McLaren and Williams thus had their championship campaigns very significantly interrupted, are concerned that the status quo of 2006 may yet similarly be turned on its head.

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