Missing centimetre floors Ferrari

EDDIE IRVINE and Michael Schumacher were thrown out of the Malaysian Grand Prix yesterday on a technicality that could end up denying Ferrari their first world championship for 30 years. But what was wrong with their cars?

EDDIE IRVINE and Michael Schumacher were thrown out of the Malaysian Grand Prix yesterday on a technicality that could end up denying Ferrari their first world championship for 30 years. But what was wrong with their cars?

Under the regulations, a car's flat floor must mirror any components projecting from its monocoque chassis. The simplest way to envisage it is to imagine if the car was turned upside down. The floor would have to include bumps to mask any projections such as the mirrors, or the so-called "barge boards" or "turning vanes", which are the aerodynamic vertical panels located just behind the front wheels. The purpose of these is to guide airflow towards the back end of the car, and they can have a significant effect on its performance.

In the case of the Ferraris, the FIA alleged that the "shadow" floor did not cover a curvature in the barge boards by up to one centimetre. Race stewards upheld the initial declaration of the FIA technical delegate, Jo Bauer.

Ferrari accepted that the bodywork did not conform to the regulations, but said the part had been used in the last race in Germany, and the car had been scrutinised every day during this weekend's maiden race on the Sepang track.

"For reasons we have still got to establish, there is a piece missing of about one centimetre," said Ferrari's technical director, Ross Brawn. "There was no performance gain, and we would not produce a part for the car which was illegal."

Ferrari's only option was to appeal, and the basis for this will be that, though the barge boards themselves can enhance performance, the fact that the shadow plate might not cover them does not. Ferrari also contend that both cars had passed successfully through scrutineering on Thursday, which was overseen by Bauer. Ferrari's appeal will be heard in Paris at a date yet to be determined.

The design of the Ferrari is the responsibility of Brawn and the chief designer, Rory Byrne. Jean Todt, the team's sporting director, defended both last night when he said: "Our cars were in exactly the same technical specification as they were at the Nürburgring three weeks ago, and when they were scrutineered at this race."

Claudio Berro, a Ferrari spokesman, added: "We need to check the technical situation." Asked if there might be a manufacturing problem, Berro said: "We checked the parts, whether it conformed to the rules. It is possible the manufacturer does not conform. I don't know. It is much too early to give an explanation."

Berro said the parts were checked and approved after the qualifying sessions. Asked whether the problem was discovered by chance or following a protest, Berro said: "It is a normal check after the race."

Jordan's chief aerodynamicist, Tim Edwards, said: "I do not think there is any way somebody would cheat like this because the advantage is so minuscule. There is no way you would do something like that which would cost you first and second place."

Ferrari fans were devastated by their team's disqualification. Thousands of supporters had gathered in the team's home town in Maranello, northern Italy, at dawn to watch the race on television screens in cafes and supporters' clubs. "It's a cold shower we weren't expecting," said Alberto Beccari, president of the local Ferrari club.

The mayor of Maranello, Giancarlo Bertacchini, said: "It's not good for motor racing to see the world championship end in this way. If there was a mistake then it's only fair that someone should pay for it. There shouldn't be any more tolerance for Ferrari than for anyone else."

"How is it possible that Ferrari can have gone into the race knowing there was an irregularity?" he asked.

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