Protest lodged over F1 cars' legality

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Four teams lodged an official protest against the bodywork on the cars of three rival teams ahead of this weekend's Formula One season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Ferrari, BMW, Renault and Red Bull entered the formal complaints today after race stewards approved the design of the rear diffuser and attached bodywork on the Williams, Toyota and Brawn cars.

The protest was to be heard by race stewards later in the day, leaving uncertainty over the legality of the three affected teams going into Sunday's race and the early rounds of the championship.

Whatever the immediate decision of the stewards, it is likely to be appealed. A hearing via the appeal mechanism of the FIA —the sport's world governing body — was unlikely to be scheduled until after the Malaysian Grand Prix, the second round of the championship.

If the bodywork was deemed illegal, and either of Williams, Toyota or new team Brawn appealed, they would likely race with their present design until the appeal was heard.

New F1 regulations limit the size of the diffuser, and the protesting teams say Williams, Toyota and Brawn have bent the rules by designing bodywork to effectively increase its size.

The diffuser is at the rear of car's under tray and acts to increase down force, assisting speed, cornering and smooth performance of the car.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner rejected suggestions that this row, three days ahead of the season's first GP, had already fractured the much-trumpeted cohesion between teams since the creation of the Formula One Teams' Association.

"This is a sporting and competitive issue, it has nothing to do with the workings of FOTA. It's nothing personal against the teams, it's simply looking to clarify regulations and our interpretations and others has been different," Horner said. "Our purpose in all of this is to establish the clarity of the regulation, because it has significant impact on how we channel our development."

Toyota team principal John Howett said he had no ill will toward the protesting teams, and was confident the Toyota design would be approved.

"It's part of the sport we're in," Howett said. "We have studied the regulations in detail and are very confident we have interpreted them correctly.

"We now just wait for what the stewards or a subsequent court decides."

Should the ultimate decision go in favor of Williams, Toyota and Brawn, other teams would be forced to play catch-up to develop their own bodywork to match.

Horner said his team had done preliminary work to develop rear bodywork in similar fashion, but abandoned it to comply with new F1 rules.

"The cost implications are significant but it depends on how far you want to go with it," Horner said. "We looked at the concept, we looked at it some time ago. We understood it was certainly not within the spirit, or within the regulations. We haven't committed any significant resource to it."

The Red Bull boss said it would be possible for the rival teams to change their bodywork in time for Sunday's race, although the likelihood of appeals meant that was unlikely.

"I don't see any technical reason why it couldn't be done quickly, though the optimizing is something different," Horner said. "It would be possible."

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