Relief for Button after diffuser gets all-clear

Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars passed by race stewards for Australian Grand Prix
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Jenson Button was finally able to sleep easily last night after race stewards for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix cleared his Brawn Formula One car – and those of Toyota and Williams – to race after lengthy debate about their controversial diffuser designs.

Earlier in the day, Button had said: "First of all it's not something I have any control over personally. Secondly, the best person to speak to about that is Ross [Brawn]. It doesn't change anything for me, I can't do anything about it. It's down to Ross and whoever else is involved. But for sure I believe the car is legal, but I have said all I have to say on the subject."

As expected, after weeks of bickering, rivals Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull lodged official protests about the offending items yesterday in order to have the regulations clarified for the future. BMW Sauber had also prepared a protest, but their complaint was rejected on a technicality.

The stewards Radovan Novak, Olufar Gudmundsson and Steve Chopping had to hear each of the protests against the three teams separately because their diffuser designs differed. In the early hours yesterday they rejected all three protests and the governing body, the FIA, issued a statement confirming that the stewards believed the cars to be legal.

Toyota welcomed the decision and said in a statement: "Toyota Motorsport have studied the wording of the new 2009 regulations in precise detail to ensure that we have interpreted them correctly."

A Williams statement from their technical director, Sam Michael, said: "We are pleased with the stewards' decision and have no further comment to make."

Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull each confirmed they would appeal against the stewards' decision, thus forcing the matter before a hearing of the FIA's international court of appeal. This cannot be arranged until after the Malaysian Grand Prix, which takes place on Sunday week, so the Brawn, Williams and Toyota teams will compete in both opening races under appeal as further protests are expected in Sepang.

Questions have been asked as to why the FIA president, Max Mosley, let things drag on to this point when the matter could have been cleared up soon after Toyota and Williams launched their cars in January.

Critics suggest it suited the FIA's purpose to set the teams against each other in the hope of disrupting the unity the Formula One Teams' Association has shown in its negotiations with the FIA and Formula One Management over the past six months.

Button's fellow countryman Lewis Hamilton found himself back in the spotlight yesterday after suggestions that he might consider a move to Ferrari. Hamilton appeared to throw his future with McLaren into doubt by claiming he would listen to offers from a rival team should he be approached.

"I haven't had offers from other teams, and I am not talking to anyone," he had been quoted as saying. "But I would listen to an offer if someone asked. It would be a compliment, and it would be silly if I did not."

Yesterday Hamilton clarified those words, saying: "I'm happy where I am. It doesn't really have any grounds. All I said was that it's quite cool if you find out other teams are interested in you. It's good to know you are wanted.

"I honestly want to see out my career with McLaren," he added. "I do feel it's my family, it's where I am right now and it's where I'm happy."

* Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group is to invest in Formula One for the first time as a significant team sponsor after a deal was reached with Brawn GP yesterday.

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