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Another F1 season, another argument
February 01, 2007
The first big row of the Formula One season is brewing already, with the opening race in Australia still six weeks away and the new cars barely out of their boxes.
After years of bickering between the major manufacturers and the sport's governing body, peace has broken out on that particular front.
This time it is the 'independent' teams -- former champions Williams, newcomers Spyker, tail-enders Super Aguri and Toro Rosso -- who are at loggerheads over cars that have yet to see the light of day.
Expect Frank Williams and Colin Kolles, the Spyker team principal, to have a few choice words to say when they launch their new racers on Friday and Monday respectively.
The suspicion is that Honda-backed Super Aguri and Red Bull sister team Toro Rosso's eventual offerings will stretch the interpretation of the rules to breaking point. Both teams reject the accusations.
Rivals believe that the Super Aguri, due to be unveiled in Tokyo on the Monday before the March 18 season-opener in Melbourne, will be simply an evolution of the Honda RA106 that Jenson Button drove to victory in Hungary last year.
The Toro Rosso meanwhile could be a carbon copy of the Renault-powered Red Bull designed by Adrian Newey, whose cars won a string of titles for Williams and McLaren in the 1990s, albeit with a Ferrari engine.
The RB3 was unveiled in Barcelona last week with Toro Rosso co-owner Gerhard Berger also in attendance, prompting paddock wags to joke that the Austrian had come to see his new car.
Toro Rosso have yet to confirm their drivers, let alone a launch date.
It seems inevitable that the Melbourne weekend will kick off under a cloud of protest when the cars are presented to the governing FIA for official scrutineering for the first time.
With the rules changing anyway in 2008 to allow teams to buy 'customer cars', the major manufacturers are not too fussed by the situation.
Williams, with their proud past, should not be in a position to be worried either. But they are.
Once world-beaters, they slumped to a miserable eighth overall last year and could do without two of the three teams that they did beat in 2006 turning up in Australia with far more competitive cars obtained on the cheap.
They believe both teams are in breach of the rules.
"I am adamantly opposed to chassis sharing and we at Williams do not believe it is legal under the current rules," Williams told the Guardian newspaper this week.
"We are what you might call a traditionalist racing team which believes that we are out there competing for two world championships, one for the best driver in the world and one for the constructor who builds the best car in the world.
"As far as I am concerned it is absolutely in the regulations in black and white that every team must make its own chassis."
A Williams insider said the team reserved the right to go to arbitration over the matter.
For outsiders, the problem is that the detail lies in the 'Concorde Agreement', a confidential contract between the teams and powers that be that expires at the end of 2007.
"I think the Concorde Agreement is reasonably clear that constructors should build their own rolling chassis," Newey, who knows exactly what is in the document, said last week.
"If you say 'What is a rolling chassis?', then it's actually quite an old fashioned term that probably dates from the time when Rolls Royces had their own coachwork built around them," added the Briton.
"On that basis, it certainly excludes all the bodywork. The rolling chassis [of the Red Bull and Toro Rosso] is not the same, it has a different monococque and a different gearbox."
Super Aguri, with a lineup of Japan's Takuma Sato and British ex-Honda tester Anthony Davidson, say that the car they have run so far is merely an interim one and that the SA07 will meet all the regulations.
They add that they have been working with Honda's Japanese research and design facility in Tochigi, rather than the Honda team in England, and own the intellectual property rights to the design as the rules state they must.
Others maintain that there is a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. The argument could run and run.