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Outcome of diffuser hearing could have major impact on F1 title

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With the 2009 Formula One season less than one month old, the world championship could be on the brink of chaos, depending on this week's outcome of the FIA's International Court of Appeal hearing over a controversial car part used by three teams in the recent Australian and Malaysian Grand Prix.

Prior to the start of the Australian GP, Ferrari, Red Bull Racing and Renault filed an appeal after stewards rejected their protests that the cars from Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams used an illegal diffuser. BMW Sauber and McLaren later followed suit. The appeal will be heard Tuesday in Paris, with a decision expected the next day.

Diffusers are devices that help accelerate the air flow beneath the car and therefore improve its downforce.

Jenson Button from Brawn has been dominant so far with victories in the first two races. Button has accumulated 15 points rather than 20, since the Malaysian GP was cut short less than 75 percent of its scheduled distance and half points were awarded. He is five points ahead of second-place and teammate Rubens Barrichello, who has finished second and fifth in the first two grand prix.

Jenson Button and Brawn GP could be given a big boost in their quest for the title.
Both drivers were uncertain of their futures in F1 before team principal Ross Brawn acquired the former Honda team earlier this year. The two drove for Honda in 2008, but in December the Japanese auto manufacturer pulled out of the sport and sold its team due to the world-wide economic slowdown.

Toyota drivers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock are third and fourth in points, respectively, after the duo have each scored top-five finishes in the first two races.

Nico Rosberg from Williams has also turned in impressive performances in the early season.

If the court rules their diffusers did not comply with the current F1 technical regulations, the three teams could possibly be stripped of all points they scored in Australia and Malaysia, which will create one big mess as far as determining the world champion.

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen thinks the ruling on the diffuser will have a major impact on this year's title.

"We still don't have any points after two races, and this is a very difficult moment," Raikkonen said on Ferrari's team website. "The next race is in China, but a couple of days before the FIA's Court of Appeal will decide about the diffuser. This decision will have an enormous impact on the championship."

Raikkonen, the 2007 F1 champion, also wonders if the subpar performance of the Ferrari F60 in the early going can be attributed to a lack of downforce, caused by the diffuser design.

Felipe Massa from Ferrari has yet to score a point this season as well. Massa finished one point behind champion Lewis Hamilton in the 2008 world championship.

The diffuser issue is just one of several controversies to plague F1 this season.

Hamilton was disqualified from the Australian GP after stewards later concluded he gave "misleading evidence" during a hearing held immediately after the race in Melbourne. He allowed Trulli to pass him under the safety car, but lied about it to stewards after the race. Trulli was penalized and demoted to 12th place, but eventually reinstated to his original finishing position of third.

The FIA has called McLaren to a meeting on April 29 to answer charges of alleged lying to stewards in Australia and at a special meeting prior to the Malaysian GP. The team could possibly be banned from this year's championship.

The FIA's World Motor Sport Council adopted an alternative to F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's "medals" idea, where the winner of the most grand prix, not points, would determine the title. However, the governing body quickly reversed its decision by agreeing to delay its new points system until 2010. F1 teams did not agree with the revised system, saying the change came too soon prior to the start of the season without their unanimous agreement.

Whatever the court decides on the diffusers is uncertain, but one thing is for sure, the debate on it will continue throughout the season.

If the diffusers are found to be legal, it will give Button and Brawn a big boost in their quest for the title, as teams such as McLaren and Ferrari will have a lot of catching up to do.

But if the court rules in favor of the protesters, it will create a whole new ball game, with all the pre-season title contenders right back in the thick of things.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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