The FIA court of appeal is poised to sit on the case that could determine the outcome of the 2009 Formula One season, despite the campaign being just two races old.
That is the view of those opposing the diffuser designs that appear to have given the Brawn, Toyota and, to a lesser extent, Williams a leg-up on the rest of the field in both the Australian and Malaysian grands prix, where Brawn's Jenson Button completed the transformation of the former Honda team by winning both events and snatching a comfortable early lead in the standings.
Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault and, following the Sepang round, BMW-Sauber are leading the protests against the double-decker innovations that, they claim, contravene the new-for-2009 F1 regulations. Race stewards in Australia and Malaysia, however, deemed otherwise, signing off the six cars in question as legal to compete, leading to the protests becoming appeals and heading for Paris in the short break between rounds two and three.
The main bones of contention centre on whether or not the accused have defied rules governing the height of the diffuser, going above the prescribed 175mm limit - something only permitted if the diffuser also forms part of 'a crash structure integral to the gearbox casing' - and whether 'holes' in the design have any beneficial effect on airflow, and therefore downforce, increasing the car's on-track potential.
There is a difference of opinion over whether the 'holes' on the three cars in question are actually 'slots' - as their designers contend they are - and whether 'any part of the [sprung mass of the] car is visible through them when viewed from below'. If the latter is true, the designs would be illegal. However, should the court of appeal agree that the 'holes' on the Brawn, Toyota and Williams are indeed permissible 'gaps', then the view of the suspension - which blocks sight of any part of the sprung mass - would be sufficient to make the cars legitimate.
Naturally, there are differing views on the matter, depending on which side of the argument is questioned.
“If you look at the Brawn car from underneath, you can see the suspension,” former Ferrari designer Rory Byrne told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport
newspaper, claiming that erstwhile team-mate Ross Brawn's design is in breach of regulations that have stood for nearly 15 years, “Fully enclosed holes are permitted in the surfaces lying on the reference and step planes, provided no part of the car is visible through them when viewed from directly below.”
Brawn, meanwhile, is confident that the governing body will come down on the side of innovation and, even if they don't, doesn't believe that it will wipe Button's success from the record books.
"The stewards have said it is legal," he told Britain's Guardian
newspaper, "Some teams are unhappy with that decision, but [the diffuser] is in line with our understanding. You have to see how these things go but, even if they decide there is a different interpretation, I don't think they'll wipe out what went before because we've been told our car is legal."
Brawn's confidence may be well-placed, for another British title is claiming that the court's decision is already as good as made. The Daily Mail
insists that 'a paddock insider' has confided that the Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars will all be declared legal at this week's hearing, which is due to announce its verdict tomorrow [Wednesday].