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Fernandes calls for rules clarity

9 July 2011


Team Lotus principal Tony Fernandes has called on the FIA to clear up confusion over F1's engine rules after witnessing a heated debate between title rivals Christian Horner and Martin Whitmarsh during the Friday afternoon press conference at Silverstone.

Like Horner's Red Bull operation, Team Lotus uses Renault engines, but Fernandes called for clarity in the regulations after it emerged that Whitmarsh and McLaren were angered by concessions apparently granted to the French manufacturer ahead of the weekend's British Grand Prix. During a frank exchange of views, Horner claimed that McLaren supplier Mercedes had also been allowed to bend the rules slightly [see related story], prompting Fernandes to suggest that it was not good for the sport to operate under ambiguous regulations.

"I've been focusing on these two in front of me [and], as someone who is very new to the sport, I think it's a little bit of a shambles that we're having these kind of discussions," he noted, "I don't think you have that in many other sports.

"The rules should be very clear, everyone should understand them and they should be pretty black and white. It costs the sport a lot of money. I think that one of the dangers of the sport is changing the interpretations - it's really got to be black and white and I think it can be. If you look at GP2, it's very clear. I run a GP2 team, [and] we don't have these kind of situations. Of course, F1 is technologically advanced and you need all that sort of thing, but I think the regulators of the sport need to make things clear so we don't have this ten per cent blowing, 50 per cent blowing, hot, cold, in between etc, and teams and engineers have clarity.

"Even over the last few months, we've heard of all the controversy in football, but the rules in football are clear, it's black and white, it's easy for the spectators to understand and I think that's a really big challenge for [F1] because I don't understand anything that these two have just said, [so] God knows about all the spectators over there [in the grandstands]. I think it needs to be simpler, and I don't think it makes a huge amount of difference to the people who are watching it."

Despite his outburst, Fernandes admitted that there were cleverer men than him that should be charged with simplifying the regulations.

"I'm the last person [to ask] because I don't understand half of [the rules], but I think there are enough smart people in this business to make the sport easier to understand," he confirmed, "I proposed it at the last FOTA meeting and I think there are some suggestions being put forward at the TRWG in terms of the terms of reference.

"I'm coming in as someone who is an outsider and saying how I look at it and making some suggestions. I think there are lots of smart people in there who can make it an easier, and more black and white, sport and I think that's what I put forward to FOTA last week This blown diffuser [ban], I think it should be at the end of the season. I've always said that. If you're going to make a rule change like that, where teams have invested, it should be at the end of the season. Now you're getting things being changed in practice sessions. I think this kind of greyness needs to be taken out. It has in many other motorsports, where it is black and white, and I think it would be good for F1.

"I don't know how to do it, but there are enough people in there who do know and I think there should be less energy spent on so much of the rules and the engineering ways of getting around the rules and they should just be black and white, so you know this is what you can do as opposed to [spending] so much time trying to find ways to circumvent the rules. It should be very clear, and I think it can be done, because it is done in 99 per cent of other sports."

Fernandes' plea followed a heated exchange between Whitmarsh and Horner over the relative merits of the concessions allowed to their respective engine suppliers, the full content of which can be found in the press conference transcript here, but which ended with both team principals suggesting the Team Lotus' boss had the right idea.

"I don't know whether they've got a technical advantage or not," Whitmarsh said of Red Bull, "All I'm saying is that we've evolved into quite a complex set of guidelines as to what's permissible. We've done everything against what Tony's suggested - ie what was not exactly black and white, but what was reasonably clear and what was being exploited has become a whole heck of a lot greyer and subject to negotiation, which probably wasn't appropriate. I think that everyone here agrees, having clear rules that aren't unambiguous and are changed after good consent and between seasons is the right thing to do."

"I agree with Martin," Horner finally agreed, "I think that, at the end of the day, we don't want to be disadvantaged. We think it's unfair to have been excessively penalised through a technical directive that was released just after Valencia. That has been addressed in an equitable manner and I think that, inevitably, McLaren or Mercedes will think that they're losing out to Renault and Red Bull.

"Red Bull feels exactly the same, that the way that [McLaren and Mercedes] operate their engine offers an advantage. It's something that we're just not going to agree on, but I think that that's where the role of the regulator is, to balance this and, on what is a very complex subject, they've done their best to do it. I think that as [FIA race director] Charlie [Whiting] will probably admit, it would have been best to deal with this at the end of the year. It is tantamount to a rule change and, when you enter the championship at the beginning of the year and design your car around it – and let's not forget that there's other teams that have significantly designed their cars around this set of regulations – for them to suddenly change halfway through the year is cost, it's time, it's effort, it's money and it's confusing.

"It's confusing to you, it's confusing to the fans and it's confusing to F1, [but] that's where we are. Hopefully, we can now draw a line under it and move on. It's probably not the last you're going to hear about blown exhausts or whatever else is blown these days, but hopefully we can now move on."


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