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Williams, McLaren accused of flouting gearbox rules

1 May 2012

The Williams and McLaren teams have both been accused of deliberately retiring cars that could have made it to the finish of the Bahrain Grand prix in order to circumvent the current rules regarding gearbox life.

The wording of the regulations insists that each car be made to use its gearbox for five consecutive races - unless it retires from one along the way, in which case it is allowed to fit a replacement unit without incurring the five-place grid penalty that would normally be applied.

While the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher have both been forced to accept that punishment by needing to replace gearboxes during a race weekend, teams are still rumoured to be making 'false' retirements in order to steal a march on the opposition.

This was just the case in Bahrain where both Bruno Senna and Jenson Button were ordered to park their cars in the closing stages, when both were believed to have been healthy enough to have made it to the chequered flag just a couple of laps later.

"Towards the end [of the race], I started feeling a lot of vibration in the brake pedal," Senna said after the race, "The engineers were looking at it, so I kept pushing as you never know what will happen, but the vibration got worse and the decision was made to pit to avoid risking an accident."

While a vibration isn't usually reason to retire, Button's McLaren had been exhibiting a rough sounding exhaust for a couple of laps before the Woking team asked him to return to the pits, but it transpires that that was not the extent of the Briton's 'problems', after an earlier puncture had dropped him out of the top ten,

"As I braked for the final corner, the right-front corner lifted up in the air and I realised I had a puncture," he said, "So I quickly radioed the team, and pitted. But, in the last few laps, the car sounded really noisy, [so] I think the initial problem was an exhaust failure, then my puncture, and then a differential failure; so I had to retire."

However, Germany's Auto Motor und Sport claimed that neither retirement was entirely necessary, and had only been engineered to allow both Senna and Button to start the forthcoming Spanish Grand Prix with a fresh gearbox. Williams, the report claimed, had discovered a manufacturing fault in its gearboxes when forced to change Pastor Maldonado's unit ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix and, presented with opportunity to withdraw Senna without losing points, took it to ensure the Brazilian could receive a replacement next time out.

Button, meanwhile, is alleged to have been setting faster sector times between reporting his problem and re-appearing in the pit-lane but, like Senna, was unlikely to have been able to record a top ten finish and therefore add to their teams' points tally.

The journalist responsible for the accusation, Michael Schmidt, says that Button's DNF is particularly apposite as its precedes the introduction of an all-new gearbox, with a redesigned casing to fit in with other rear-end modifications due to be tested at this week's Mugello group session.

With major changes expected to many of the cars ahead of the Barcelona race, being able to fit a fresh gearbox is seen as an advantage, something that Button, Senna and Schumacher can all benefit from while more 'reliable' rivals have to wait until Monaco the following weekend to gain the same opportunity. Hamilton, who changed his gearbox at round three, has even longer to wait - unless, of course, his McLaren develops a potentially 'fatal' issue in Spain.


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