F1

Formula One diffuser now overshadows season start

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The opening contest of the 2009 Formula One season was a six-hour struggle Thursday until stewards at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne ruled contested diffusers of Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams F1 are legal and race-ready. Red Bull,...

The opening contest of the 2009 Formula One season was a six-hour struggle Thursday until stewards at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne ruled contested diffusers of Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams F1 are legal and race-ready.

Red Bull, backed by Renault and world champions Ferrari had protested that diffusers on those three teams' cars were not to regulation. Sanctioning International Automobile Federation (FIA) scrutineers begged to differ and certified the cars to compete. The protesters said they would appeal the decision, and the FIA agreed to a hearing in Paris after the second race of the season, in Malaysia on April 5.

An appeals court reversal of Thursday's decision could change the outcomes of the first two races of the season.

A diffuser is a car's rear underbody between the wheels and under the wing that affects downforce. The disquiet concerns whether the protested teams' diffusers are taller than those of the rest of the field. Technical regulations are clear as to measurements and specify how much flex or play parts can have under load.

"We are pleased with the decision of the race stewards but we prefer not to comment further on the situation," Toyota Motorsport chairman Tadashi Yamashina said. "This weekend promises to be a tremendously exciting Australian Grand Prix so we are now looking forward to starting the competition on track with the first practice sessions on Friday."

Williams F1's technical director was similarly mum.

"We are pleased with the stewards' decision, and we have no further comment to make," Sam Michael said.

Only Ross Brawn grew expansive on the decision, telling Reuters in a late-night conversation that his team would have worked with whatever was on hand to let his team reach the grid.

"The guys would have been out there with the bucket of fiberglass and all sorts of things," Brawn told the news agency. "It wouldn't have been pretty, but we would have found a way to race."

The sport's newest ream owner, former technical director at Ferrari for six consecutive constructors' championships, said he is confident of his team's regulations interpretation.

"We don't feel there's an issue of interpretation," he said. "We feel the interpretation is fairly straightforward, but, of course, we are not about to explain to our competitors what interpretation we've taken."

Brawn called the kerfuffle a distraction and said it would be a shame to have the stewards' decision overturned by appeal.

"It has been a little bit of an awkward period, but, hopefully, we can now focus on getting the best out of the car for the next few days."

Brawn has made the bulk of the news since arriving in Australia. The Times has reported on its website that Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group will announce in Australia it will become the team's major sponsor after concluding a multimillion-dollar deal. ... The team announced Thursday that British clothing maker Henri Lloyd became Brawn GP's first commercial partner as clothing and footwear supplier. The company is based in Manchester. ... The team will shed 275 jobs. Local newspaper Banbury Guardian reported Brackley, England, staff were notified by mail of the job losses. The weekly reported that World Rally Championship team Prodrive will lay off 150 workers. ... Brawn will race with car numbers 22 and 23 because Force India had in hand merchandise with its expected numbers, 20 and 21. The FIA made the adjustment. ... UK bookmakers installed Jenson Button, who scored three points for Honda last season, as favorite to win Sunday's race after the BGP 001 used its scant testing time to shoot to the top of time charts. ... Button arrived in Australia with a Japanese fashion model setting abuzz rumors she is his current girlfriend.

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