Ricciardo’s Australian GP Disqualification explained: What did Red Bull Do Wrong?

After an outstanding race for Red Bull, many are surprised by the exclusion of Daniel Riccardo. But why exactly was he excluded, and will it be overturned?

 The FIA statement regarding Ricciardo’s disqualification is reproduced in full at the bottom of this article, but can also be viewed here.

New for 2014, cars are limited to a total of 100kg of fuel available for the entire race distance. Also, cars are limited to a specific amount of fuel used per hour, or a specific fuel flow rate (100kg/h). During the race, the FIA technical delegates reported that Red Bull was using in excess of the allowed fuel flow rate. This data comes from the FIA homologated sensor installed in each car.

During the practice sessions for Melbourne, Red Bull and the FIA noticed that the fuel flow sensor was giving erroneous readings. During the practice sessions, Red Bull changed out a series of these sensors in order to try to find one that was operating correctly. This was done in compliance with FIA rules, as seen in Reason 4 of the ruling.

However, a satisfactory sensor performance could not be achieved. The FIA recognizing this, instructed Red Bull to apply an “offset” to the reading. This “offset”, is just a number provided by the FIA to subtract from what reading was displayed. For example: if the FIA determined the offset to be 4kg/h, Red Bull would be allowed to run at a flow rate of 104kg/h, subtracting the 4kg/h, and still remain within the rules.

Red Bull was most likely not satisfied with the offset provided. This is most likely due to a variation in the reading, and not a constant error. In Reason 6 of the ruling, the technical delegate for the FIA states this as well.

Red Bull, being unsatisfied with the readings of the FIA fuel flow sensor, decided to use their own telemetry data from the car to calculate the actual fuel flow rate (referred to in ruling as “back-up system”). Christian Horner is adamant that this data source is much more accurate than the FIA homologated sensor.

This is the point of contention for the FIA. The rules do allow for teams to use a “back-up system” to measure the fuel flow, in the event of a failure in the FIA sensor. However, as stated by the stewards in Reason 8 of the ruling, the FIA delegate must give permission for the teams to do so. Red Bull chose not to do this.

Red Bull was informed by the FIA technical delegate during the race, that their fuel flow was in excess of the limits based upon the FIA sensor. Red Bull decided to ignore this statement, not retard their fuel flow rate, and continue to rely on telemetry data and calculations.
Finding B of the ruling by the FIA stewards, the stewards recognize that the FIA sensor was in error, and that the method used by Red Bull was an acceptable method. However, they also state they must have permission from the FIA to do so. This point is reiterated a few times in various ways throughout the ruling.

So, if Red Bull did not use an illegal method of fuel flow measurement, they did not use more fuel than allowed, why was Daniel Riccardo excluded? Because Red Bull was not given express permission by the FIA to change the method in which they measure the fuel flow during the race. They were in violation of the rule of not getting FIA approval.

This can be seen as a gray area in the ruling. The team is penalized for not getting permission from the FIA to do something that is within the rules. In the very fast paced sport of Formula One, this could be a very dangerous precedence. Teams and drivers do not always have time to wait for express permission for every decision. This could lead into the FIA inadvertently giving certain teams an advantage or disadvantage based upon just the order in which they review request, complaints, etc.

Infinity Red Bull Racing is appealing the stewards’ decision. However it is unlikely that the exclusion of Riccardo will be overturned. The 2014 season has brought with it a vast number of rule changes, big and small. Because of this, this season will be wrought with technical advancements, new technologies, new solutions, constant experimenting, and inevitably creative solutions that push the boundaries of the regulations.

The FIA just doesn’t have the man power to keep up with and inspect every single change, development, and operation of all the new solutions. Because of this, the FIA is making an example of Red Bull with this ruling. They may not be able to keep up with all the advancements as they happen, but the FIA will not take bending of the rules or following the regulations lightly. If the FIA does determine that a regulation has been violated, the repercussions will be severe. This is in hopes to scare the teams into self-regulating.

Some people feel Red Bull was in the right, and others feel they were in the wrong. According to the letter of the regulations, Red Bull was in violation of the rules.

The Stewards, having received a report from the Technical Delegate, heard from the team representatives, have considered the following matter and determine a breach of the regulations has been committed by the competitor named below and impose the penalty referred to. 

No/Driver: 3, Daniel Ricciardo
Competitor: Infiniti Red Bull Racing
Time: 20:17
Session: Race
Facts: Car #3 was not in compliance with article 5.1.4 of the FIA Formula 1 technical regulations.
Offence: Breach of article 3.2 of the FIA Formula 1 sporting regulations and Article 5.1.4 of the FIA Formula 1 technical regulations.
Decision: Car #3 is excluded from the race results.
Reason: 
1) The technical delegate reported to the stewards that car #3 exceeded the required fuel mass flow of 100kg/h. (article 5.1.4 of the Formula 1 technical regulations)
2) This parameter is outside of the control of the driver, Daniel Ricciardo.
3) The fuel flow is measured using the fuel flow sensor (Art. 5.10.3 & 5.10.4 of the technical regulations) which is homologated by the FIA and owned and operated by the team.
4) The stewards considered the history of the fitted fuel flow sensor, as described by the team and the technical delegate’s representative who administers the programme. Their description of the history of the sensor matches.
a. During practice one a difference in reading between the first three and run four was detected. The same readings as Run 4 were observed throughout practice two.
b. The team used a different sensor on Saturday but did not get readings that were satisfactory to them or the FIA, so they were instructed to change the sensor within parc ferme on Saturday night.
c. They operated the original sensor during the race, which provided the same readings as run four of practice one, and practice two.
5) The stewards heard from the technical representative that when the sensor was installed on Saturday night, he instructed the team to apply an offset to their fuel flow such that the fuel flow would have been legal. He presented an email to the stewards that verified his instruction.
6) The technical representative stated to the stewards that there is variation in the sensors. However, the sensors fall within a known range, and are individually calibrated. They then become the standard which the teams must use for their fuel flow.
7) The team stated that based on the difference observed between the two readings in P1, they considered the fuel flow sensor to be unreliable. Therefore, for the start of the race they chose to use their internal fuel flow model, rather than the values provided by the sensor, with the required offset.
8) Technical directive 01614 (1 March 2014) provides the methodology by which the sensor will be used, and, should the sensor fail, the method by which the alternate model could be used.
a. The technical directive starts by stating: “The homologated fuel flow sensor will be the primary measurement of the fuel flow and will be used to check compliance with articles 5.1.4 and 5.1.5 of the F1 technical regulations…” This is in conformity with articles 5.10.3 and 5.10.4 of the technical regulations.
b. The technical directive goes on to state: “If at any time WE consider that the sensor has an issue which has not been detected by the system WE will communicate this to the team concerned and switch to a back-up system.” (emphasis added.)
c. The back-up system is the calculated fuel flow model with a correction factor decided by the FIA.
9) The FIA technical representative observed thought the telemetry during the race that the fuel flow was too high and contacted the team, giving them the opportunity to follow his previous instruction, and reduce the fuel flow such that it was within the limit, as measured by the homologated sensor – and thus gave the team the opportunity to be within compliance. The team chose not to make this correction.
10) Under Art. 3.2 of the sporting regulations it is the duty of the team to ensure compliance with the technical regulations throughout the event.
Thus the stewards find that:
A) The team chose to run the car using their fuel flow model, without direction from the FIA. This is a violation of the procedure within TD/01614.
B) That although the sensor showed a difference in readings between runs in P1, it remains the homologated and required sensor against which the team is obliged to measure their fuel flow, unless given permission by the FIA to do otherwise.
C) The stewards were satisfied by the explanation of the technical representative that by making an adjustment as instructed, the team could have run within the allowable fuel flow.
D) That regardless of the team’s assertion that the sensor was fault, it is not within their discretion to run a different fuel flow measurement method without the permission of the FIA.
The stewards find that car #3 was out of compliance with the technical regulations and is therefore excluded from the results of the race.

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Aron Day

Co-owner, Chief Editor and a journalist for FormulaSpy.com - Ireland's only accredited F1 & Formula E website. Also working in the Irish Tech industry.

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