By now you should've watched the Australian Grand Prix, or at least you had to, because NBC's only replay of it was at 6 AM, for some reason. Spoiler alert: Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo came in second, and then was disqualified hours later. But the reason is a bit technical, and not so easy. Here's your explainer.
But first, a little background. Daniel Ricciardo was racing in the first event of his first season for the big Red Bull team, which has enjoyed a string of championships over the past few years. He's an Australian, too, racing in his home race, so it was kind of a big deal. The fact that he made the podium was huge, for him, as you can see right there on his big happy Australian face.
Seriously, that grin-thing is about to take over his entire body. He'd just be one big mess of teeth soon, if, you know, he wasn't disqualified.
But part of the reason why this is such big news is in the context of the sweeping changes that Formula One has undergone in the past few months.
This season is totally different, in large part because of tweaks to the aerodynamics rules, but mainly because this is the first year since the 1980s that F1 cars will have turbocharged engines. It's a massive tweak to the way F1 engines have been run for decades, and with a massive change you're likely to see some rule bending, whether intentional or unintentional.
Furthermore, that championship-winning Red Bull team was known to be having some trouble with their Renault engines, so it left everybody wondering what trick they would pull out of their sleeves to keep that success alive.
With the 2nd place finish for Ricciardo, it appeared that Red Bull had done whatever was necessary to get their car ready for the season, and surely they'd be continuing their winning ways within short order.
But it was all for nought. News soon came out that Ricciardo was about to be disqualified. F1 Technical Delegate Jo Bauer issued this note to the race stewards:
In case that image is a bit blurry, it reads:
During the race car number 03 has exceeded consistently the maximum allowed fuel flow of 100 kg/h.
As this is not in compliance with Article 5.1.4 of the 2014 Formula One Technical Regulations, I am referring this matter to the stewards for their consideration.
The FIA Formula One Technical Delegate
To anyone that is a total rules-geek, that note should set off massive alarm bells. F1 cars are only allowed a certain amount of fuel for an entire race, according to the 2014 regulations, and pursuant to that, they are only allowed a certain rate of what is known as "fuel-flow" as well.
Fuel-flow is important to engines. In its most basic sense, it means how much fuel is going into the engine. Again, in a very basic sense, more fuel in an engine potentially means more power, which means that it was entirely possible that Red Bull Racing, in pursuit of an extra boost, somehow tampered with its fuel pump to get more juice into the engine, and thus more juice out of the engine.
Either something was broken, or the implication from the stewards was that Red Bull was cheating. Cheating, in some form, happens in all levels of racing, though, so it's not like this is unique to Red Bull or F1.
A lot of Ricciardo fans on The Internet seemed to be immediately crestfallen, partially because Ricciardo seemed like such a nice guy, and partially because of how darn happy he looked on the podium. Seriously, I've never seen a guy enjoy champagne as much as this:
Partially because there was so much consternation from fans, and partially because they always do this sort of thing when a driver is disqualified, the stewards issued a 10-point memo to explain their reasoning (via F1fanatic.co.uk):
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 One 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 program. Their description of the history of the sensor matches.
a. During Practice 1 a difference in reading between the first three and Run 4 was detected. The same readings as Run 4 were observed throughout Practice 2.
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 4 of Practice 1, and Practice 2.
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 backup system" (emphasis added.)
c. The backup 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 main points here are three-fold. The first is that this had nothing to do with Daniel Ricciardo, as it was completely beyond his control. The second is that the sanctioning body of the race, the FIA, knew there was some sort of problem with Red Bull's fuel pump, and told them as such before the race was underway.
The third, and perhaps most damning, is that when the FIA told the team that there was a problem, Red Bull basically replied with "your thingy that measures the fuel pump is all over the place and a bit unreliable, so we'll just continue to use our own no matter what you say, thank you very much."
Basically, the FIA is saying that the team was cheating during practice, they told the team that they thought they were cheating, and to please stop it before the race, and Red Bull said "piss off" anyways.
And off they sent young Ricciardo to race, probably with the hopes that nobody would notice the fuel pump issue, he would win, and everybody would just forget all about what went down the day before. Huzzah.
With news coming out now that Ricciardo has indeed been disqualified, Red Bull is mad as all Australian/Austrian heck. They issued this statement lashing back at the FIA (again, via F1fanatic.co.uk):
"Following the decision of the FIA that Infiniti Red Bull Racing is in breach of Article 3.2 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations and Article 5.1.4 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations with car three, the team has notified the FIA of its intention to appeal with immediate effect.
"Inconsistencies with the FIA fuel flow meter have been prevalent all weekend up and down the pit lane. The team and Renault are confident the fuel supplied to the engine is in full compliance with the regulations."
During the race weekend the teams were advised by race director Charlie Whiting of a change to the fuel flow filter frequency. The teams were given the following notification:
"Following a review of the fuel flow data from the practice sessions the following change will be applied for qualifying and the race.
"The maximum fuel flow limit mFFMIllegal will be checked using a fuel flow filter frequency (parameter fdmFFMFuelFilter) of 5Hz instead of the 10Hz currently configured in the FIA data version.
"Due to time constraints before the qualifying session the FIA data versions will not be changed. The revised monitoring will be processed by the FIA off-car."
So, yeah. Red Bull is appealing the steward's ruling, saying that their measurements of the fuel flow to the engine were all over the map all weekend, and not just with their team. The FIA's measurements are not to be trusted, Red Bull did everything right, they did nothing wrong, Ricciardo won 2nd place fair and square.
- The FIA said Red Bull cheated, the FIA knew Red Bull was cheating, and asked them to stop before the race even started.
- Red Bull said there was no cheating to begin with, and the FIA's cheating metric was wrong.
So who's right here? It's a little too early to tell, and the FIA will almost certainly hear Red Bull's appeal. As it stands, Ricciardo has been disqualified, while Nico Rosberg remains the race winner. Everyone else has been accordingly bumped up a slot, meaning McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen is now the official 2nd place finisher. It's the highest spot achieved by a rookie in his first race since Jacques Villeneuve did it, with his terrible music, in 1996.
I just feel bad for Ricciardo. He looked so darn happy.
Your provisional race results are below.
Photos via Getty Images