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Diffuser row threatens to escalate
Brawn GP’s Jenson Button

The season-opening Australian Grand Prix may be blighted by post-race protests over the sport’s new regulations, especially the rear diffuser, Formula One bosses fear. The wide range of design changes codified in F1’s new rulebook, and the varying ways in which they have been interpreted by the teams, means that it is likely that complaints will fly in the aftermath of the race, whatever the outcome on the track.

Most of the current controversy centres on the diffuser system at the rear of the cars, a sculpted area of lower bodywork that organises the airflow as it leaves the vehicle, and has a significant impact on both downforce and straight-line speed.

The Toyota and Williams teams have come up with innovative designs in this area which their competitors are unhappy about, but which have been passed as legal by Charlie Whiting, F1’s race director.

Now some are complaining that the Brawn team, born out of the ashes of Honda, are also pushing the boundaries of the regulations with their diffuser.

Certainly the pace of both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello at the wheel of the Brawn car in testing was startling, as they headed the time-sheets on several occasions in front of much wealthier outfits.

Barrichello has indignantly denied that his team’s speed derives from any breach of the design rules. “When someone is behind, it is easier to say that your rivals are against the rules than to do better work,” he said.

It is not unusual for claims and counter-claims to be flying at this stage of the build-up to a new season.

Post-race protests will probably clear up once and for all the legality of the controversial diffusers, and if the protests are rejected, then many of the front-running teams may have a lot of work to do to modify their designs.

But with testing banned outside of race weekends once the season is underway, it will be difficult to fine-tune major modifications. So the diffuser row could have great significance for the title race.

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