According to reports in the media, Charlie Whiting (FIA safety delegate and head of F1 technical department, among others) is off to Jerez amidst concerns about the legality of the 2012 cars. An article in Marca newspaper suggests that Whiting is concerned by McLaren’s exhaust location because it was camouflaged and embedded in a strange bulge of the engine cover, and also from the fact that the diffuser was blanked.
Frankly, it’s common for Whiting to attend some of the pre-season tests, which is part of his routine schedule in preparation for the normal season. Furthermore, teams don’t need to comply with the technical rules to the letter during pre-season testing, as long as they fulfill a certain number of criteria set out in the technical and sporting rules published by the FIA every year (for instance, F1 cars must have passed all crash tests in order to participate in testing, which is a change from previous years).
On a more specific note, the exhaust “bulges” on the McLaren is nothing extreme and doesn’t indicate anything illegal; Ferrari are doing the same thing, more or less, by moving their exhausts as outboard as possible, but they use different bodywork fairings to accommodate the sidepod cooling outlets in the same place. As for the blanked diffuser; most teams had their diffusers blanked and it’s not a cause for concern.
During pre-season testing, the teams will spend a significant amount of time checking each other’s solutions and taking notes. The real huzzah will be at the first race, when all the protests and requests for explanation start piling up in Charlie Whiting’s e-mail inbox. I have yet to see anything in any of the cars unveiled so far that suggests illegality, but we’ve only seen just a few pieces of the puzzle. As testing goes on, the cars will grow different things, several of which will come under the FIA’s technical scrutiny. It’s nothing new and nothing to get excited about (yet).
In the meantime, Caterham has announced that their reserve driver for 2012 will be the Dutch driver Giedo van der Garde, who has held a similar position in the sport back in 2007, when he was the test driver for Spyker. His connection with F1 dates back to 2003 when he became part of the Renault F1 young drivers scheme, and then in 2006 when he joined the McLaren Young Drivers program. A decent racer in lesser formulae, he’s a good addition to the team. This leaves a question-mark over Vitaly Petrov who was allegedly going to replace Jarno Trulli in Caterham, with Trulli taking up test and reserve driving duties, as well as being groomed for an ambassador to the brand. In my opinion, the 2012 grid is still open and we may well yet see Petrov take Trulli’s place in the last moment.