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All eyes on Europe after F1's Asian openers

EVENTS in Europe could reshape the Formula One championship before teams regroup in China next week.

The focus is on the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) and an appeal court hearing scheduled for Paris on April 14 that will make a definitive ruling on the sport's diffuser controversy.

If the four protesting teams -- BMW-Sauber, Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault -- succeed in overturning stewards' decisions from Australia and Malaysia, then pace-setting Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams will be reined in.

If the independent court agrees with the six stewards that the cars are legal, then expect Jenson Button to continue winning with topsy-turvy looking starting grids and results.

Rivals are already covering their bets, rushing to complete their own versions of the 'double-decker' rear diffuser that they believe to be illegal but that has brought Brawn's Button two wins from two races.

"Two of the three teams with a two-stage diffuser are clearly quicker," said BMW team boss Mario Theissen. "Brawn as number one and then Toyota.

"Everybody (is working on their own version)," he added. "We cannot sit back and wait until the court of appeal is held and we have a decision. We have to work on it and we are spending money on it.

"The sooner it is sorted out the better. But you cannot expect to make up for such a big gap within a few weeks. And it is clear that the teams that have it already are developing their cars as well."


The Paris-based FIA, and its president Max Mosley, are also weighing up further action against McLaren for "deliberately misleading" race stewards in Australia.

The team, under the guidance of Martin Whitmarsh, have already been excluded from the race classification of the Melbourne season opener. There has been speculation they could face a fine or loss of future constructors' points.

"We are now awaiting reports from the FIA observer and stewards before consideration can be given to further investigation of his (world champion Lewis Hamilton) team's conduct," an FIA spokesman said.

McLaren were fined a record $100 million and stripped of all their constructors' points in 2007 for a controversy involving Ferrari data in their possession.

Whitmarsh denied in a Sepang news conference that the team had become "contaminated by a culture of cheating" but, despite suspending sporting director Dave Ryan for his role in the affair, his future is by no means assured.

Mercedes motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug, whose employers own 40 percent of the team and who has been supportive of Whitmarsh, has already said there will be talks in Stuttgart this week.

Over at Maranello, the Italian headquarters of champions Ferrari, expect an inquest to be opened into the team's worst start to a season in 17 years.

Ferrari have yet to score a point and are last in the standings.


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