Button, Sato must sit out two races
PARIS -- BAR-Honda's Formula One team was banned for two races after an appeals court ruled Thursday that Jenson Button's car raced illegally at the San Marino Grand Prix last month.
Button was also stripped of the six points he won for finishing third at Imola on April 24, and teammate Takuma Sato lost his four points for finishing fifth. The sport's governing body, FIA, wanted the team to be disqualified for the season.
But the FIA's international court of appeal said in a statement that "it is not possible for the court to find that BAR-Honda deliberately committed fraud.'' However, the team displayed "a highly regrettable negligence and lack of transparency.''
BAR-Honda, which will miss the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona this weekend and a race in Monaco on May 22, explained to the appeals panel Wednesday why Button's car ran 11 pounds under the minimum 1,322-pound weight at Imola.
The FIA's arguments centered on the possibility of a concealed mechanism in Button's car. BAR-Honda chief executive officer Nick Fry denied the claims and threatened to go to civil court if his team was expelled.
"BAR-Honda is appalled at the decision ... and asserts that the judgment is contrary to all of the evidence heard,'' Fry said. "The team proved that it complied with the current regulations and the FIA now acknowledges that the regulations are unclear.
"At no time did BAR-Honda run underweight at the San Marino Grand Prix.''
The hearing centered on the legality of two carbon-fiber fuel tanks in the car's main tank, which the team said pressurizes fuel before it is injected into the engine.
"BAR were asked to pump the fuel out of their car. They left 15 liters in the tank and told us it was empty,'' FIA president Max Mosley said. "Under the circumstances, we feel they have been treated rather leniently.''
BAR-Honda argued that deliberately racing underweight would have led to possible engine failure. But that didn't convince the FIA, even though officials originally ruled Button's car was the correct weight.
The FIA challenged its own ruling and called for the 18-member tribunal to exclude BAR-Honda for the season and pay $1.29 million.
"We all agree that there are specific rules for all the teams, and if you are not inside the rules you are at a risk to have a penalty,'' said driver Fernando Alonso, who won the San Marino GP and leads the drivers standings with 36 points.
The team can return to racing May 29 for the European Grand Prix at Nurburgring, Germany.
The last team to be banned was Tyrrell, which missed the last three races in 1984. The team was banned because the sport's governing body ruled that a performance aid was found in the water that was sprayed over Martin Brundle's engine air intake trumpets at the Detroit Grand Prix.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press