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Toyota set for 'best season ever', but is there trouble ahead?

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F1 Mole | 08:06 UK time, Monday, 23 March 2009

When the cars exit the pit lane for first practice at the Australian Grand Prix on Friday, one of the most keenly watched teams will be Toyota.

Rivals have been impressed by the pace of the new car this winter, Toyota's drivers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock are reporting that it is nicely balanced, and it has had no major problems. Indeed, Toyota have made such progress throughout the winter that team boss John Howett has called the last few weeks "our best pre-season ever".

But, while the engine is strong, and Glock and Trulli are very capable, engineers from rival teams believe much of Toyota's speed comes from an ingenious interpretation of Formula 1's new technical regulations.

These have been designed to make the cars easier to race closely together, and they include detailed restrictions on what can be done with the diffuser - basically, the rear part of the floor of the car between the rear wheels and under the rear wing.

trulli438.jpg

This part is crucial to the aerodynamics of the car, and small changes can have a big impact on the amount of downforce - and therefore grip and speed - the car can produce.

In a nutshell, the regulations demand that the diffuser must have an upper edge that runs in a horizontal straight line.

Toyota have stuck to the letter of this rule, but have made the lower part of their rear crash structure an ingenious shape that just happens to bolt nicely on top of the upper - and straight - edge of their diffuser, and help it do its job of excavating airflow from the back of the car as efficiently as possible.

Many teams are kicking themselves that they didn't think of it, and many more are just accepting it as the way to go, and are building their own versions.

The teams who are not, such as Red Bull, have completely different concepts for the rear of their cars, so it is not possible to make such a quick copy.

In Red Bull's case, the rear suspension operates a unique pull-rod system - where the arms pull down on the dampers, as opposed to the push-rods used by all other teams - which would require a major redesign if it was to be changed to incorporate a Toyota-style diffuser.

So, while Toyota have stolen a march on their rivals, they admit they could be subject to protests once all the teams go into their official scrutineering checks on Thursday.

Governing body the FIA and its race director Charlie Whiting have already expressed an opinion that the diffuser is legal. But as we know only too well from last season, the stewards sometimes take a different view, so any team could file a protest and see what happened.

Toyota is prepared for this, however, and has taken a few different diffusers to Australia just in case they are forced to change it and revert to plan B.

Meanwhile, FIA president Max Mosley is stirring things up even before everyone has got to Melbourne.

"One possibility is that all the teams agree that it is illegal, and therefore all the teams shouldn't have it from [the fifth race in] Barcelona," he says.

"But then those teams who say it is legal will say 'Why should we do that?' And those that say it's illegal will say 'Why should we lose an advantage for four races?'

Political unity among the teams in the form of the F1 Teams' Association (Fota) is inconvenient for Mosley, to say the least.

He couldn't possibly be trying to drive a wedge between the teams on a contentious technical issue for his own ends, could he?

It could get messy.

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