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Why Did An Unusually Shaped Fuel Tank Cause Controversy?

Fuel tanks, whether used to store vast quantities of volatile chemicals safely with pressure relief valves or contained within vehicles, need to be carefully designed with safety at the forefront and every component needs to be designed with this in mind.

This leads to some rather unusual situations where an unusually designed fuel system can cause some degree of controversy, as wasfound in 2005 in the high-tech world of Formula One motor racing.

At the time, the technical regulations of the sport dictated that a car needed to weigh at least 605 kg, and because of this car constructors would do everything they could to get the weight as low as possible to allow them more options for its distribution in the name of speed.

This rule was, at the time, somewhat nebulously defined and prone to interpretation, and British American Racing (later BAR Honda, Honda, Brawn and Mercedes) used a secondary fuel tank that it claimed was necessary for the car to run.

The fuel tank was used as a pressure-relief system in and of itself, regulating fuel pressure as it enters the engine of the Honda car.

Because of this, 6 kg of the fuel was claimed by the team to be part of its minimum weight, as during a race the car plus its tank would be 606 kg.

However, the FIA, Formula One’s governing body, disagreed, disqualifying the cars after the San Marino Grand Prix for being underweight in post-race scrutineering, and thenbanning them a further two races for the audacity of trying to claim fuel as ballast.

The then-president of the FIA, Max Mosely, claimed that he wanted to disqualify BAR from the championship entirely for cheating and potentially creating a more dangerous car.

Instead, they lost out on four race results, including the race they were disqualified for, the races they were banned from including the Monaco Grand Prix, and the controversial United States Grand Prix, where tyre pressures caused only six cars to start the race.