Comment: This fudge proves the FIA has learned nothing

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarFriday, November 16th, 2007

 
 

OK. Let us assume for a moment that the McLaren team is not corporately a bunch of liars, cheats and hypocritical opportunists, but a group of people very badly stung by the blows and disappointments of the last few months.

We know that this might be a controversial assumption just now, but stick with us.

Let us also assume that the team and its fans (and, in the interests of full disclosure we will state that we do count ourselves among them) may have some grounds for their feeling that they have been treated rather unfairly recently.

How so? Because, examining the results of various decisions taken during the season, there is room for the view that not every ruling made by the sport’s governing body has been taken on strictly sporting grounds.

There is, in short, a perception that political factors away from the track have overruled strictly sporting concerns.

This is not even to claim that this perceived unfairness has definitely taken place. Just that it is a view worth taking seriously, and perhaps also worth tackling if F1 is to have a successful season in 2008.

Since we don’t believe that thing about the liars and cheats, as stated above, we actually see no reason to doubt the accuracy of Martin Whitmarsh’s statement that the team was appealing for the sake of clarity in the rules.

They certainly didn’t do it for PR reasons, given the opprobrium it’s brought down on their heads, and we find it hard to believe they had much expectation of the result changing, since virtually no-one else thought there was a cat’s chance in hell of that happening.

It might not have been the team’s only motivation, and it might have been powered quite strongly by a fortress mentality, but we don’t think there’s actually anything wrong or harmful to the sport about seeking that clarity.

Whether it should have affected the season outcome is a different matter. For the record we think Kimi Raikkonen is a great driver and deserves to win a world championship (whether or not it was this year’s championship is a byway we’ll not digress down at present).

We also have great admiration for the way Felipe Massa has turned himself around from a boy racer who you’d be reluctant to let out in your Nan’s Ford Fiesta to a genuine title contender.

So we certainly don’t agree that the world championship should have been decided in a London (or possibly Paris) tribunal. In fact, we’re glad it wasn’t.

But we do think that elusive and much-derided goal of getting clarity and consistency was an aim worth chasing. We’d love to see these doubts about fairness laid to rest before next season as we’ve said several times.

Not even close, and no cigar neither.

Consider the following:

* By choosing to rule the appeal inadmissible rather than actually getting to grips with the issues the FIA has sacrificed the chance to put things on a better footing for next season – both the specific issue of fuel temperature and the general issue of how it enforces its rules and regulations.

* By releasing the news at 8pm on a Friday evening it lays itself open to accusations of wanting to bury the story – accusations that are already being made loud and clear in some quarters.

* By making the full transcript of the decision only available on application it has reinforced the impression that it’s a secretive and politically-motivated body that has no truck with plain dealing. It’s given the conspiracy theorists among us even more to work with.

It has been our belief for a while here at Brits on Pole that McLaren’s motivating factor behind both this appeal and the complaint about Renault has been a powerful desire to shine a spotlight on these perceived inconsistencies and their consequences.

And this is why the sport’s ruling body, Renault, Max Mosley and pretty much everyone else are in grave danger of painting themselves into a corner over the espionage allegations due to be heard in December. This, we think, is exactly what McLaren hoped to achieve.

If, instead of being ruled out of court after a decidedly lengthy two days of submissions, this appeal had been heard on its merits without fear or favour, we would have felt a lot better about the prospects for the future, even if the appeal court had laughed McLaren down the steps and out into the street.

Come December’s hearing, the FIA is going to be in a sticky position. If it comes down hard on Renault it risks one of the biggest teams in recent F1 history walking away, possibly with Fernando Alonso’s contract in its back pocket. If it makes light of the issue, its treatment of McLaren’s own spy scandal will be thrown in stark relief at best and lengthy, expensive and damaging legal action at worst.

So far this season we have seen two important decisions made in courtrooms, one after much careful discussion and evidence, one based on a refusal to even discuss the issues. The FIA has failed to demonstrate any consistency in the way it applies its rules – or even whether it chooses to apply them at all, given that Spyker’s admission of holding Toro Rosso plans at the start of the season went uninvestigated.

In December we will see a third important decision made in a courtroom. We can only hope that the way Renault’s admission of possessing McLaren data is investigated is clear, unequivocal and in no way vulnerable to charges of being a fudge.

Because if it’s not, and the hearing accepts Renault’s apologies and imposes no punishment without exposing its detailed reasoning to public scrutiny, then there will have been just one single thread of consistency through the important decisions of the 2007 season and its aftermath.

And it won’t be the principled and transparent upholding of the rules of motorsport or the conventions of fair play.

It will be that McLaren lost every one of them.

And it will be difficult to avoid the conclusion that the reason they kept losing is that the game was rigged against them.

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