JULY 11, 2008
An interesting settlement
Ferrari and McLaren have announced that they are bringing to an end the various legal disputes between them. McLaren has agreed to pay Ferrari's legal costs arising from the actions, which relate to the spying scandals of 2007. There is also what McLaren describes as "a concluding payment", although there is no explanation of what, or how much, this might be. Ferrari says that the money will be donated to charity.
The end of the story is good news for Formula 1 as it provides closure on a subject that has caused considerable pain to all parties, and to the sport as a whole, although in recent months the story has been lost beneath other scandal.
There are, nonetheless, questions which the settlement raises which ought to be addressed. Ferrari says that it will "put an end to all outstanding controversies between the two teams", although under Italian law, that is not as easy as it might be in England, where cases can be withdrawn at any moment. Ferrari lodged an official complaint against McLaren with the Tribunale di Modena last summer. In Italy once a complaint is made it cannot be withdrawn and must legally be investigated. The local magistrates pride themselves on their independence and thus one must assume that Ferrari had no further influence on matters after the complaint was made. That being the case, the only way that the two teams could agree to end all hostilities is if the Italian magistrates have reached the conclusion of their investigation. As there is no legal action announced, and the two teams have made the statements mentioned, it is safe to conclude that the Italians did not find sufficient evidence to make a case against McLaren - as some in F1 thought would be the case. It is also perhaps significant that Ferrari says that it will continue its cases against its former employee Nigel Stepney.
If the civil authorities can find find no reason to prosecute McLaren, one does have to wonder about the $100m fine imposed on McLaren by the FIA for "fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally", as laid down by Article 151c of the International Sporting Code.
This is all fundamentally academic because everyone now wants the problem to go away. McLaren long ago adopted the pragmatic policy that, guilty or innocent, the damage had already been done to the McLaren brand and there was no logic in pursuing the matter further. Ferrari has little to gain from making noises about a case that the magistrates apparently do not want to touch. And one cannot imagine the FIA in its current form saying anything about the use of Article 151c given things that have occurred in recent months.
No doubt there will come a time when people will talk more about what happened in 2007 and perhaps perceptions of the affair will change. Perhaps not.
What is absolutely certain is that history will be the final judge.