OCTOBER 25, 2007
Should McLaren appeal the Brazilian GP result?
There has been some talk in the last couple of days about whether McLaren is correct in going ahead with its appeal against the decision not to exclude the Williams and BMW Saubers cars from the result of the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix. If the cars are excluded, then Lewis Hamilton would win the World Championship.
Some have criticised McLaren, arguing that the team is a bad loser and is now trying to kick over the board because it has lost the game. That is an understandable argument if this action is taken at face value but one has to put the appeal into a proper context if one is going to get the full picture. This has been a year in which - rightly or wrongly - McLaren has felt itself under attack from the FIA. Throughout the year there have been a series of events where the team's integrity has been called into question, culminating in the loss of all of its Constructors' Championship points and a fine of $100m, based on evidence that was at best circumstantial. The damage to McLaren's image has been considerable and there is a decent argument that a great deal of that damage has been encouraged by leaks to the media from other parties involved. McLaren has taken most of this on the chin. There is no argument that a McLaren employee was involved in receiving information that belonged to Ferrari but the evidence that any of this information was used (or will be used) is flimsy at best. And, as insiders in F1 know, there are far worse examples of such things which could come to light in the future.
McLaren's attitude has been that it should make the most of a bad situation and try to ensure that similar things do not happen again. Whether one chooses to accept this interpretation is, inevitably, a subjective decision. The English media, which knows the team well, is largely supportive of McLaren. The foreign press, which has more input from Ferrari and Fernando Alonso and less understanding of Ron Dennis and his people, believes otherwise.
What is clear in this latest flare-up is that it was not initiated by McLaren. The FIA Technical Delegate discovered the problem in Brazil and reported it to the FIA Stewards. Jo Bauer was simply doing his job.
It is a very serious issue, which could affect the outcome of the World Championship, and while it is clear that there was no intention to cheat and the effect of the illegality may be small, there are rules and these ought to be respected.
Thus the decision of the stewards to reject the findings of the FIA Technical Delegate based on an apparent vagueness in the measuring process was one that raised a lot of questions.
"The team believes that the FIA has, in written clarification of the Technical Regulations and in its minutes of two Formula 1 Team Manager meetings, made clear how it would interpret and manage the regulations and procedures associated with the control of fuel temperatures," McLaren said in a statement after its appeal was announced. "This process was followed in the normal manner by the FIA Technical Delegate following the Brazilian Grand Prix and the irregularities were reported by him to the Stewards of the meeting. Consequently the team does not understand the justification as described in the decision published late on Sunday evening."
Sadly, written clarifications and minutes of team managers meetings are not public documents so it is hard to know exactly what constitutes the regulations in this case.
That in itself is an indictment of the system that exists. If there are rules why are they not written down and published in a sensible form which can be easily understood by everyone, not just those with access to the paperwork? And, perhaps more importantly, were the stewards aware of these clarifications and minutes?
Does one arm of the FIA know what the other is doing?
Sadly, these are not the only questions that arise as a result of the World Championship outcome.
There are also questions about the way that the FIA handled the question of the Ferrari floor at the Australian Grand Prix. The device was deemed to be illegal a few days after the Australian GP. This clarification was not deemed to be retroactive despite the fact that McLaren alerted the FIA's Charlie Whiting to the problem on March 16 - two days before the Melbourne race - using the protocol that is employed of seeking an opinion from the FIA. This is considered to be a better way to solve problems than by using public protests. Whiting did not rule on the matter until after the event. Thus McLaren could have protested the Ferrari in Melbourne and Ferrari might have been excluded but the British team did not do so "in the interest of motor sport". It has now paid a very high price for trying to avoid a controversial start to the season.
The details of what has happened in the past are not of much use because they will change nothing unless one day all of this goes into civil law, but it does suggest that in the future no team can afford to baulk at such action. If trying to behave in a sporting manner creates the possibility of losing a World Championship, there is no team in F1 that would hold back.
Formula 1 teams exist to win and they do not like losing, particularly if they feel they have been harshly treated.
McLaren explains in its press release about the appeal that "the significance of this matter and its timing is, of course, regrettable" and says that it wishes to win races and championships on the track but adds that if there has been an irregularity, "the matter must be properly examined to ensure that the rules are applied".
McLaren also makes it quite clear that it is not questioning the integrity of BMW Sauber and Williams.
"We know, without even enquiring, that neither team would have sought to achieve a performance advantage by such an irregularity and that the situation could only have arisen as the consequence of an operational error within the team on the day."
Is this all just so much puff to disguise a naked desire to win the World Championship at any cost?
One can argue that case if it suits one's purposes.
From where we are sitting, McLaren's response seems rather restrained. If the team really wanted the World Championship that badly and believes that it has a case, it would stop messing about and go to a civil court and get things sorted out using real world justice rather than the somewhat idiosyncractic ways of F1. McLaren has not gone down that route because it knows that in the pursuit of justice, the sport could be seriously damaged. Others say that there are no such noble motives and that McLaren does not have a case that would stand up outside the sport. The only way to find that out would be to try it and there are times when one wonders whether it might not be a good idea to force the sport to put its structures to the test. At the same time it is clear that the wisest route would be for those involved to work quietly to find a way to change without the need for QCs and screaming headlines.
The big question is whether those involved are capable of such a sensible solution or whether egos, vested interests and past histories have created a situation in which such things are simply impossible.