DECEMBER 6, 2007
Waiting for justification
The FIA World Council has ruled that Renault was guilty of the charge that the team was in breach of Article of 151c of the International Sporting Code - but decided to impose no penalty. This is the same decision that was given in the first case against the McLaren team in July when there was no evidence that the team did any wrong. It will be interesting to see why things that Renault admitted having done were not considered to be as bad as what McLaren was alleged to have done. The new evidence against McLaren that appeared at the FIA hearing in September proved nothing. The FIA World Council did not believe that McLaren was innocent but not believing someone and proving that they are guilty are two different things and punishing the team with a $100m fine and the loss of Constructors' World Championship points was harsh at best when there was reasonable doubt about the allegations against McLaren. In common law there is an obligation to prove any allegations beyond reasonable doubt.
So what we now need to know is why Renault admitting to allegations of espionage is better than McLaren denying similar charges.
The justification of this decision is going to be of key importance for the credibility of the FIA World Council and indeed of the federation itself because there are going to be critics who will argue that this is blatantly unfair, given the facts of the Renault case and the reality that the FIA failed to prove anything against McLaren and imposed a penalty based on suspicion alone. There are others who will say that the inconsistency is not acceptable. Why, for example, has the FIA not investigated the allegation made by Ferrari's Nigel Stepney that he gave information from McLaren to Ferrari. The argument some months ago was that he was not a credible witness but then if that was the case why was the FIA willing to accept the word of Mike Coughlan as being credible and Nigel Stepney as not being credible?
These are dangerous waters for the FIA but it is clear from the decision that the federation wants to bury the issue of spying. That is fine and will do F1 no harm at all, but if that is going to be the case, then the FIA must - in the interest of justice - explain fully and reasonably why McLaren deserves such a fine and Renault does not. Criticism has been muted up to now because people are wary about speaking their minds for fear of retribution. The FIA argues that this fear is in the minds of the critics but one has to ask why people feel that they cannot speak out. When one discusses these matters off the record the views expressed are wildly different to what people will say on the record.
Is the whole of the F1 circus paranoid?
There is little doubt that for McLaren the Renault case was a test to see what the FIA would do and it will be interesting to see what happens now. McLaren strategy seems to be to avoid direct conflict with the federation as this will not help the team do what it exists to do - winning races. But that does not mean that the team will take the decision without doing anything. It is quite possible that there will be other cases put before the FIA because the federation is bound to investigate all such allegations and may then be perceived to be digging itself into a deeper hole with each decision that is not on a par with the punishment handed down to McLaren. One way or another, the bitterness that exists is not going to go away just because a decision has been made.
Renault, not surprisingly, has welcomed the decision but the rest of F1 is waiting to see the justification before reacting.
The FIA has certain rights to inflict penalties - and that is fine - but if there is to be respect for the system and the people running it, justice must be seen to be done.
The justification of the decision is going to be a very significant document one way or the other.