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McLaren up before the judges

THE FIA International Court of Appeal meets in Paris on Wednesday to consider McLaren's appeal against the decision of the Belgian Grand Prix stewards which stated that the fuel used by Mika Hakkinen in qualifying for the event "was not the same as the one which had been approved for use by the competitor prior to the event". McLaren was fined $25,000 and Hakkinen's times were canceled. The team appealed the decision and Mika was given back his fifth place on the grid and went on to finish third in the race.

The team's fuel supplier Mobil claims that the fuel used had been submitted to the FIA on June 2 and had not been changed after that. In a statement the team said that "any inconsistency resulting from the analysis performed at the Spa circuit will ultimately be demonstrated as falling within the normal parameters".

The implication is that McLaren doubts the fuel analysis done by the FIA's scientist Dr. Peter Tibbitts and that a new analysis will show that the fuel is legal. Both the FIA and the team have samples of the fuel and both are expected to carry out tests before the court meets.

The appeal is a dangerous move for McLaren because the FIA sporting code gives the International Court of Appeal the right to give fines of up to $150,000 if the appeal is judged to be "frivolous". There may also be increased penalties if the appeal is rejected. It is worth noting that in December 1988 Benetton (which was using Mobil fuel) was disqualified from the Belgian GP and fined $250,000 for using irregular fuel and in December 1992 Scuderia Italia was fined $1m and given a suspended three-race ban for running illegal Agip fuel in Australia.

The FIA International Court of Appeal consists of 15 judges - each with a nominated deputy - from different countries around the world. Its decisions are valid if at least three judges are present. The appeals have to be made through the national sporting authority of the appellant - in the case of McLaren this is Britain's Royal Automobile Club.

The separate issue of the Williams team's appeal against the decision of the Spa stewards to let Mika Hakkinen off lightly for an illegal overtaking maneuver in the race has been dropped.