OCTOBER 7, 2000
The FIA and McLaren
MCLAREN's Ron Dennis complained on Saturday at Suzuka that he did not think it was right that there should be an FIA steward from Italy for the final race in the World Championship between Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher of Ferrari. In recent months Dennis has continually referred to what he believes is a rather too cozy relationship between Ferrari and the FIA. While many people in the F1 paddock think that Dennis goes a little too far on occasion in his assessments, there is no doubt that the groundswell in the sport is that the FIA does nothing to help itself change that image and the Suzuka weekend has added two more pieces of ammunition for the F1 conspiracy theorists.
"It's unsatisfactory in a race which could decide the World Championship that one of the stewards is Italian," Dennis told F1 reporters, adding that he had raised the matter with the FIA but had been told that it was not going to be changed.
Mosley is obviously aware of the suggestions being made and last week did try to shrug them off, commenting that: "there are a couple of teams that have a rather limited view of things, and they see favoritism towards Ferrari. That's paranoia!"
The problem for the FIA President is that in the paddock a lot of people are not sure.
Dennis does not help himself by his constant griping about collusion but Mosley, who is usually such an adept politician, has not helped his own cause by deciding that there should be a change in the interpretation of what is sporting driving and what is not, and by having an Italian steward at the Japanese race.
Stopping strategic blocking in F1 is probably a good thing as it is not good for the image of the sport but this should not be done on the eve of a World Championship showdown, particularly when the governing body did nothing last year in Malaysia when Michael Schumacher blocked Mika Hakkinen throughout the race as the German tried to help the stumbling Eddie Irvine win the World Championship. To declare such behavior to be unacceptable 12 months later when roles are reversed is leaving the FIA open to allegations of bias towards Ferrari, particularly as McLaren needs to have its drivers working together if Hakkinen is to win the title this year. Mosley is not usually this clumsy.
The presence of Roberto Causo as a steward in Suzuka is similarly difficult to understand. Causo has been a steward on a number of occasions in recent years so his inclusion is not outrageous. He was the FIA steward's advisor and FIA observer between 1994 and 1997 before being appointed permanent steward of the World GT series. But the timing in the circumstances is wrong and Mosley would have been wise to have spotted the situation before McLaren drew it to the attention of the world. The problem is that Causo has on occasion acted as a legal advisor for Ferrari, notably at the FIA International Court of Appeal last year after Irvine and Schumacher were thrown out of the Malaysian race for a technical infringement.
The FIA is keen to improve its image in F1 but these decisions have done nothing to help that.
The whole problem has been made worse by the fact that there is a serious clash of personality between Mosley and Dennis. The two men seem to have no respect for the other, despite their impressive backgrounds and the very presence of one in the same room as the other seems to cause irritation to both. This problem is not going to go away and at the same time is not a good situation for the sport. It would perhaps be wiser if the FIA and McLaren sent deputies along to meetings to overcome this problem. Dennis could be ably represented by Martin Whitmarsh while the FIA has several people who could fulfil such a role although Mosley would be unwise to send along his actual FIA Deputy President as Marco Piccinini is best known for having worked for many years as the sporting director of Ferrari.
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