AUGUST 19, 2003
Inside the court
The International Court of Appeal met on Tuesday morning at the FIA in Paris to consider the case of Ralf Schumacher's penalty at the recent German Grand Prix. The four judges heard evidence from the BMW Williams team and from the FIA and will rule tomorrow afternoon on whether or not Ralf will be demoted 10 places on the grid at the Hungaroring this weekend.
The hearing was attended by all three of the drivers involved in the Hockenheim incident: Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Rubens Barrichello and by Sir Frank Williams.
The Williams case was presented by barrister Andrew Hunter who argued that "two cars that came from behind collided with the car in front of them". The key point in the Williams case was that there is "a world of difference what a driver can see in front and behind" Hunter used a diagram of the fields of vision to argue that Schumacher "could not have been aware that there were two cars side-by-side alongside him" and argued that once this fact was established "it becomes clear that everything Ralf did was entirely reasonable."
The team also questioned the procedures, claiming that the decision was made hurriedly and without Williams team manager Dickie Stanford being present.
"Both Kimi Raikkonen and Rubens Barrichello could have taken steps to avert the collision," Hunter argued. "Barrichello was the only driver who did anticipate the collision. Raikkonen had some space to his left. Ralf Schumacher could not have anticipated it. The stewards decided that Barrichello and Raikkonen were not responsible at all. We do not dispute that part of the decision but the stewards must be consistent and should have concluded that this was a racing incident".
Sam Michael, the Williams team's Senior Operations Engineer then presented technical evidence to prove that Barrichello and Raikkonen were both in Ralf Schumacher's blind spot almost from the start and that there were almost two car widths between Ralf and the edge of the track when the crash occurred. He added that there was also 90cm of "grasscrete", a hard substance painted green, available on the outside of the white line before the grass which Raikkonen could have used to avoid the impact.
The evidence showed that 117m from the start Barrichello realized that there was going to be an accident and braked. The impact occurred at 125m, which meant that there was only eight metres of available space and with the cars travelling at around 200kph. At the time of the crash Raikkonen was travelling 5kph faster than Barrichello and he in turn was 5kph faster than Schumacher.
Ralf Schumacher said that at no point had he seen Raikkonen.
FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting argued that when drivers are in close proximity at the start of a race they need to take extra care because they cannot see exactly what is going on around them.
Calling the field of vision of the mirrors a "tenuous argument" Whiting said that drivers "have lateral vision other than the mirrors" and that "it is wrong to assume that he can take the line he wants to take."
Whiting also argued that it was "misleading" to say that the decision had been taken quickly as 90 minutes passed between the end of the race when Ralf was interviewed and the decision being given to the team.
Schumacher argued that he had not admitted to paying no attention to other cars as the Stewards' Decision suggested. His version of the meeting was that he had not been asked whether he saw Raikkonen.
Barrichello was asked for his interpretation of the accident and said that "I did not crash into Ralf Schumacher, he crashed into me."
The Williams team questioned the statement made by Whiting that Ralf had changed direction when steering traces showed that this was not the case.
"A change of direction is the same as closing the available space as far as I am concerned," Whiting said.
After the hearing Sir Frank Williams said that his team had received "a fair hearing" and that the decision due tomorrow is of great importance because it is "fundamental to keep Ralf in the Championship and important for the Constructors' Championship as well."
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