Why banning Minardi is not a good idea

There are rumours, leaked no doubt, that there is a possibility that Minardi could be excluded from the Australian Grand Prix because the team intends to run 2004 cars. Paul Stoddart has made no secret of the fact, and argues that the announcement that Ford was pulling out of Formula 1, the uncertainty over Cosworth and the delays getting the new regulations sorted out amount to force majeure. There are some valid points in the argument.

But the biggest issue is nothing to do with the car. If the FIA decides to exclude Minardi from the event it leaves Stoddart with very little choice but to argue that the 2005 regulations are illegal and therefore all the other cars in Australia will be breaking the rules but his cars will be legal. That would cause just the kind of chaos that Formula 1 needs to avoid and bring the whole matter of the rule-making process into the spotlight.

This needs to be avoided because there are some doubts about the way in which the rule-making process occurred last autumn and these have been the subject of a lengthy exchange of letters with the FIA about this matter in recent weeks. One might argue that Stoddart has foreseen a problem and is arguing for his own case but, as we understand the situation, he is simply representing the teams in the question of rule-making. Stoddart's legal advice is that the 2005 rules are illegal. The FIA says that the rules are legal. There appears to be no way that the two parties can agree on this matter. Thus the only way for there to be a solution to the issue is to have a court decide. The normal process in such a situation would be to go to arbitration because this relates to a supposed breach in the Concorde Agreement. That would delay matters until the autumn and a defeat for FIA President Max Mosley is not what he needs when he goes into the FIA presidential election in October. The other option would be to force the issue early by excluding the cars in Melbourne. Stoddart would inevitably appeal and the cars would have to be allowed to race under appeal. The case would then go to the FIA Court of Appeal and if Stoddart lost there he might then decide to take the case to civil law in the High Court in London if he believes that the FIA court did not fully address the issues raised.

Excluding Minardi in Australia could also lead to accusations that the whole process was being done to try to stop Stoddart stirring up the pot about the way the rules are made but as he is representing the other teams (except, inevitably, Ferrari) an attack on Stoddart could be seen, rightly or wrongly, as an attack on the teams.

Surely, in the circumstances it would be better for the sport for the FIA to accept force majeure and let Stoddart run the older cars for the first three races. Last year when he tried to argue the case for letting the smaller teams run for the whole of 2005 with 2004 cars (as a cost-cutting measure) he proved that even with an appreciable decrease in speed because of the new rules, the Minardi would still be at the back of the grid. Given that testing is already indicating that the lap times are not going to be cut by very much in 2005, Stoddart will gain no advantage from running old cars and so there is little to be gained from throwing him out. Those who have crossed swords with Stoddart in the past have learned that he is a tenacious fighter and knows the Concorde Agreement inside out.

If he did not believe he had a case, presumably he would not be fighting.

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