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JUNE 29, 2005

So what did happen at the World Council?

The headlines all say "Michelin teams guilty" but the actual FIA World Council decision in Paris today said very little. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The entire United States Grand Prix debacle is an issue over which the potential existed to blow Formula 1 apart. That has been avoided and the FIA World Council should be saluted for at least doing that. It is a time for compromise and the FIA decision is a very clear move towards compromise. The United States GP scandal has been buried (ostensibly to return in September but in reality unlikely to be in the spotlight much again).

The World Council decision does not solve any of the underlying problems that exist in the sport - but at the same time, neither does it exacerbate them. And that is a good thing. This is either a step in the right direction or a grudging acceptance by the FIA that it recognises that things were getting too close to disaster.

It really depends on the attitude of those looking in from the outside.

Finding the teams guilty of "failing to ensure that they were in possession of suitable tyres for the United States Grand Prix; but with strong mitigating circumstances" and "wrongfully refusing to allow their cars to start the race, having regard to their right to use the pitlane on each lap" means, presumably, that the teams are guilty of "acts prejudicial to the interests of a competition", even if there is no rule anywhere that we can find in the FIA paperwork which defines such acts.

The second charge is interesting as it does bring into question the fact that, in the view of the FIA, the teams wrongfully refused to start, even if they were arguing that it was unsafe to race. This raises questions about whether or not the FIA could be challenged for "reckless endangerment".

The sub-text of the FIA release is that the federation accepts absolutely no responsibility for what happened at the United States Grand Prix and is making it very clear for anyone who cares to listen that this is solely a problem for the teams and for Michelin.

Many in the sport, however, still believe that the FIA deserves some of the blame.

The decision of the World Council certainly does not live up to the sabre-rattling noises which Max Mosley has been making since Indianapolis and indeed, the fact that the World Council has adjourned any penalty until September 14 means that there is no punishment. One might argue that this is the sting in the tail of the decision because it means that the World Championship could be influenced later on this summer after more races have occurred but Mosley did give the opinion after the decision was announced that the FIA would be "reluctant to do anything with points".

"We do have the power to impose a fine," Mosley said. "I would need to check the legal details but we could pose enormous fines and use the money to compensate people."

Mosley said that the FIA's number one priority from the beginning has been "to secure compensation for fans in the United States" and the decision spoke of imposing penalties after the World Council has examined "what steps have been taken by the seven Michelin teams and/or their tyre supplier to compensate the Formula 1 fans and repair the damage to the reputation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and to the image of Formula 1".

This is an odd justification for delaying the decision given that yesterday Michelin announced that it is going to refund tickets for this year's race and purchase 20,000 tickets for next year's race and will give them to spectators who were present in 2005.

Mosley explained this by saying that the FIA wants to "make sure that Michelin does what it says it is going to do". If nothing else this is an indication of the depths to which the relationship between Michelin and the FIA has now sunk.

Mosley continued to bang on about the fact that Michelin is to blame.

"Michelin are not the scapegoats," he said. "They are responsible for what happened."

Mosley said that the FIA will still be pushing ahead with its investigation into Michelin tyre failures in the last two years to see whether or not the tyres are dangerous. It is not clear whether or not the FIA will also be asking Bridgestone to account for its tyre failures in the same period so that there can be a comparison between the two companies which are heavily involved in the F1 tyre war.

Perhaps this would be a wise move to avoid the accusation that the FIA is picking on Michelin.

The team principals all left the FIA without making any real comments. They holed up in the regal surrounding of the Le Pavillon Ledoyen restaurant a few hundred metres away, on the Champs Elysees, where they waited to hear the news and planned their next step. A press conference was set up to happen after Mosley's announcement but after the decision was published, it was decided that there would simply be a statement.

The only team principal with anything to say, therefore, was Paul Stoddart, who was refused entry to the World Council meeting by FIA officials. Stoddart was of the opinion that he should have been allowed to attend as an observer but as there are no published rules on this matter it is difficult to say who was right and who was wrong.

The FIA says that in the World Council two of the members stood down during the events related to Indianapolis. Jean Todt of Ferrari and Nazir Hoosein, the Indian who represents China on the World Council, because he had been one of the FIA Stewards at Indianapolis.

Mosley was asked why if the teams had been found guilty of "acts prejudicial to the interests of a competition" the FIA had not done anything about BAR-Honda which was under a suspended sentence following the fuel tank questions at Imola. Mosley said that "the two things were very different" and that the World Council felt that "it was not fair to impose the ban that was suspended."

Earlier in the day the FIA had responded to Edouard Michelin's letter attacking Mosley with a robust statement, contesting Michelin's version of events and rejecting Edouard Michelin's views. The FIA said that the letter had been "deliberately" leaked to the press. The letter was sent to the F1 teams and so the leak could have come from a dozen or more different sources (including the FIA itself). The charge of deliberately leaking documents to the press is not one that the FIA can easily use without being challenged as for the last couple of years the federation has leaked information on a regular basis to selected media outlets.