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FIA kicks Alonso back to 10th

The FIA Stewards have ruled that Fernando Alonso impeded Felipe Massa in the qualifying session at Monza. As a result of this the Spaniard's best three qualifying laps have been removed and that means that he drops to 10th on the grid. The ruling is controversial because Alonso's influence on Massa's lap time was minimal and the punishment will have a huge effect on Fernando's chances of defending his World Championship lead. At the moment that lead is 12 points, with four races remaining. The penalty could make a difference of as many as 10 points to Alonso because overtaking at Monza is notoriously difficult and there is the additional problem that being in the midfield Fernando has much more chance of being hit by a someone and knocked out of the race.

The fact that this will help Ferrari enormously in the race tomorrow is bound to lead to controversy at a time when there is a tense World Championship battle between Ferrari and Renault and there have already been suggestions - from Renault team boss Flavio Briatore - that the World Championship was being manipulated over the question of mass dampers. There is also the question of why Michael Schumacher was not penalised for jumping chicanes at the end of the Hungarian Grand Prix when he was given a point after another car was disqualified. There are also questions about the use of Safety Cars at the Turkish Grand Prix when the circuit was covered with carbonfibre shards and no Safety Car was deployed.

The stewards ruled on this occasion that Alonso's action "may not have been deliberate" and it was obviously a very marginal call. Alonso was in big trouble after a mid-session puncture and he was going flat out on his warming up lap in a touch-and-go dash to get to the start-finish line before the session ended. He got there by just under two seconds. It is arguable that if he had pulled over to allow Massa to overtake him, he would have failed to get to the start-finish line in time. That, however, is not the issue under discussion. The key point was whether he affected Massa and how much time Massa lost. Felipe reckoned that it had cost him three-tenths and because of the nature of the Monza track that might have made the difference between fourth place and pole position - there is no accurate way of proving that this would have been the case. The stewards have to follow the letter of the law and they applied the normal penalty for such things. The problem was that by doing what they had to do, the stewards dropped Alonso five places down the grid and that means that his chances of challenging for victory will be seriously damaged by the penalty and that could have serious implications for his title hopes.

The credibility of the stewards is not being questioned as all they do is react to reports put before them by FIA race officials. The danger is that these people lose the trust of the teams. Such mistrust will ultimately undermine the credibility of the World Championship if the fans pick up on these vibes.

The FIA's attitude is that it does not exist to be popular but merely to make and keep the rules and that it does not care about perceptions.

These things are never easy but there is no doubt that what is needed is total trust in the authorities, so that no-one thinks anyone else is being favoured.

The FIA changed the perception of the FIA Stewards and the Court of Appeal by making changes to the personnel involved and perhaps the federation needs to have a long hard think about a similar move in other areas of its race management.

That may not be right nor fair for those involved but that may be necessary for the long-term good of the World Championship.