OCTOBER 6, 2007
The spats in the F1 world
In the overall scheme of things, the recent spats in Formula 1 are not that important when it comes to the sports pages. The news that Lewis Hamilton would not be punished over the Safety Car in Japan was a good decision as it put a cap on allegations bubbling away about possible manipulation of the World Championship. That is not the kind of story that the sport needs to be attracting. If nothing else, motor racing must be seen to be fair. If that image is undermined then we are a step away from falling into the mess that has engulfed cycling and atheletics in recent years (for different reasons).
Whether the fighting is now over and we can settle down after the high drama of the Stepneygate affair is another matter. It is too early to judge the full impact of all of this. A lot of damage has been done. McLaren has been given a $100m fine and that made a lot of headlines but analysis of the headlines has clearly shown that the punishment was not backed up by any real evidence. There is much fear that there are other spy scandals that may rear up in the months ahead as a result of this.
Things have not been helped by remarks made by FIA President Max Mosley about Sir Jackie Stewart, one of the genuine icons of Grand Prix racing. Stewart's suggestion that the Stepneygate scandal was a witch hunt seems to have been the cause of the outburst and has now resulted in a public letter from another racing star, former World Champion Damon Hill who has waded into the fight saying that Stewart should be given a public apology by Mosley for what he describes as " a wicked joke designed to visit the utmost humiliation on its victim".
This is heavy stuff.
Hill went on to say that it was "a gross insult to one of the sport's leading figures over the last four decades and a thrice World Champion. Not only is it bad manners, it also brings into question the character and judgement of the man who represents motorsport throughout the world through the august institution of the FIA. It was conduct most unbecoming of an FIA president and in my humble view brought the sport into disrepute, a crime he recently seems so keen to eradicate. Perhaps Mr Mosley became carried away in the moment after the pressure of the McLaren case, and would like to retract his words without too much embarrassment all round?"
The FIA points out that there have been some positive reactions to things that have happened, but the overall impact has been negative and it will be interesting to see whether or not Mosley will react to Hill.
What is interesting and obvious to those who inhabit the F1 paddock is that attitudes have hardened. There are still very few people who will speak out about Mosley as Hill has done but in "off the record" conversations they are happy to say that this is because they are frightened of the retribution that could come if they take that route. This is not a healthy situation at all.
There is also a feeling that we are at the start of the collateral damage rather than at the end of the scandal.. The paddock in Shanghai is filled with rumours of possible fall-out of the fights. There is talk that Jean Todt's reign at Ferrari is coming to an end. And there is much talk of Mosley.
The real focus of the news should be Lewis Hamilton, the best story to happen to Formula 1 in the last 15 years.
We should be rejoicing that we have such wonderful opportunities.
Such analysis may be greeted with denial in FIA circles but almost no-one in the F1 media has any real axe to grind with the FIA. They simply want to see the sport flourish and fear that things are heading in the wrong direction.
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