JULY 25, 2000
Hakkinen verdict keeps three-way title battle open
THE three-way battle for the Drivers' World Championship is set to continue unabated in this weekend's German Grand Prix after FIA stewards yesterday confirmed Mika Hakkinen's victory in Austria - despite the fact that an official seal was missing from the electronic control unit of his winning McLaren-Mercedes MP4/15.
However, the race stewards took the highly unusual step of disallowing the ten constructors' championship points accruing to McLaren
as a result of this win and also fined the British team 50,000 dollars - the maximum the rules permit them to impose.
This decision leaves Hakkinen only two points behind his team-mate David Coulthard and eight behind championship leader Michael Schumacher,
who crashed out in Austria, with 10 of the season's 17 races completed. However, Ferrari now retakes the lead of the constructors' championship with 92 points to McLaren's 88.
The only previous occasion that such a judgement was reached came after the 1995 Brazilian grand prix where Michael Schumacher's Benetton and David Coulthard's Williams were excluded when a fuel sample failed to match
On that occasion, the fuel they were using was not in fact illegal, but the offence was that it failed to match sample although no unfair performance advantage was produced. The Austrian grand prix stewards were guided by a similar philosophy in arriving at a decision over Hakkinen's rule infringement, although McLaren could rightly claim that there was zero discrepancy in this case as the electronic software was absolutely legal.
"After today's decision we now consider the matter closed," said Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren managing director. "While the loss of constructors' points is very disappointing, we believe that with our current performance we will render the loss academic by the end of the year."
Whitmarsh also confirmed that McLaren has decided not to appeal against its loss of Constructors' points, although the FIA provisionally set aside time on Thursday to hear any appeal that might have been lodged. "If there was a McLaren appeal, we wanted the outcome sorted before this weekend's German race," said a senior FIA source.
The risk with appealing is that it would open the door for submissions from rival teams, most notably Ferrari whose surviving car finished third in Austria driven by Rubens Barrichello. McLaren wisely decided not to give their championship rivals any chance to turn that third place into a second and consequently have taken the medicine prescribed by the stewards