SEPTEMBER 22, 2007
So is it over?
The announcement that McLaren has decided not to appeal against the World Council's astonishing $100m penalty comes at the end of a week of intense negotiation between then team, the FIA and various other parties, including other F1 teams.
McLaren was known to be deeply unhappy about the scale of the penalty, given the scarcity of hard evidence, but said that it would pay the $100m fine if there was "closure" in relation to the matter as it did not want to damage the sport by continuing the fight in the Appeal Court or in a civil action. There is little doubt that civil action would have been possible given the scale of the penalty but it is not clear whether this would have produced a different result. McLaren has admitted that according to the FIA rules, as they stand, the team is guilty because a team member did receive papers that came from Ferrari. The argument was really about whether the team knew about the information and whether it was used. McLaren appears to have decided that the publicity it has received has been sufficiently positive to warrant not bothering with an appeal, which would simply keep the story in the news and thus damage the sport.
However, it is unlikely that such a step would have been taken without some concessions and our understand is that "closure" amounted to a list of things which McLaren wanted sorted out: including an end to any civil legal action against the team in Italy, a resolution to the question of how the FIA would inspect the 2008 car and a deal over the team's benefits in 2008 and 2009.
The exact nature of the horse-trading is unclear.
We understand that the fine will not all go to the FIA. The McLaren benefits for 2007 (which is probably around $40m) will be divided up by the Formula One group and will go to the other F1 teams. The remaining money will go into a trust fund to help pay for scholarships for young drivers around the world, with the aim of spreading the sport into new regions, notably in Asia, the Middle East and perhaps even Africa.
There have been rumours for some days that there are other teams who may have to face up to claims about using McLaren intellectual property this year and we hear that these are not part of the settlement. It remains to be seen whether or not McLaren will make a complaint to the FIA or whether there will be civil legal action. Both are possible because the FIA allowed Ferrari to take action against Toyota a couple of years ago without getting involved and there is no reason why the same should not be allowed for McLaren.
There have been suggestions in recent days that the negotiations and may even have included the sale of Fernando Alonso's McLaren contract to Ferrari - in exchange for a sizeable sum of money. This would rid McLaren of the Alonso problem, provide funding to pay the fine (and to acquire another driver) and give Ferrari a stronger driver line-up in the future.