SEPTEMBER 19, 2006

Turks fined only $5m

The FIA World Motor Sport Council has fined the national sporting authority of Turkey (TOSFED) and the organisers of the Turkish Grand Prix (MSO) a total of $5m as a result of the incident at the recent Turkish Grand Prix, when Mehmet Ali Talat presented the trophy to race winner Felipe Massa and was introduced on the podium as the president of the Turkish Cypriot "state" - although this entity is recognised only by Turkey.

The fine is biggest ever imposed by the FIA but there is no doubt that in the overall scheme of things, it is a weak response and a bad precedent.

The last time there was a podium problem was in Jerez in 1997 when the local mayor Pedro Pacheco barged his way on to the podium, embarrassing Daimler-Benz chairman Jurgen Schrempp who had been chosen for the job. The FIA ruled after that "no further rounds of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship will be held at the Jerez circuit". That has been the case up to now.

After the incident this year in Istanbul an FIA spokesman said that "political neutrality is fundamental to the FIA's role as the governing body of international motor sport. No compromise or violation of this neutrality is acceptable".

In the big bad world of realpolitik - politics based on practical and material factors rather than on theoretical or ethical objectives - a $5m fine is an insignificant amount of money. Turkey spent at least $150m building the Istanbul Park F1 racing circuit in order to get the get across the message that it is a nation capable of playing in the big league. Spending $5m to tell the world that the northern part of Cyprus is Turkish is a small price to pay.