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SEPTEMBER 23, 2008

Worrying revelations

Tony Scott Andrews is a man who has a great deal of credibility in Formula 1 circles. You need only to look at the man to know he is honest and thus the claims being made in the FIA Court of Appeal in Paris on Monday were very disquieting. The court had gathered to determine whether Lewis Hamilton should have been given a 25-second penalty for gaining an unfair advantage at Spa when he backed off and let Kimi Raikkonen go ahead after getting into the lead by running over the chicane. The penalty cost Hamilton victory in the Belgian GP and caused a great deal of outrage in the F1 world and amongst fans from all over the world. The FIA tried to play these down, with FIA President Max Mosley blaming the British press for stirring up the trouble, ignoring the fact that much of the outrage was spontaneous and that press opinions these days are based as much on information flowing in from the public as from those on the inside looking out.

The McLaren QC argued that the last year's Japanese GP set a precedent as the stewards in Fuji (headed by Scott Andrews) handed Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Tonio Liuzzi a time penalty for overtaking Adrian Sutil under yellow flags. An appeal was accepted in that case. McLaren presented its case to the FIA before the court case and FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting told the FIA legal department that he had spoken to Scott Andrews about the Fuji decision and said that the former chief steward had indicated that he had made a mistake and that the penalty should have been a drive-through, which could not have been appealed.

The FIA legal team then wrote to McLaren informing the team that there had been an error in the Fuji case and the argument would not work. McLaren, however, decided to check and contacted Scott Andrews in the course of the weekend. According to a statement presented to the court by McLaren, Scott Andrews denied having had any such conversation with Whiting and said that if such a discussion had taken place he would have supported the decision made.

These revelations will further undermine the credibility of the current FIA regime which has been stretched since last year's Stepneygate Affair. Everyone has moved on and forgotten that now, but we are still waiting to see any civil legal actions relating to that penalty and until we do there is nothing legal to support the FIA's astonishing $100m fine, based on little more than hearsay and circumstantial evidence. If no such actions take place one must conclude that there is no legal case to answer.

The Stepneygate Affair, the ensuing Renault decision in December and the alleged FIA anti-McLaren bias of the last 10 years have undermined the perceived fairness of the federation and this year's Mosley shenanigans have done nothing to strengthen the moral authority of the governing body. Mosley may have won a privacy judgement to protect his sordid private life from being reported, but the cat was already out of the bag and his failure to resign to protect the FIA merely gave the impression that he is a man who will do anything to cling to power. We will get confirmation of this one way or the other in the course of the next 12 months as Mosley must either step down as he has said he will, try to get elected again or change the FIA structure to move the power to a new role (which he will then take).

The exchanges in the Court of Appeal will probably have little effect on the ruling. The court is likely to throw out the appeal on the grounds that it is inadmissible and Hamilton will have to win the title without the points lost at Spa.