The FIA Court of Appeal today rejected McLaren’s appeal of the stewards’ decision to penalise Lewis Hamilton after the Belgian Grand Prix. This was precisely the outcome that I (and, I guess, most others) expected. So I assume we won’t see the same kind of fall-out that came when the penalty was originally handed out. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be questions asked.
First of all, I see the sense in a team being unable to appeal a drive-through penalty. After all, if a driver takes his drive-through during the race then he can obviously not appeal it because there is nothing you can do to undo the drive-through.
However, I have to wonder about the wisdom of awarding “drive-through penalties” after the race has finished. The concept is wholly nonsensical. Yes, it is an appropriate punishment to hand out during a race. But after a race it is obviously a non-existent punishment. The FIA gets round this by automatically converting such “drive-through penalties” into a 25 second time penalty. But this seems just silly. Why not call a spade a spade and admit what it is: a straightforward time penalty. Hamilton took no drive-through.
The current situation allows stewards to cowardly wait until after the race has finished (and the crowds have long gone) to change the result of the race and never be called up on it. Is it right that the stewards can twiddle their thumbs for two hours, re-write the classification sheet then drift off into the sunset? Or should there be a proper process that ensures that all time penalties handed out are justified?
This isn’t an argument about whether or not Hamilton gained an advantage or not. I don’t want to go into that any more because it has been gone over countless times now. This is an argument about FIA accountability. Max Mosley may think he is oh-so-great to call those who believe that the FIA is biased against McLaren “stupid“, but the fact is that the perception exists, it is widespread, and it spreads wider by the week. And the FIA is doing absolutely nothing to stop it. There is no accountability whatsoever. The stewards can fudge a race result, and the Court of Appeal can decline to make a proper decision about anything due to a technicality.
And it is a technicality that appears to be dispensable enough when the FIA isn’t ruling on a car that is red or silver. Part of McLaren’s argument that they were allowed to appeal drive-through / time penalty was that Vitantonio Liuzzi was allowed to appeal exactly the same punishment following last year’s Japanese Grand Prix.
McLaren’s lawyer pointed out that in that instance Liuzzi was given a drive-through penalty after the race, just like Hamilton’s penalty after the Belgian GP. The decision was appealed with no discussion whatsoever as to its admissibility.
The FIA claimed that this instance was a “error”. The FIA’s legal department contacted McLaren to say that Tony Scott Andrews, who was chief steward at least year’s Japanese GP, acknowledged that he had made a mistake. But when McLaren double-checked this with Tony Scott Andrews himself, the steward was apparently “outraged”, calling the FIA’s allegations “grossly inaccurate and misleading”. Oh dear.
Here is what Ed Gorman from The Times notes:
What on earth was the FIA up to? Why did they make such a big effort to discredit McLaren’s precedent, even misrepresenting Scott Andrews in the process, when their lawyer could have dealt with it in court? It certainly smells fishy but I suspect it will be no more than a sideshow and will not affect the overall findings.
The FIA Court of Appeal may have made the predictable decision, even though it is quite a cowardly one. But there are still plenty of questions still to be answered regarding Charlie Whiting’s conduct, both during the Belgian GP itself and with his misrepresented phone call to Tony Scott Andrews.
As far as I can see, there are two possible explanations as to what is going on. The first option is that the FIA is completely incompetent. The second option is that the FIA is completely corrupt. Doesn’t say much for the ability of Max Mosley to run the organisation, does it? And he claims he has so many people telling him to stay in the job? What a mess this sport has become.