Martin Brundle asks the unanswered questions
In a piece authored over the week-end for the London Times and TimesOnLine, Martin Brundle complained that the FIA’s decision against imposing a punishment on Renault for having McLaren information “made no sense” after the $100,000,000 dollar fine imposed on McLaren for stealing Ferrari information.
But, he’s wrong.
Here’s what he had to say:
“The McLaren judgment is about negativity and suspicion of possible use of Ferrari information, but no real show-stopper I could see. Even now the decision to punish or exclude McLaren for 2008 has been deferred. The Renault decision is one of an understanding and supportive nature and one only of occasional “strong disapproval” despite clear and confirmed evidence that information was loaded on to their mainframe IT system, including drawings of McLaren’s shock absorber, fuel system, mass damper and seamless shift transmission. Some drawings were printed off and idly laid on a key desk before being handed back after a disinterested glance, said the verdict. I laughed out loud on that one. And just as McLaren protested Ferrari’s floor back at the Australian Grand Prix, Renault used information taken from a McLaren “J-Damper” drawing to seek rule clarification with the FIA.”
From this, he concludes that the disparate handling of the two teams has left clouded the extent to which information that flows from one team to another creates an issue.
Brundle, a Formula One driver from 1984 through 1996 and a sports commentator and journalist since then, is none too pleased with the FIA, which has summoned him to show cause before them as a consequence of a column printed in the previous Sunday’s Times, in which he was critical of the FIA’s handling of the matter. Brundle says that he believes the summons to appear before the FIA is designed to silence other journalist critics, and that his press accreditation will be affected in some manner as a consequence.
But the question he asks is germane. Why did McLarern and Renault get treated so differently?
The answer is: they didn’t. They were treated exactly the same way.
Brundle’s effort to draw a parallel between the way McLaren was punished and Renault wasn’t ignores the fact that McLaren, too, was first given a pass. The World Motorsports Council heard the case against McLaren and did exactly what it did with Renault: held that the team had violated the rules, but imposed no penalty. It was only after it became evident that McLaren, including its team leader, had deliberately and intentionally lied to the FIA throughout the investigation and the Council hearing that the matter was returned to the Council and the penalty was imposed.
It’s probably true that the FIA has not helped matters by attributing its change in the McLaren decision to determining that the team “used” the stolen information, rather than admitting that it was doing it because the team dissembled. But, if actions speak louder than words, it’s quite clear what’s going on.
McLaren has developed a body of articulate apologists in Britain who are, in their own way, as rabidly devoted to the team as the Italian fan is devoted to Ferrari. They may sincerely believe that their team is being singled out unfairly, that Ferrari would not have received the same punishment if the circumstances had been reversed, and that McLaren is being made to pay an unreasonable penalty in the forthcoming seasons.
But, the fact remains that no sports sanctioning body can allow teams to get away with lying to the sanctioning body. Cheating, bending rules, and outright spying can be tolerated, at some level, without difficulty. Indeed, the grey area in motorsports has always been wide, and sanctioning bodies have always intrepreted rules flexibly in order to make sure that the ultimate product, the racing, draws an audience.
But a sanctioning body that lets a team get away with lying to it loses any control it might have over the competitors. That is the one rule that the sanctioning body cannot allow to be broken.
That’s the rule McLaren broke.