The fans win: FIA reopens McLaren - Ferrari inquiry
All bets are off: the FIA has just reopened the entire McLaren – Ferrari stolen documents controversy.
Apparently, the dirt under the whitewash bled through.
FIA president Max Moseley has referred the entire matter to the FIA Court of Appeal, which is to start over and conduct an entirely new hearing. This time, however, Ferrari is to be allowed to participate, as is “any other Championship competitor who so requests.”
Moseley’s decision puts the entire Formula One season under a cloud. Particularly, his directive that any other team that wishes to participate be allowed to do so seems to open a new and wide area of inquiry, as Honda is the only other team to be tangentially involved in the present controversy, and only because it had possibly considered hiring two of the individuals implicated, Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan. The rationale for allowing other teams to participate was not explained, but seems to be a veiled threat against Ferrari.
Why, precisely, is not clear – other than the fact that the FIA is currently likely loathing Ferrari for having put the FIA in a corner from which it had no escape.
Meantime, Nigel Stepney, the former Ferrari employee which it believes stole the documents given to McLaren, has released a statement in which he directly accuses Ferrari of setting him up and states that the real thief of the information which ended up in McLaren chief engineer Coughlan’s home was someone else at Ferrari, someone still in the organization. He claims that Ferrari planted a powder which was later discovered in their cars at Monaco in his pants pocket while he was taking a shower. Why Ferrari would do that, he has not explained.
Moseley’s move came as a surprise.
It had been widely reported that Ferrari had concluded it did not have the authority, within the FIA rules, to appeal the FIA ruling made this past Thursday which had found McLaren guilty of violating FIA rules by possessing stolen Ferrari documents but refused to impose any penalty. Apparently, however, the question was not whether there was an appeal process, but how it could be initiated.
Moseley has now initiated it.
But it isn’t really an appeal, at least in the sense commonly understood.
It’s a new trial.
The whole thing starts over, from scratch.
With one difference:
Ferrari gets to participate, to present evidence, to argue its case.
Moseley acted in response to a petition from the Italian Automobile Club and Motor Sport Commission (ACI-CSAI), acting on Ferrari’s behalf.
Here’s what he said:
“Your letter suggests that the outcome may have been different if the Council had given Ferrari further opportunities to be heard beyond those that were in fact offered. Because of this and the importance of public confidence in the outcome, I will send this matter to the FIA Court of Appeal under Article 23.1 of the FIA Statutes with a request that the Court hear both Ferrari and McLaren and any other Championship competitor who so requests and determine whether the decision of the WMSC was appropriate and, if not, substitute such other decision as may be just.”
Moseley’s decision is a crystally clear indication that Bernie Ecclestone is tone deaf. Though independent, in theory, from Formula One’s ownership, it is generally believed that the FIA asks Ecclestone for permission to sneeze. Whenever Ecclestone wants to cloak his actions in a specious appearance of propriety, he uses the FIA.
This time, Ecclestone clearly miscalculated.
The FIA decision was so bizarre, so unanticipated, that it got far more attention than it might otherwise have received. That the fix was in was obvious.
Moreover, Italy went ballistic. Not only is Ferrari something approaching a national religion in that country, it has prosecuting authorities who can make life miserable for the sport. They’ve done it before, when no one in Formula One wanted them to. Consider what they could do with Ferrari in their corner. Ferrari was quite blunt in informing the world that it intended to use every means at its disposal to exact its revenge.
Moreover, Ferrari’s decision to pursue its case in the courts in both Italy and England meant that the FIA’s effort to squelch the controversy was doomed. Italian authorities can be expected to do as Ferrari wishes, particularly in Modena, where the current case is being pursued. English authorities will not favor McLaren, which is a valuable business, but not truly a British team. (It’s not Lotus. Bruce McLaren was from New Zealand.) The FIA hangs on the past decisions of French courts, which have held that the FIA is entitled to regulate its own sport. But, in a fight between McLaren and Ferrari in the Italian and British courts, the FIA would not be a participant. What the French courts have said, moreover, would not matter to the courts of either country. Neither much like the French.
The FIA and Ecclestone needed to get control again.
So, they have both run very fast to get to the front of the parade, so that they can hope to be in charge, once again.
It may or may not work.
This time, Ferrari gets its day in court.
It has the opportunity to go for blood.
And it has the advantage of public sentiment on its side.
Moseley has just challenged Ferrari to put up or shut up.
His worst case scenario is that Ferrari has the goods.
Bet that they do.
They probably learned a bit from having Toyota steal information from them the year before.