Will McLaren appeal?
According to reports in the British press, McLaren is considering an appeal of the World Motorsports Council’s decision to strip the team of its 2007 Constructor’s points and fine the team $100 million for using information stolen from Ferrari in the preparation of McLaren’s race cars.
But the move could backfire. If McLaren appeals, the FIA’s Court of Appeal could toss Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton out of the 2007 Formula One driver’s championship – or worse.
Ferrari’s boss, Jean Todt, almost seems to relish the prospect of a McLaren appeal. Though nominally stating that he believes McLaren should not appeal, the possibility that Ron Dennis, McLaren’s team manager, would open the door to having the team’s drivers, Alonso and Hamilton, tossed out of the driver’s championship clearly is a prospect Todt enjoys. Todt told reporters that “[i]n an appeal you only have lawyers. If they (McLaren) do appeal, my personal feeling is the result should be different. It will be very important to see if they appeal or not. If they do I think it would change the drivers’ situation quite a lot.”
Todt also indicated that Ferrari believed that McLaren had gotten off lightly by avoiding loss of driver points. “Even the president of FIA confirmed the penalty was soft, but we know in this business a lot of things are taken into consideration and I can understand that.
It’s much better to have a championship with all the drivers - I’m not arguing about that. But lots of things were taken into consideration in order to favor the championship more, rather than this single bad case.’”
Alonso and Hamilton were spared any penalty from the Council because FIA president Max Mosley had, in effect, granted the immunity. Mosley told the press during the weekend that, but for that promise, he would have removed the two drivers from competition. Apparently, however, that promise would not be binding on the Court of Appeal, should there be an appeal by McLaren.
The same press reports indicate that Dennis wants “closure” in the affair, particularly including the criminal proceedings pending in Italy in which he and others at McLaren are targets for prosecution. Ferrari’s Todt, however, has taken the public position that he and Ferrari have no control over the Italian proceedings. ’”Considering the civil case in England and penal case in Italy, it has nothing to do with the FIA, and it’s not our responsibility,”’ according to Todt. “It’s up to the judges who have to cover the matter.”
Ferrari, of course, can afford to let matters take their course, as it clearly has the upper hand. In reality, however, the decision about whether to appeal may rest more with Mercedes-Benz than with Ron Dennis or anyone else at McLaren. Mercedes owns 40% of the team, and has publicly expressed outrage over the Council’s decision.
In the end, McLaren probably ought to regard Mosley’s week-end comments as a clear warning and take the penalty the team has received without further litigation. The Council’s decision was based on facts, since publicly disclosed, indicating the active and knowing participation by Alonso in the use of stolen information. It also shows that McLaren, as a team, benefited from that stolen information. Logically, the driving championship points should have been forfeited along with the team points or, at least, Alonso disqualified from the championship.
That no action was taken against the drivers keeps public interest alive in the remainder of the Formula One season. To that extent, it served the interest of Formula One, at least financially. But an appeal would alter the calculus, as it would mean the championship could be determined other than at the track. If an appeal were to occur, the interests of the FIA in keeping Alonso and Hamilton in contention for the championship might be different by the time the appeal is decided than at present.