The FIA Verdict: Lessons learned?

What have we learned from the FIA’s announcement of the inadmissible nature of McLaren’s Belgium Grand Prix penalty appeal?Seemingly we have discovered that an identical incident in the Japanese Grand Prix in 2007 is not a precedent-setting event in which McLaren can use to promote their current Belgium Grand Prix appeal.

The International Court of Appeal (ICA) agreed to hear the case last year involving Antonio Liuzzi. It rendered judgment in that appeal which can be found here. In this judgment document you will find that the ICA maintains that all parties deemed the appeal admissible and proceeded with the hearing. What you won’t find in this document is the rationale by which the ICA and all parties arrived at the admissibility of the appeal. This, unfortunately, is what today’s verdict is hanging its hat on.

At first blush, you might think that this seems all very clear. If the ICA felt a drive-through penalty is not subject to appeal(which is in the regulations), then why all the gnashing of teeth Todd? Precisely because there is a precedent case that proves that these penalties are or have been heard and arbitrated before. In short, any act, decision, or case that serves as a guide or justification for subsequent situations. The hearing itself is the precedent but apparently the FIA feel this is not the case. Here is their official statement concerning the Liuzzi penalty:

27. The Court, in a judgment of 12 October 2007 rendered in the Toro Rosso case concerning the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix (driver Vitantonio Liuzzi), concluded, in similar circumstances, that the appeal against a decision to impose a 25- second penalty was admissible. However, none of the parties concerned had raised the inadmissibility of the appeal in that case, the FIA for its part leaving the matter to the sovereign appreciation of the Court. Therefore, the Court was able, in the conclusion of its decision, to declare the appeal admissible, but it did not give reasons for its decision on the issue, as the question was not debated. Consequently that judgment does not present itself as settled law with respect to this question and does not bind the Court in the present case.

Specifically, the ICA has sidestepped the claim of admissibility because the previous ICA hearing concerning Liuzzi at the Japanese Grand Prix was not specifically challenged during those hearings by any participating parties and the ICA did not provide the rationale as to why they admitted the appeal for arbitration.

So this leaves us, mouth agape, wondering just why would Liuzzi be allowed to appeal an identical penalty 2007 but McLaren were not in 2008? Because the ICA did not offer a defense or logic of its decision to allow the appeal? Color me reactionary but this seems rather thin to me. Now I am not sure if the ICA uses anything similar to case law but precedents are set by previous cases and it would seem to me that a precedent was set by the ICA’s actions one year ago. Something I think the ICA should have been forced to recognize and address with more due diligence that dismissively suggesting that the logic back up was not present in the verdict therefore the current hearing can’t proceed on those grounds.

What is equally alarming is the incident between Charlie Whiting and 2007 Japanese Grand Prix Steward Tony Scott-Andrews. Charlie maintains he spoke with Tony last week and Tony had admitted to making a mistake in the Liuzzi penalty. Charlie maintains that Tony said the penalty actually should have been a drive-through penalty and not a 25-second penalty and that he had made a mistake. The FIA sent an email to McLaren last week saying “Having checked with the permanent chief of stewards who signed the Decision in Japan, we wish to inform you that there is an error on the face of the Decision document,”. McLaren, being diligent, sought ought Tony Scott-Andrews and got a statement from him directly which contradicts Charlie’s statements completely.

Now this, to me, seems dubious as McLAren had presented their case to the FIA prior to Monday’s hearing giving the FIA time to deconstruct McLaren’s case which hinged on the admissibility of the Liuzzi appeal. Even going as far as to seemingly rewrite history to eliminate the precedent set by the Liuzzi appeal.

In the end, we have no real further understanding on the issue of Lewis’s penalty. No justification for why it was levied on McLaren and just what advantage was actually gained. Many have suggested that this incident is a benchmark reason for permanent race stewards, that the rules need clarification so as to eliminate the interpretation of various stewards or to establish a new criteria or permanent clarification of the actual rule. None of that was gained and in the end, the FIA did not have to defend the decisions of the Belgium Grand Prix stewards or actually even entertain McLaren’s appeal.

There have been many who have suggested a rivalry or general dislike between McLAren and specifically Ron Dennis and the FIA or specifically its President Max Mosley. They have proffered the famed ‘Red Car Rule’ in which the FIA is supposed to be sympathetic to Ferrari while aggressively Punitive with McLaren. Tuesday’s verdict does nothing to help assuage that ‘Red Car Rule’ theory and in fact it only fuels it more. Why was Liuzzi allowed an appeal for an identical infraction while Lewis Hamilton was not? Why did the FIA seem to stoop to legal trickery to scuttle or deconstruct McLaren’s precedent argument by implicating Charlie Whiting and pitting him against Tony Scott-Andrews? It must be said that Max Mosley fired Tony Scott-Andrews last December so one must draw their conclusions from all aspects of this story but from what I have read, Tony seems to be a man of integrity and trustworthiness. This according to people in he F1 circle.

As for me? I see this as self preservation and just a continuance of the Max Mosley FIA debacle. The FIA lost all moral authority to render unbiased and rationalized judgment after the Mosley sex scandal. The three stewards who rendered the Belgium Penalty no doubt were supporters of Max and most likely voted yes in the FIA ‘vote of confidence’ back in June (I don’t know that for sure but can only assume). The politics run deep at the FIA and unfortunately post McLaren espionage incident, things have only gotten worse. Transparent and almost boastfully menacing has Max become since his privacy law suit victory over the News of the World. The penchant for power has tarnished and conscripted this mans mind into a service of self preservation, revenge and maniacal behavior and I for one am sad to see F1 continue to be governed by someone so morally, ethically and professionally bankrupt. Of course these are just my opinions and in certain circles, albeit I have no damn idea where, Max is probably the life of the party and one of the best blokes around…just not at my house thank you. You may stay in Chelsea sir.

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