Renault will face the International Court of Appeal tomorrow (Monday) in the hope of reducing their one race ban for releasing Fernando Alonso from the pits with an unsafe car in the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The stewards threw the book at them after the race for knowingly sending the car out on track in racing conditions with a loose front wheel and making no attempt to stop it.
When I first heard about the punishment, it seemed extremely harsh, especially as this kind of thing has happened in the past and no-one got banned for a race for it.
On reflection there was certainly an element of paranoia in the air, as happens in motor sport following a death, in this case Henry Surtees a week earlier, from a head injury caused by a flying wheel in an F2 race. The mood of anxiety was heightened the day before the Hungarian Grand Prix with the head injury to Felipe Massa, from a loose spring. So the last thing anyone needed was for a team to be seen to be taking unneccessary risks during the Grand Prix.
The stewards have presented the appeal court judges with a tricky one here, as this is not an area which has been clamped down on so severely in the past – although Red Bull was fined $50,000 in Australia this year for not complying with an instruction to bring Sebastian Vettel’s unsafe car in after it was damaged in a collision. So the question facing the judges is not about establishing guilt, but “Does the punishment fit the crime?”
Complicating things further is the risk of making F1 look manipulated, as though rules can be enforced or not depending on whim or circumstance, by letting them off. The presence of Renault and Fernando Alonso is very important to the promoters and fans in Valencia. It would be very cynical if, through sheer pragmatism, the penalty were rescinded to allow Alonso to race. F1 needs to move on from situations which open it up to ridicule and insinuation.
Interestingly the appeal court is one area which FIA presidential candidate Jean Todt did not address in his recent manifesto. He made two sensible suggestions, in my view, one that the sport should have a commissioner who reports to the president and the other that disciplinary matters be heard by a disciplinary panel, rather than the world council. He talked about changes to the stewarding system, but not the appeal court. It will be interesting to see what detailed changes he might make to this often derided institution if elected.
The FIA is looking to the future; with Max Mosley effectively seeing out his final three months as president and Todt’s agenda in the air (we await the other candidate, Ari Vatanen’s), this is an interesting test case and it will be fascinating to see what mood takes the appeal judges.
Common sense would suggest that they will commute the sentence to a big fine and a suspended ban, but presenting that in a way which makes it look like it was not a response to desperate pleas from Spanish race promoters will be tricky.