The FIA has published the reasons behind the decision of the Appeal Court to reduce the one race ban imposed on Renault for the unsafe release of Fernando Alonso’s car in Budapest with a loose wheel.
And it seems that four of the team’s main rivals on the grid, Ferrari, McLaren Red Bull and Toyota, helped them by writing letters of support, even outlining that their own pit stop procedures would need to be revised. “It could have happened to any of us” appears to be the message.
There is certainly a bit of FOTA unity going on here and this is an interesting example of how it can spill over onto the field in terms of ‘fair play’. There was a suspicion among some of the more cynical members of the paddock that part of the motivation for such a severe sentence in the first place was payback for the outspoken part Renault team boss Flavio Briatore had played in the proposed FOTA breakaway.
The court statement is a very interesting document as it shows the appeal process very clearly. In the past there have been question marks about the independence of the appeal court, but here the thing seems to be above any doubt.
The main point of interest, which was the severity of the sentence, is dealt with by the court in a very methodical way and it doesn’t make great reading for the stewards. They added two and two together and got five, in the eyes of the judges, who say that the level of sentence imposed was not consistent with previous similar offences. It suggests that the stewards were influenced by the recent events with the death of Henry Surtees and the injury of Felipe Massa, both from flying objects.
“It is the Court’s view that the penalty imposed in the present case appears to be significantly inconsistent with any penalty previously imposed (or not imposed) in broadly comparable cases. After viewing the video evidence submitted to it, the Court does not accept the FIA’s submission that real potential danger did not arise in all or any of these incidents, ” it reads.
As for the help from the four teams, it says, “The Court notes that it has taken account of the letters of support which the Appellant has received from Red Bull Racing, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, and Toyota F1 Team and which it has submitted to the Court.
“These letters confirm that two of the above-mentioned teams lay claim to having followed improved procedures precisely in order to avoid the very serious safety risks which unquestionable arose in the present case.”
As to Renault’s case, they admitted that they released the car, but claimed that they had no knowledge in that split second moment that it was not raceworthy, “The Appellant (Renault) argues that the Stewards failed to adduce any evidence of Renault’s knowledge of these factual breaches, as they did not mention how or when the team acquired this knowledge, or even who in the team had the relevant and requisite knowledge.
“…In this regard, the Court accepts the submission that there was no
conscious wrong-doing on the part of anyone. Notwithstanding its respect for the Stewards, the Court considers that the use of the term “knowingly” in the Contested Decision was not appropriate in this case because, notwithstanding the powerful arguments of the FIA, it is the Court’s view that the use of that term in this context clearly suggests conscious wrongdoing and implies a finding that the “release” of the car from the pit box was allowed despite actual knowledge of potential danger on the part of the individual who made the decision to release it.”
It all happens so quickly in a pit stop. Cue one up on your PVR box and watch it in real time; it’s a blur, especially the last bit. Many times in recent years split second happenings at the end of pit stops have had massive repercussions. Massa would argue, with good reason, that he lost the world championship last year because of the ten points lost over the split second blunder, which meant he was released with the fuel hose still attached.
These crucial moments will always be prone to human error, no matter what lights system or lollipop is used. It’s the human capacity to make mistakes under pressure which is such a compelling part of sport.