The FIA World Council’s decision not to punish Ferrari played right into the hands of all of those who believe that the letters FIA stand for Ferrari International Assistance – as you will read in a number of the comments on this blog – and you will see from an photo that was emailed to me overnight (below). It has done no good at all for the credibility of the new regime at the federation, which was hoping that this hearing would establish that Jean Todt is independent of all influence from Ferrari… his former employer.
Instead the decision has compounded the belief that Todt will do what Ferrari wants. This is an image that Todt is keen to get rid of and the team orders case was clearly a good opportunity to do that. Todt stood back and did not get involved in the discussions, leaving the Council to make its own decision. There was a huge dossier on the subject, which went through the entire story, examining whether of not Ferrari imposed team orders, whether the sport was damaged as a result and whether Ferrari told the whole truth to the stewards at Hockenheim. If the case was cut and dried there would have been no need for such a dossier… The decision taken was rather surprising and anyone who spouts forth the belief that Todt orchestrated the result simply does not understand the political realities of the sport. Alas, it seems that many members of the World Council also fail to grasp the significance of the decision they have taken and the effect it will have on the credibility of the federation. If there is anything to be salvaged from the result, it is the fact that the World Council has shown it is a democratic body, and can make its own decisions – even if it does not suit the president.
What is more interesting for observers is the question of how that decision came to be made. First reports suggested that the decision was unanimous: FIA decisions always are after a majority has won a discussion. It is clear from speaking to some of those involved that there was anything but unanimity on this occasion. A substantial number of Council members are relatively new and so are keen not to rock the boat and so voted with the majority. It seems that the Italians and Spanish were noisily defending Ferrari (and, by extension, Fernando Alonso), while others, without a vested interest, were less successful in convincing the membership that further punishment was a good idea, although one or two argued passionately that the federation needed to go down that path. While one can argue that nationalism played a role in this decision, the good news is that this is not going to happen in the future.
This is probably the last time in which the World Council will be involved in any disciplinary action. Among the many meetings in Paris this week was a committee reviewing the FIA structures and statutes. We hear that from next year onwards such cases will not go to the World Council, but rather to a new International Tribunal, which will be completely independent of the clubs, and will consist of legal professionals with experience in the sport. It is not entirely clear at the moment how this will work, but we understand that nominations can be made by anyone with an FIA licence. The resulting corps of judges will elect its own president and judges for each case will be chosen based on a rotational system, unless a judge is of the nationality of one of the parties involved.