Sunday, May 3, 2009

FIA's Decision

Formula One racing’s governing body, the FIA, has released full details of Wednesday’s World Motor Sport Council decision.

World Motor Sport Council - Decision

The World Motor Sport Council (“WMSC”) met on 29th April 2009 to consider a charge that Vodafone McLaren Mercedes (“McLaren”), a competitor in the FIA Formula One World Championship, had breached Article 151(c) of the International Sporting Code (“ISC”), which prohibits "any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally".

1 Background

1.1 During the closing laps of the 2009 Australian Grand Prix, an incident occurred which required that the safety car be deployed. At the time of deployment, driver No. 1 Lewis Hamilton (for McLaren) was placed fourth and driver No. 9 Jarno Trulli (for Panasonic Toyota Racing (“Toyota”)) was placed third.

1.2 While running behind the safety car, Trulli left the track and Hamilton passed to take third place.

1.3 Article 40.7 of the 2009 Formula One Sporting Regulations sets out the rules governing overtaking while running behind the safety car. Article 40.7 reads, in relevant part, as follows: “All competing cars must […] reduce speed and form up in line behind the safety car.

1.4 In light of Article 40.7 and the fact that Hamilton and Trulli had passed each other while running behind the safety car, the matter was referred to the Stewards of the Meeting (“Stewards”) by the FIA Race Director.

1.5 At the 29th March Hearing, the Stewards and the Race Director asked questions regarding Trulli’s passing of Hamilton. Trulli stated that Hamilton had moved off the racing line to the right of the track and had begun to travel very slowly.

1.6 Hamilton was asked by the Stewards why he had moved off his line and whether there was a problem with his car. He informed the Stewards that there were no problems with his car and that he had drifted right because he was checking his lap time and was concerned that his tyres were cold.

1.7 The Stewards considered the evidence, including the McLaren representatives’ statements, and issued a decision, penalising Trulli for overtaking while behind the safety car in breach of Article 40.7 and imposing a drive-through penalty.

1.8 From the release of the aforementioned decision until the reconvening of the Stewards in Malaysia on 2nd April 2009, no McLaren representative contacted the FIA, its Race Director or the Stewards in relation to that decision.

1.9 Late on Sunday evening, after the official result had been published, it came to the attention of the Chairman of the Stewards and the FIA Race Director that there existed a press interview given by Hamilton in which he stated that he had been told by McLaren to let Trulli pass.

1.10 Hamilton responded: “OK.”

1.11 Having listened to the press interview and the pit-to-car radio exchanges, the Stewards reconvened on Thursday 2nd April 2009 in Malaysia (“2nd April Hearing”) where Hamilton and Trulli and their respective team managers were interviewed again.

1.12 Hamilton and his Team Manager were played recordings of the press interview and the pit-to-car radio exchanges evidencing that Hamilton had been instructed to let Trulli pass and had done so.

1.13 The Stewards found McLaren’s explanations inadequate and concluded that – at the 29th March Hearing – there had been a deliberate and successful attempt to mislead the Stewards.

1.14 The Stewards therefore issued new decisions – Decisions Nos. 76 and 77 – respectively excluding Hamilton and McLaren from the race classification for the Australian Grand Prix and reinstating Trulli and Toyota in third place.

1.15 In comments to the press immediately after the release of Decisions Nos. 76 and 77, the McLaren Team Principal stated that McLaren stood by the representations made to the Stewards by Hamilton and his Team Manager.

1.16 Hamilton held a press conference on 3rd April 2009 at the Malaysia Grand Prix. In that press conference, Hamilton reversed the position he had taken at the 29th March Hearing and the 2nd April Hearing, apologised to the Stewards, the FIA and the public for having provided misleading information to the Stewards.

1.17 The FIA Observer presented to the FIA President on 7th April 2009 a report titled: “Report of the Hamilton/Trulli incident during the 2009 Australian Formula One Grand Prix and subsequent issues” (“FIA Observer’s Report”), outlining the above facts.

1.18 In response, the FIA decided to summon McLaren before the WMSC to answer charges that, in breach of Article 151(c) ISC, it:

(a) on 29th March 2009, told the Stewards of the Australian Grand Prix that no instructions were given to Hamilton to allow Trulli to pass.

(b) procured its driver Hamilton, the current World Champion, to support and confirm this untrue statement to the Stewards;

c) although knowing that as a direct result of its untrue statement to the Stewards, another driver and a rival team had been unfairly penalised.

d) on 2nd April 2009, before the Stewards of the Australian Grand Prix (meeting in Malaysia), made no attempt to correct the untrue statement of 29th March but, on the contrary, continued to maintain that the statement was true.

(e) on 2nd April 2009, before the Stewards, procured its driver Hamilton to continue to assert the truth of the false statement given to the Stewards.

1.19 In its written response to these charges, McLaren accepted that, both at and between the 29th March Hearing and the 2nd April Hearing, McLaren had acted in breach of Article 151(c) ISC.

1.20 At the WMSC meeting on 29th April 2009, the McLaren Team Principal again admitted that McLaren had been in breach of Article 151(c) ISC and offered representations for the purposes of mitigation.

2 WMSC’s Assessment

2.1 The WMSC has carefully considered the FIA Observer’s Report, McLaren’s written submissions of 14th April 2009 and its representations in mitigation at the WMSC meeting on 29th April 2009.

2.2 Under Article 152 ISC, seventh paragraph, the WMSC: “may, upon the proposal and report of the FIA observer.

2.3 The WMSC considers that McLaren’s course of conduct as set out in section 1 of this Decision amounted to a serious breach of Article 151(c). By making deliberately misleading representations to the Stewards.

2.4 In addition, by its course of conduct, McLaren has brought the sport into disrepute.

2.5 In light of the foregoing, the WMSC considers that pursuant to Article 151(c) and 152 ISC, seventh paragraph, the Stewards’ Decision No. 76, which excluded Hamilton and McLaren from the race classification for the 2009 Australian Grand Prix.

2.6 In short, the WMSC considers that the penalty must be of a magnitude that reflects accurately the severity of the offence and effectively deters McLaren.

2.7 In determining the sanction to be imposed on McLaren, the WMSC considered a number of factors presented by McLaren in mitigation.

These factors (together, “Mitigating Factors”) included the following:

(a) that the McLaren Team Principal admitted all material facts, including the making of deliberately misleading statements to the Stewards.

(b) that the McLaren Team Principal accepted in written submissions that McLaren’s course of conduct in the matter had been unacceptable and offered an unreserved apology both personally, and on behalf of McLaren, to all affected parties.

c) that the McLaren Team Principal has assured members of the WMSC that there has been a change in culture within McLaren.

(d) that, on realising his mistakes, Hamilton held a press conference at which he apologised for his actions.

(e) that McLaren promptly suspended, and subsequently terminated the employment of, its Team Manager.

2.8 However, in addition to considering the existence of Mitigating Factors, the WMSC also considered whether there were aggravating factors suggesting that the level of any penalty should be increased.

2.9 Recidivism is a strong indicator that the sanction previously imposed was not sufficiently deterrent and recidivism is thus a circumstance which may justify an increase in the severity of the penalty which might otherwise be imposed.

3 Decision

3.1 The WMSC finds Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in breach of Article 151(c) ISC in relation to each of the five counts identified in the FIA’s summons to Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

3.2 Pursuant to Article 151(c) ISC and 152 ISC, seventh paragraph, the WMSC therefore replaces the sanction imposed by Decision No. 76 of the Stewards with the following:

(a)the exclusion of the driver Lewis Hamilton and the competitor Vodafone McLaren Mercedes from the race classification for the 2009 Australian Grand Prix.

(b) the suspension of the competitor Vodafone McLaren Mercedes from three rounds of the FIA Formula One World Championship.

3.3 Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is reminded of its right of appeal. In the event that an appeal is lodged with the FIA International Court of Appeal.

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