For an F1 hack, there are two imperatives in life: the espresso in the Ferrari media motor home, and a rectangle-shaped piece of plastic that hangs around your neck. And without the latter, there is no Italian coffee.
There is a rare unease among grand prix writers at present, because presenting what is pretty obviously the truth about the leading issue of the moment could well result in FIA pass-holders hearing that heart-sinking “bah-bow” sound when swiping their plastic-gold at the paddock turnstiles in Melbourne next March.
The Sunday Times columnist Martin Brundle, a veteran of 158 grands prix and nearly 190 more in the British commentary booth, will shortly be defending an article he wrote about F1’s governing body in court. The World Motor Sport Council, which is the FIA’s equivalent of a representative senate, has authorised the Paris body to pursue Brundle and his publishers for libel.
“Witch-hunt threatens to spoil world title”, Brundle had titled his article from Monza in September, referring to the FIA’s seemingly blood-thirsty pursuit of McLaren for technical espionage.
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“What is the driving force here?” he wrote. “Does it involve the threatened breakaway GPMA series that Ron Dennis was involved in? Did Dennis try to torpedo key people out of their jobs? Is the FIA looking for McLaren heads to roll?”
Significantly, just one day before issuing the Brundle writ, the same World Council astonished the formula one world by finding Renault guilty of spying — but issuing no penalty whatsoever. Famously, in September — and on the basis of seemingly less evidence and apparently less far-reaching espionage — McLaren was fined $100m and kicked out of the constructors’ world championship.
Brundle sees his French writ as a “warning sign to other journalists and publications to choose their words carefully” in critique of the FIA’s apparent case of flagrant double standards.
But why would the FIA president, Max Mosley, hate McLaren and not Renault? Firstly, he unquestionably does hate Ron. Perhaps it is because he, the son of the aristocratic and notorious British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, naturally clashes with Ron Dennis, an originally working class millionaire who started out with his hands dirty as a mechanic. Mosley once described Dennis as “not the sharpest knife in the box”. Perhaps the subject of McLaren’s spying simply confirms Paul Stoddart’s cynical nickname for the FIA — “Ferrari International Assistance”.
More likely, however, is that while Mosley didn’t mind making a ruthless example of McLaren’s cheating — a team with pockets as deep as black holes and with F1 as its core business — a nearly identical case involving Renault left his double standards completely exposed. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn, famous for pitilessly slashing jobs and costs at Nissan, is thought to have reminded Mosley in the days before Renault’s Salem Trial that a $100m fine would spell “au revoir” to the sport for the Regie.
At the same time, Renault’s F1 boss Flavio Briatore is in bed with Mosley’s best mate and partner F1 powerbroker; none other than Bernard Charles Ecclestone. They not only run the GP2 series together, their names are jointly on the title of the London football club Queens Park Rangers. Not a bad reason for Mosley to write in the World Council’s verdict that Renault’s “senior management acted responsibly” when they found reams of McLaren blueprints in their team’s computer system, before Briatore “took an open and cooperative approach” to saying oops, sorry, won’t do it again.
McLaren, on the other hand, will only discover in mid-February — mere weeks before the start of the 2008 season — whether its 2008 car will be declared legal by the FIA. Renault, guilty of an identical crime, will face no such factory raids or car inspections, despite now knowing intricate details about McLaren’s so-called “J-damper” innovation, fuel systems and gearbox assembly.
So while the case of Renault cheating swelled like a tidal wave before fizzing at a toddler’s bucket and spade, the ripples of McLaren’s so-called “Spygate” continue to drown anyone in silver clothes. And, now, destiny awaits for all. “Bah-bow”.