Work in Sports
Back in the driver's seat
Ferrari wins appeal; Irvine regains Formula One lead over Hakkinen
Posted: Saturday October 23, 1999 08:51 PM
PARIS (Reuters) -- Eddie Irvine regained the lead in the Formula One world championship on Saturday after the sport's ruling body overturned Ferrari's disqualification from the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The ruling set up a thrilling finale to the season but was a huge blow for McLaren and their Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen, who claimed the world title on Sunday only to have it snatched from his grasp in Europe.
Irvine, who won in Malaysia ahead of Ferrari team mate Michael Schumacher, now leads Hakkinen by four points with only the Japanese Grand Prix on October 31 remaining.
The Briton could yet become Ferrari's first world champion since Jody Scheckter in 1979.
The Italian team also lead McLaren in the constructors' championship by the same margin.
"It's fantastic. It's a triumph for the whole team, especially as I never thought Ferrari could be considered to have broken the rules," Irvine was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency Ansa in Tokyo.
"They've given us back a result we more fully deserved on the track. Now I'm thinking of next Sunday to win this title for Ferrari."
Max Mosley, president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) announced the verdict at a news conference in Paris, maintaining the suspense by first stating that rules had to be upheld.
He then revealed an unsuspected loophole.
After saying that the views of Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who had called the disqualification "a nonsense," were "of no consequence whatsoever" Mosley then proceeded to explain why the team had been cleared.
Ferrari were disqualified in Malaysia on technical grounds when it was found that their barge boards -- fitted to improve air flow and stability -- were one centimeter too short.
The team had been expected to pin their appeal on the argument that the infringement did not affect the cars' performance, but Mosley said Ferrari had convinced the hearing by showing instead that the boards were not illegal.
He said there was a margin of tolerance regarding measurements relating to the flat bottom of the cars -- stating "how flat is flat?" -- and Ferrari had shown they were within that.
"Ferrari came with a very accurate jig and were able to show the court that the turning vane, when at a certain angle to the car, had no dimension which exceeded the tolerance of five millimeters," Mosley said.
"The court of appeal decided to overturn the decision of the stewards and therefore the original result of the race stands in its entirety.
"That is to say, the drivers have the points that they earned in the race and so does the constructor."
Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo said he was delighted with the decision.
"This verdict reaffirms the sporting values which have inspired Ferrari for the past 50 years and gives back to us and to our fans the great victory we won on the track," he told reporters after the ruling.
He said the doubts surrounding the team technicians "have now been swept aside and it has been shown that they were correct."
McLaren boss Ron Dennis, speaking at a news conference at the team's Woking headquarters in England, was disappointed but philosophical.
"A way has been found, and if we were in a similar situation we would be looking for similar ways, to provide a reason for the appeal to be upheld," he said.
"Are we disappointed? No. Are we surprised? Not really.
"We think the push now for our sport has inevitably become quite commercial, everybody wants to have an exciting race in Japan but I think that the price we paid for that one race is too great," added Dennis.
The Stewart team, who also attended the hearing and lost five important points in the constructors' championship following the appeal being upheld, said they accepted the outcome.
Briton Johnny Herbert and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello had been provisionally second and third in Malaysia but were dropped back to fourth and fifth as a result of the appeal.
"We accept the court's decision to uphold Ferrari's appeal," said chief operating officer Paul Stewart, whose team will become Jaguar next season with Irvine driving for them.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.