How Hamilton’s title hopes were saved
The following outlines Counsel for McLaren rookie Lewis Hamilton, Mark Phillips QC pleas at the recent World Motorsport Council hearing to allow the drivers to keep their points and race for the crown:
"Mr. President, Gentlemen and Ladies, my opening remark is that, from the length of time that Lewis Hamilton spent giving evidence earlier today, you may think that this has very little to do with him. However, in our respectful submission, it probably has more to do with him than with many others involved.
"You have received a written statement from Lewis Hamilton and you almost heard oral evidence from him. Every word I am about to say has been read and approved by Lewis himself. You know that he knew absolutely nothing about Mr. Stepney and Mr. Coughlan or any Ferrari information. He knew nothing of the e-mail exchanges you saw between Mr. de la Rosa and Mr. Alonso. You have had evidence and heard submissions from many others, and have obviously formed your conclusions. As an informed observer, having looked at the evidence from the outside, I ask you whether, if that information had been present at the last hearing, would you now be thinking as you are, or whether your thought process has been affected by the fact that those particular e-mails were not identified at the time and have emerged subsequently. I leave you with that thought.
"You decided, on 26 July that McLaren was in breach of the rules because Mr. Coughlan had received the information that he did from Mr. Stepney. Through Mr. Tozzi, Ferrari has made it clear that it wishes a severe penalty to be imposed on McLaren for 2007 and 2008. It is clear that, for both of those years, they want McLaren ejected from the Formula 1 Championship. Gentlemen, their argument is that, if you do not do that, you will send the wrong message to the public at large and millions of motor racing fans, amongst whom I count myself. Would it end the right message to eject McLaren from the F1 championship? Would you have done justice by doing so?
"Lewis Hamilton has done nothing wrong. He has driven brilliantly and is leading the Drivers’ Championship by 3 points. If McLaren were banned from competing in the remaining races, Lewis Hamilton would not be able to compete in the final four races. He would lose the points that he has so brilliantly won over the last few months, to the sheer delight and excitement of millions of ordinary motor racing fans. The same would be true in 2008: if McLaren were excluded, Lewis Hamilton would not be able to compete in 2008 and McLaren would lose him as a driver.
"Perhaps he would drive elsewhere, assuming first that he could find a seat and assuming that that was a competitive seat. But I ask you to remember what he said in his statement: he has wanted to drive for McLaren for all of his racing life. He has been there since he was a young boy. He has been supported throughout his career for McLaren and wants to continue racing for McLaren. Of course, if you do eject McLaren from the 2007 and 2008 Championships, the consequence will be that Ferrari will certainly win this year’s championship and probably that of next year. It would leave the Formula 1 to be decided by four races, in which one of the two top teams, if not the top team, would not be competing. It would be an absolute disaster for Formula 1. The public would lose all confidence in the sport that we all love. It would also be a disaster for Ferrari. As a third-party and avid motor sport fan, it begs disbelief that Ferrari could seriously want to see McLaren ejected. Their victories would be as hollow as the ones we saw in Indianapolis 2005. We respectfully suspect and suggest that racers like Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa would feel cheated if they were to win the World Championship after their two main rivals had been thrown out.
"The following is critical. As a punishment for what has happened, and putting aside the timetable of how it came out, it would not be fair or proportionate, based on the core material alone, to eject McLaren. You may therefore decide that you should deduct points. Of course, that will give rise to the question: whose points should you consider deducting? Lewis Hamilton has done nothing wrong and has won his points by driving. One remembers his passing move on Kimi Raikkonen and respectfully suggest that it would be a travesty to penalize him. We do not ask that any different treatment be given teammate and chief competitor in this year’s Formula 1 Championship, Fernando Alonso.
"As for the teams’ points in the Manufacturers’ Championship, we would leave it to McLaren to justify why those should be retained. However, we would observe that stripping McLaren of the manufacturers’ points, leaving Ferrari to win that championship in the most hollow of victories.
"Gentlemen, when you come to consider what is fair proportionate and just, we invite you to have in mind that the world wants to see the world’s top drivers competing on-track for the World Championship. They do not want to see it decided by lawyers. We respectfully invite you to leave the World Championship alone. Where Lewis Hamilton is concerned, let him get back to the track, to become the first rookie world champion in Formula 1 history."
"As a motor sport fan, you will be aware that, time and time again, in Formula 1 and other forms of racing, there have been small infringements of the technical regulations. One of our principles, as in all other sports, we do not look at whether there was an advantage: a slightly-higher wing or a slightly-lower weight means exclusion. In such cases, the driver can say that he did not know, that it was not his fault or that it made no difference to his performance. In this case, it appears that information has been circulating at McLaren that was very likely to have an impact on the performance of the car. It is very difficult to see how we can let that happen without its’ impacting the Championship.
"How could I look Raikkonen in the eye and tell him that other drivers, benefiting not only from their own manufacturer’s technology, but also that of Ferrari. He would say that this is indeed very unfair. In this area, we have a problem. What you said is entirely right. We have to take the longer view and consider the credibility and legitimacy of our championships. If we allow wholesale transfer of information from one team to another, without the consent of the team from which that comes, this calls into question every issue of fairness. Sponsors, the television and the public would conclude that Formula 1 has gone down the same road as cycling or athletics.
"We must make sure that this does not happen. Unfortunately, if an athlete is given drugs without his knowledge by his trainer, it is grossly unfair both for him, for he is not morally responsible for the offence, and for the other athletes, who did not have the benefit of the drugs. It is not an easy or straightforward situation. We fully understand what you said and what McLaren has said. I am sorry for that long discourse. If you want to say any more on that, it may be helpful."
Lewis Hamilton’s Counsel
"If there had indeed been wholesale transfer of technology from one team to another, you are postulating a circumstance in which you are satisfied that the car used by Driver A is a hybrid Ferrari. Were that the case, I can well see that you would reach the point where it would be justified to exercise the most extreme sanction. However, there is a range of sanctions, and your decision will depend on the degree to which the Council has been satisfied that there probably has been an advantage. In my respectful submission, the evidence of an advantage is non-existent. The evidence of a possibility of an advantage is very weak. Against that background, you must start from the top – ejection – work through points, then down to financial penalties. I have not mentioned the latter, but the fact of the matter is that the McLaren business is a large and wealthy one. A very strong point can be made that the public would understand if you considered only a financial penalty without any alteration the championship, considering that, in this context, you cannot go beyond a suspicion that there may have been an advantage."