F1's regulator could collapse under barrage of lawsuits

Flavio Briatore's court victory against the FIA's World Council has cast doubts over its legitimacy
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The Independent Online

A senior motorsport lawyer has predicted that Formula One's governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), could be deluged with lawsuits following a recent court victory against it by former Renault team boss Flavio Briatore.

In September last year, the FIA's internal disciplinary body, the World Council, banned teams and drivers from working with Mr Briatore after former Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jnr claimed that he asked him to crash in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix in order to ensure victory for his team-mate, Fernando Alonso.

However, earlier this month, Mr Briatore won an appeal against his ban in a French court which called into question the legitimacy of the World Council. Mr Briatore argued that the then FIA president, Max Mosley, was in effect acting as judge, jury and executioner when he launched the investigation into the race-fixing claims against Mr Briatore and then presided over his ban from the sport in his role as chairman of the World Council.

The French court ruled that "the decision of the World Council was presided over by the FIA president ... with Mr Mosley having played a leading role in launching the inquiry ... in violation of the principle of separation of the power of the bodies".

Mr Briatore's lawyer, Philippe Ouakrat, said, "It is against French and international laws for an organism to be jury, procedural body and investigating body at the same time". He added that this "casts a doubt over the FIA World Council's structure itself, which in fact can't exist any more".

This leaves the FIA's future decisions open to attack. although it has announced that work is "well advanced" on the introduction of "new measures for constructive change. According to Jonathan Lux, partner at international law firm Ince & Co, disgruntled recipients of previous World Council decisions could also take action against the FIA.

"It is reasonable to say that the FIA monopoly on decision-making in motorsport may now be coming to an end and that we can expect increasing court challenges in the future," said Mr Lux. "Indeed, some previous well-known FIA decisions may be vulnerable in light of the approach taken by the French court, subject to the relevant time bar limitations."

One of these decisions in particular could ultimately put the brakes on the FIA. In 2007, the McLaren team was caught spying on Ferrari and the World Council handed it a $100m fine. Mr Briatore said he thinks McLaren may take action against the FIA to recover the $100m in light of his court result. McLaren had no comment to make on the Briatore case.

The FIA's hopes are now pinned on its own appeal of Mr Briatore's court result. With just six weeks to go before the start of this year's F1 season, time is running out for F1's regulator to regain its credibility.