All the fun of the unfair in Formula One's farce

Perhaps they will now hire an MC from that other former sport to introduce next Sunday's main event. It's show time, all right.

Perhaps they will now hire an MC from that other former sport to introduce next Sunday's main event. It's show time, all right.

Formula One, like boxing, has long been driven by commercial forces, so no one should have been amazed by the independent court of appeal's decision to overturn Ferrari's disqualification from the Malaysian Grand Prix, and reinstate Eddie Irvine and Michael Schumacher as first and second.

Max Mosley, the president of FIA, and a lawyer, was at pains to emphasise that the five judges at the Paris hearing had in no way been influenced by the views of Bernie Ecclestone, head of the sport's marketing operation, who rubbished the original decision of the race stewards and called for a final showdown.

Ecclestone and Formula One have precisely what they wanted. The championship is still alive. Irvine heads for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, the last race of the season, leading McLaren-Mercedes' Mika Hakkinen by four points. McLaren also trail Ferrari by four points in the constructors' standings.

At least this court had the nerve to avoid a compromise verdict and the wit to come up with a seemingly plausible reason to find for Ferrari. The Ferrari air deflectors had not, they concluded, been 10mm too short but no more than 5mm out, which meant they came within the FIA's measuring "tolerance".

This move palpably wrong-footed McLaren, provisionally awarded both the constructors' and drivers' championships, and Stewart-Ford, who are endeavouring to fend off Williams for fourth place in the team rankings. Both McLaren and Stewart assumed Ferrari had accepted their deflectors did not comply with the regulations and were seeking leniency.

Mosley conceded this case had served to call into question the governing body's measuring techniques and promised the equipment would be upgraded to avoid similar discrepancies in the future.

Cynics will justifiably dismiss this as another clever manoeuvre by Mosley and his cohorts. To suggest the authorities have left themselves open to further ridicule and adverse publicity over this whole issue is to miss the point. Formula One thrives on publicity of any kind.

Mosley has acknowledged as much. If controversy gives grand prix racing air time and column inches, Mosley is content to take the flak. He wants the punters talking Formula One rather than football.

McLaren, of course, know the score. Ron Dennis, the team principal, is aware also that Formula One is eager to crown new champions - especially Ferrari, the most popular team in the world - after two decades of dominance by McLaren and Williams.

Dennis contained his disdain to say: "Everyone wants to have an exciting race in Japan, but the price we have paid is too great. I am convinced Ferrari's miscalculation was a mistake, but whether this oversight had any influence on the car's performance is immaterial, because the regulations state that the car must comply. We are not the real losers, just as Ferrari are not the real winners. Formula One and the people who love the sport are the losers."

Unsurprisingly, Irvine, who attended the hearing on Friday and heard the verdict after arriving in Japan on Saturday, had a different perspective. "This is the best possible result for Ferrari, for me and for the sport of Formula One," he said. "I never thought Ferrari would do anything illegal to gain an advantage. That doesn't mean I wasn't worried, but I felt confident we had proved our point."

The irony is that, although Formula One now has the climax it claims racing fans want, the purists will argue they have nothing of the sort. Had the appeal been rejected, the gloves would have been off for an authentic, no holds barred contest. Instead, tactics will dictate proceedings. Schumacher and David Coulthard will have to support Irvine and Hakkinen.

The return of Schumacher has put this championship duel into context. As Jody Scheckter, Ferrari's last world champion, has remarked, neither Hakkinen nor Irvine deserves to win it. Hakkinen has been reduced to a whimpering wreck, while Irvine has scarcely proved himself good enough to be acclaimed a true champion. However, come next Sunday, Irvine or Hakkinen will have the title, and Formula One's coffers will have been filled. Why should they worry?

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