Formula One chief says Ferrari disqualification was 'nonsense'

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The Independent Online

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone says the decision to disqualify the Ferrari drivers from Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix was 'nonsense.'

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone says the decision to disqualify the Ferrari drivers from Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix was 'nonsense.'

'It is bad for the sport,' said Ecclestone, president of Formula One Administration and vice president of motor racing's world governing body FIA. 'The public wants to see a great finish to a great championship. It is a shame if the world championship could be decided by someone quite junior who has made a mistake in the factory.'

Ferrari drivers Eddie Irvine and Michael Schumacher finished 1-2 in Sunday's race. But a few hours later they were disqualified because their cars were fitted with oversized aerodynamic deflectors.

McLaren's Mikka Hakkinen, who finished third, was declared the winner. The decision handed the Finnish driver the season's world championship, giving him an unbeatable 12 point lead with one race remaining, the Japanese Grand Prix on Oct. 31.

Ferrari had lodged an appeal, stressing that the deflectors did not give the cars any advantage in performance.A FIA appeals panel will meet in Paris on Friday to hear the case. A ruling is expected to be issued Saturday.If Ferrari wins its appeal, Irvine would regain a four-point lead in the drivers' standings.

Ecclestone said FIA's technical rules and regulations were too tight.

'Even if there was a little advantage, it would not have been enough for these two (Ferrari drivers) to have won the way they did,' he said.

Irvine, meanwhile, said the punishment did not fit the crime.

'It seems impossible to me to lose a world championship over a story like this,' he said in his column in the Daily Express. 'Everybody in Formula One knows that things like these give you little or no advantage at all. It was an oversight.'

'I hope the judges decide that the punishment was too heavy,' he added. 'I'm convinced that, aside from the facts of what happened, the final decision will take account of people's good faith.'

But the McLaren team said rules are rules and Ferrari should not benefit from leniency just because the disqualification came at the end of the season and decided the world championship.

'While we understand the sympathy and requests for leniency that some people have expressed, the fact that the outcome of the Malaysian Grand Prix can decide this year's world championship is irrelevant,' McLaren said in a statement.

'The more important the outcome of a race, the more important it is that the rules are applied consistently and fairly in accordance with the procedures which have gbeen strictly adhered to in the past.'

McLaren pointed out that in 1996 Johnny Herbert and the Sauber team were disqualified from the French Grand Prix when the front deflectors were found to infringe the rules. And Hakkinen lost his third place at the 1997 Belgian Grand Prix because of a fuel irregularity.

Hakkinen issued a statement to clarify his widely-quoted remark that he believed Ferrari had won the race 'fair and square.' Hakkinen said he made that comment before learning of Ferrariÿs disqualification and not after.

Ferrari's appeal could rest on whether the team can convince FIA to invoke its clause on 'exceptional circumstances.'In a precedent in 1995, David Coulthard, then driving for Williams, and Schumacher, then with Benetton, were found to have been using illegal fuel during the Brazilian Grand Prix. Both drivers and cars were disqualified.

An appeals court determined there was an error rather than a deliberate attempt to cheat and reinstated the points won by Schumacher, who finished first, and Coulthard, who was second. But the teams did not regain their constructors' championship points.

A year later, FIA changed its rules to specify that such a decision could be used only in 'exceptional circumstances.'