Irvine makes surprise appearance at appeal

EDDIE IRVINE made a surprise appearance at Ferrari's appeal here yesterday in an attempt to rescue his world title ambitions.

EDDIE IRVINE made a surprise appearance at Ferrari's appeal here yesterday in an attempt to rescue his world title ambitions.

The Irishman broke his holiday on Macau to fight his corner at the four-hour hearing. But he faces an anxious night awaiting the outcome, which will be announced today.

Irvine and his team-mate, Michael Schumacher, were disqualified after last Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix when it was discovered that Ferrari had breached technical regulations - a side-pod deflector panel was found to be one centimetre too narrow. That promoted Mika Hakkinen to first place and handed the McLaren driver the world championship.

Irvine was hoping to convince the five judges to reinstate him and take the Formula One championship to a thrilling conclusion in Japan next weekend.

Irvine left the Automobile Club de France, saying only: "I don't know whether it went well or badly - let's just wait."

Ferrari claim their breach of the regulations was an innocent mistake and in any event did not enhance their performance. But McLaren, for whom Hakkinen won the world title with the 10 points he picked up in Malaysia, maintain that rules are rules.

The five-man panel - made up of the Portuguese chairman Jose Macedo E Cunha, the Austrian Gerhard Nurscher, the Belgian Philippe Roberti di Winghe, the Dutchman Jan Van Rosmalen and Vassilis Koussis of Greece - heard four hours of evidence.

The Stewart-Ford team manager, Paul Stewart, was also present, to protect the upgraded placings of Johnny Herbert and Rubens Barrichello, who took second and third in Malaysia following the disqualification.

"Teams have to know where they stand on the regulations," Stewart said. "It's up to the court of appeal to decide if Ferrari is in the right or in the wrong."

After the hearing, Ferrari's Swiss lawyers, Jean-Pierre Martel and Henri Peter, gave a brief account of the hearing but would not be drawn on the arguments of the case.

They did, however, confirm that Irvine spoke in his team's defence. "We had a very fair and in-depth hearing," Peter said. "In a fair trial there is no hidden evidence and that's how it was. Eddie Irvine felt he should be here to answer any questions and as a matter of respect. It is not really surprising he came given the importance of the decision and that he is the main person affected by it."

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