The McLaren Formula One team starts today's British Grand Prix trailing its rival Ferrari in the standings, but it could be in for a timely boost as questions are raised about the validity of the $100m (£50m) fine slapped on it last year.
The fine, the largest in the history of the sport, was handed out by F1's governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), amid claims of espionage. But it appears to have been in breach of the statutes on which the FIA was founded.
The Surrey-based team was fined after its chief designer was found to have been in possession of a confidential dossier from rival Ferrari. McLaren was hauled before the FIA's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC), which banned it from last year's constructors' championship and issued the $100m penalty. With the team destabilised, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton lost the drivers' title to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen by just one point.
However, not everyone who voted on the fine may have been authorised to do so. According to Article 14 of the FIA statutes, the WMSC "shall consist of ... a total of 26 members who, with the exception of the president, must represent an ASN [national association] having at least one event entered on the international sporting calendar of the current year." It doesn't seem that this rule has been followed.
F1's billionaire boss, Bernie Ecclestone, sits on the WMSC, but does not represent an ASN. Neither does the former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt. Although Mr Todt did not vote on the McLaren case, his authority to vote on other WMSC matters remains open to question. While both are "members by right" on the council, it is arguably not the intention behind Article 14 that Mr Ecclestone and Mr Todt should be exempt from the requirement to represent an ASN.
If members of the WMSC have failed to meet the requirements of Article 14, the council has no jurisdiction to support its actions, since the statutes are the source of its power.
Any decisions taken in these circumstances would be ultra vires and possibly void. But with no challenge having been issued at the time, such decisions still stand, however the question mark remains.
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