AYRTON SENNA will be permitted to take his place on the grid for the start of next season's Formula One world championship.
The Brazilian received a two-race ban, suspended for six months, when he appeared before the world council of FIA, the motor sports governing body, in Paris yesterday, charged with punching Northern Ireland's Eddie Irvine.
The council heard evidence from both drivers before reaching the widely anticipated compromise verdict. If Senna keeps out of trouble for six months, the slate is wiped clean.
Max Mosley, president of FIA, confirmed that mitigating circumstances had influenced the decision. The council felt it had to take action against Senna but 'having regard to his very positive attitude and to the fact that there was a big element of provocation, his sentence is suspended for six months.'
Senna confronted and eventually threw a punch at Irvine after the Japanese Grand Prix, on 24 October. The then McLaren- Ford driver felt Irvine, making his Formula One debut, had flouted an accepted rule of the track by not giving way when Senna, the race leader, was attempting to lap him. Irvine argued he was involved in his own race with Damon Hill. When Irvine also refused to give way verbally, Senna's exasperation got the better of him.
It is clear that the sport's authorities were unimpressed with Irvine's intransigence and believed he should have shown the three-times world champion more respect. They are equally unhappy that the stewards of the meeting chose to brush aside the incident on the track and will be anxious to ensure more stringent policing of races in the future.
The assault should also have been dealt with at the time. If Senna had a case on the track, there can still be no defence for assault, even if he had the overt support of Bernie Ecclestone, grand prix racing's impresario.
The motor racing fraternity also congregated in London yesterday to celebrate the life of Innes Ireland, who died on the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix. They were reminded, by among others Jackie Stewart, of the driver who was hard but fair, enjoyed the cameraderie of his time and deplored the advent of an era when such values dissipated.
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