Ferrari warn McLaren appeal could hurt F1

LONDON Thu Nov 15, 2007 4:00pm GMT

1 of 2. Ferrari Formula One driver Felipe Massa (L) of Brazil drives ahead of Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton (R) at the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix, the final F1 race of the season, at the Interlagos racetrack in Sao Paulo on October 21, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Paulo Whitaker

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LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One will be badly damaged if 'grubby' legal manoeuvring leads to Kimi Raikkonen losing his title to McLaren's Lewis Hamilton in a courtroom, Ferrari's lawyer said on Thursday.

"It would be a serious injustice to Mr Raikkonen were the championship to be taken away from him," Nigel Tozzi told a hearing of the governing FIA's independent International Court of Appeal.

McLaren were appealing against the action of stewards at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix in failing to punish BMW Sauber and Williams for using fuel that was apparently cooler than the rules allow.

If the three drivers concerned are disqualified, Hamilton could be promoted from seventh to fourth in the race -- handing the 22-year-old rookie the points needed to overhaul Raikkonen and become Formula One's youngest champion.

The Finn beat Hamilton by a single point at the end of the 17 race season. A decision by the four judges will be announced in Paris on Friday.

"It would be highly damaging for the sport if the title were to won this way with the fans probably feeling it was more about grubby manoeuvring by the lawyers than by skill behind the wheel," said Tozzi.

"As McLaren have always said, the championship should be decided on the racetrack and not in the courtroom."

SHAMELESS HYPOCRITES

Tozzi said comments by McLaren bosses that they were not appealing in order to win the title through the back door but for clarification of the rules should either be taken at face value or be seen as the words of "shameless hypocrites devoid of any integrity".

He, and representatives for BMW Sauber and Williams, argued that McLaren's appeal was in any case inadmissible because the team were not an interested party in the stewards' initial enquiry and had not appealed against the race classification.

BMW Sauber's lawyer Ian Meakin spoke of "naked opportunism" on the part of McLaren and suggested that, even if the appeal were to be allowed, a fine should be the maximum penalty applicable.

The stewards do not have to move Hamilton up the race order, even if others are disqualified and the driver himself has said he wants to win the title on the track.

McLaren's lawyer Ian Mill had earlier called for Hamilton to be promoted.

"The principle is clear," said Mill. "If there was a breach, it was performance-enhancing. The sanction, I'm afraid, has to be disqualification."

The lawyer urged the judges not to be influenced by the fact that the title could be at stake.

"I ask you to address this as though it was any team at any stage of the season," he said.

"Whenever in the past there has been a disqualification, there has been a re-classification... All we ask you to do is what normally happens."

McLaren were fined $100 million (49 million pounds) and stripped of all their constructors' points in September in a spying controversy involving Ferrari.

The governing body ruled at that time, however, that the McLaren drivers should keep their points because of an amnesty offered to them if they provided evidence, despite strong arguments against them remaining in the championship.

Mill turned that argument against McLaren's rivals.

"The driver may be entirely innocent...but he has the benefit of the infringing car," he said.

"It must be right that if the team is disqualified, the driver loses the points as well. In the other case, the drivers were offered immunity if they assisted the FIA."

(Editing by Ken Ferris and Peter Rutherford)

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