Bizarre rulings

After the verdict McLaren might consider they have got off lightly, despite the implied threat of action in the future. Quite the most draconian penalty ever applied by motor racing’s governing body, the FIA, came midway through the 1984 season when the British Tyrrell squad was thrown out of the championship.

This penalty is still regarded by many within the Formula One community as one of the most significant miscarriages of justice the sport has seen. It came as a direct result of the fact that Tyrrell were competing with naturally aspirated engines at a time when most of the top teams had switched to more powerful, but fuel-hungry, turbocharged engines.

To have a hope of remaining in contention Tyrrell made use of a loophole in the regulations whereby the cars ran lighter than the minimum weight-limit for much of the race before being ballasted up with lead shot, added under water pressure, at the final refuelling stop.

Unfortunately for Tyrrell traces of the lead ballast were detected in a refuelling churn after that year’s Detroit Grand Prix. The conclusion was reached — incorrectly, most felt — that the fuel had contained illegal power-boosting additives and the driver, Martin Brundle, was disqualified. Tyrrell appealed but were rewarded with an increased penalty — disqualification for the remainder of the season.

The FIA has always made it clear that it is not reasonably possible to separate the performance of car and competitor. Thus, when Jenson Button’s BAR-Honda was disqualified from the 2005 San Marino GP — an d suspended from Spain and Monaco — when it was deemed that the car was fitted with an illegal secondary fuel tank, there was no mitigating circumstance for the man behind the wheel. The most bizarre ruling from the governing body came at the end of the 1997 season after Michael Schumacher lost the World Championship to Jacques Villeneuve after colliding with the Canadian in the European GP. The FIA president, Max Mosley, announced with due gravitas that Schumach er had been “stripped of his vice-championship”. Interestingly, Schumacher lost all his points but not the five wins he had achieved that season.

Alan Henry © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007