The controversial decision to reinstate Ferrari's 1-2 finish in the Malaysian Grand Prix assures Formula One a thrilling finish next weekend in Japan and more charges of bending the rules for commercial interests.
The decision by the FIA's International Court of Appeal on Saturday brought cries of foul play from rival McLaren which had been celebrating a second straight championship Mika Hakkinen and raised questions about F1's credibility.
The ruling from the five-member panel of lawyers means Eddie Irvine has a four-point lead on Hakkinen entering the Oct. 31. season finale in the Japanese Grand Prix.
Ferraris driven by Irvine and Michael Schumacher finished 1-2 last Sunday in Malaysia, but were disqualified because their aerodynamic deflectors didn't comply with FIA regulations. Hakkinen was moved up from third and given the race win and season title.
Ferrari is the biggest-spending but longest-suffering of the top teams in F1. On the verge of its first drivers' championship in 20 years, the Italian team convinced the court the deflectors were legal.
"To punish someone you need two things," said Ferrari's chief legal officer Jean-Pierre Martel. "A clear set of rules and acknowledgment that the rules have been broken. We proved that neither of those were shown."
McLaren managing director Ron Dennis was sharply critical, suggesting that "commercial" pressure had influenced the decision.
"We think the push now for our sport has inevitably become quite commercial," he said. "Everybody wants to have an exciting race in Japan. But I think the price we pay for that one race is too great."
Fears of commercial pressure from Bernie Ecclestone surfaced after the Formula One owner called Ferrari's disqualification "nonsense."
Even before announcing the decision, FIA President Max Mosley sought to downplay Ecclestone's influence.
"While Bernie has a big influence on the financial aspects of F1, he has only a small influence in making the rules and absolutely no role in enforcing them," Mosley said.
Mosley explained the court's decision by saying that Ferrari had raised valid criticisms of "the methods of measurement and clarity of regulations."
Mosley, who said the stewards' decision was justified because of the information and measuring equipment made available to them, revealed that Ferrari had proved its case by the narrowest of margins.
"Ferrari was just withi the tolerance permitted," he explained. "It was a millimeter or less on each dimension. They were absolutely on the limit."
Asked why the stewards had reached one conclusion and a panel of lawyers six days later had reached another, he said "engineers will know a specification, but lawyers will show inconsistencies."
"I am not in the least worried by the reaction of other teams because the Court of Appeal is independent and that has been demonstrated by the fact that they criticized the FIA," Mosley said. "The British will say that the decision was made because of Ferrari, but Italians say justice has been done."
Ferrari was delighted with the outcome only the fourth successful appeal in the last 16 attempts.
"We were given back what we had deserved on the track ... now we want to win for Ferrari both the drivers and the manufacturers titles in Suzuka," Irvine said in Japan.
Hakkinen, speaking from an undisclosed location in Asia, accepted the reversal.
"The events of the last week are now behind us and I am as always focusing on the next race," the Finnish driver said. "I am looking forward to the Japanese Grand Prix and I will do my best to win the race and the world championship."
While McLaren vowed to continue its fight to win the title, Dennis said it was ridiculous to say the measuring equipment used in Malaysia wasn't up to scratch.
"A piece of equipment that costs many millions of dollars ... which has been used in the past and probably in the future ... suddenly has been brought into question," he said.
Dennis added that the aerodynamic deflector almost certainly could have helped performance.
"I think it's slightly hypocritical to say there was no performance influence because that is a very aerodynamically critical area on the car," he said. "Hence, the reason why those components were covered up every time the car stopped."
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