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What really happens at the FIA

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26/05/2008

It is well known there are many skeletons in F1's closet but few rarely rise. The recent scandal surrounding FIA president Max Mosley has now been the catalyst for bringing one such skeleton to life. The cat is now out of the bag and it's not only Mosley who may be worried.

The story in question appears in today's Sunday Express newspaper and comes from the 'vault' of Pitpass' business reporters Chris Sylt and Caroline Reid. We all know about what Mosley has been getting up to in recent months and, presumably his visit to the 'dungeon' at the end of March wasn't the first. But what about Mosley's professional behaviour over these years? Sylt and Reid's story takes us back to the days of when Mosley had just got his feet in the door at the FIA.

Back then Mosley wasn't even as accustomed to the way the FIA operates as he is now yet the way he acted was surprising to say the very least and it didn't involve whips or hookers. In fact, it's a sports story through and through which cuts right to the core of F1's governance. As many have said, Mosley should be judged on his professional conduct not his private life so let's fire away.

The year was 1994 and the date the 31 July: the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim The picture on the cover of Benetton mechanic Steve Matchett's book 'The Mechanic's Tale' is worth a thousand words. A fireball had just ripped through the Benetton team's pits soon after Jos Verstappen had pulled in and Matchett's book cover shows him staggering through it. Five mechanics and Verstappen suffered burns but thankfully walked away with their lives.

The FIA was soon on the case saying in a statement on 10 August that the fuel spillage, which started the fire, was caused by a valve in its refuelling rig failing to close due to the presence of a "foreign body." Crucially, the FIA added that it believed this foreign body reached the valve because a filter designed to eliminate this risk "had been deliberately removed."

The lack of the filter increased the fuel flow rate by an estimated 12.5% giving a one-second saving over an eight-second pit stop. Michael Schumacher, Benetton's star driver and the sport's great hope after the death of Ayrton Senna earlier in the season, was leading the championship by a massive 27 points by the time of the German GP.

Benetton claimed its innocence in a statement saying that it removed the filter "with the full knowledge and permission of the FIA." Its boss Flavio Briatore added "we have proof and we could prove it in court if we had to." The FIA denied this saying in a statement on 11 August that "permission was certainly not given" and Benetton was summoned before a disciplinary hearing of its World Council. The FIA's statement concluded that Benetton "face sanctions ranging from a reprimand to their disqualification, which could mean their exclusion from Formula One."

Mosley was chairman of the World Council hearing which took place on 7 September and later said of his position "I was in a completely neutral capacity." And quite sensible this is too. However, it's what took place the night before the hearing that staggers.

Sylt and Reid's story in the Sunday Express quotes a letter in their possession, which comes straight from Mosley's advisers, revealing that Mosley met with Benetton's barrister, George Carman QC, in a bar the night before the hearing and "gave Mr Carman his view that it was best...not to seek to blame any FIA personnel." So much for the neutrality of the World Council chairman who, of course, just happened to also be the FIA president. But it gets even better.

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