Last day of glory for McLaren?

I’ve just finished watching the Italian grand prix, and the remarkable celebrations by McLaren, and the tone of the commentators and pundits, suggest to me that the general expectation is for McLaren to take a serious pasting at next week’s FIA hearing, and probably be thrown out of at least one championship. The applause for Ron Dennis – I dunno, maybe they always do that when he gets back from the podium, but I’ve never seen it before – seemed remarkable to me.

It’s funny how these things always happen in Italy: “new evidence” against McLaren and a criminal investigation this year; Alonso’s penalty last year for supposedly hindering Massa; Michelin’s tyre construction being deemed illegal ahead of the 2003 Italian grand prix…. Add to this the undertone to present events of something personal going on and one can easily form the impression of Ferrari twisting F1’s rules for their own purposes.

Of course, if McLaren did break the rules and use Ferrari intellectual property on their car, then they deserve sanction… but does anyone seriously think Ron Dennis would allow that? Never mind fair play: I suspect Ron Dennis simply would not take any pleasure from winning in that way, even if he never got caught. Plus the McLaren and Ferrari cars look to be built around fundamentally different principles, within the framework of the current aero rules: would information about solutions that work for one car really assist with the development of the other?

And what will it mean for the driver market if McLaren end up being condemned by evidence from Alonso…?

It’s been an odd season: the race for the drivers’ title was pretty open between four drivers until this afternoon (I’ll cheerfully bet you a tenner the Ferraris will now not catch the McLarens, assuming the latter are allowed to continue racing without hindrance), which has made for an interesting championship. The presence of a British rookie in the mix has been an added element, albeit that the hype around Hamilton gets tiresome from time to time. But aside from Canada and the Nurburgring, the races themselves have been pretty uninteresting – with two teams so dominant, there has never really been any excitement around finishing orders.

So I’m actually quite pleased there is a bit of politics going on: for the F1 anorak, it adds an extra dimension to a season whose racing has been rather dull. The trouble is that it looks like going too far: the competition risks being seriously twisted for no good reason. If McLaren are excluded from this year’s championship, or next year’s, it will create problems for Dave Richards’ Prodrive outfit, if they do indeed plan to use McLaren customer chassis next year. More seriously, it could prompt the manufacturers to abandon F1 altogether: if they perceive that the competition is liable to being fixed in favour of Ferrari, they may decide it’s not worth bothering with.

Or it could just all blow over. Now that really would be boring…

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