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AUGUST 20, 2003

The Schumacher Appeal - what does it all mean?

The announcement that Ralf Schumacher's appeal has been turned down by the FIA International Court of Appeal but that his penalty of a drop of 10 grid positions in Hungary has been replaced by a $50,000 fine would seem to be the last of the matter. Schumacher is off the hook and all is well.

However the full statement from the FIA implies a great deal more. The statement says that as a result of the evidence put forward by Peter Wright (the FIA's technical and safety consultant), who analyzed the accident data recorders of the three cars involved there appears to be some responsibility which could be placed on the other drivers. The FIA statement makes the point that this data was not available to the FIA Stewards in Hockenheim and the Court of Appeal has decided to refer the case back to those same stewards so that the conduct of Rubens Barrichello and Kimi Raikkonen can be considered in light of the evidence from Wright.

The big question now is how quickly this could happen. Getting the three Hockenheim stewards back together is not the work of a moment as Nazir Hoosein is in India however it is in everyone's interest that a decision is made quickly and so Hoosein could be summoned back to Europe. The other two Hockenheim stewards are European-based. Once they have got back together again and viewed the evidence presented to the Court of Appeal by Wright they may decide to take action. The interesting thing about Wright's evidence was that it revealed that Raikkonen made several steering inputs which indicate that he moved to the right just before the accident happened. It is worth noting that in the FIA dossier of correspondence relating to the Schumacher case there was a certain reluctance on the part of McLaren to have Raikkonen at the court and when he was there, his first action when talking to the judges was to say that he did not consider himself to be on trial.

If the Hockenheim stewards conclude that Raikkonen's move were a contributory cause of the accident, it is safe to assume that they will want to impose a penalty. They have the choice of a $50,000 fine (the maximum fine they can impose) or, if they consider Raikkonen's actions to have been more to blame than those of Schumacher, it is possible that they might announce a drop of 10 grid positions at the next race. If this was done before the race on Sunday we would be back in the same situation as before but with a different driver. McLaren would no doubt appeal and as there would be no time before the Hungarian GP to get things sorted out, it is possible that the FIA Court of Appeal could be in action again in the days between the Hungarian GP and the next race in Italy in three weeks time.

And with Raikkonen an even more important player in the World Championship than Ralf Schumacher, that could be much more significant than the case we have just had...