Amid the squawked protestations of innocence from McLaren, the anguished screams of a pride-pricked if not actually very wounded Ferrari and the roaring outrage of the F1 press, some of the quiet mutterings that took place at the Goodwood Revival have gone almost unheard.
But the fact is that at Goodwood a small but significant number of people in the paddock pointed out that you had only to look at certain breeds of car upon which modern technology has bequeathed a surfeit of affordable horsepower to know that there were many cars racing there that flew in the face of the spirit of Goodwood and, indeed, its rules. In short, some people were cheating.
The question that presents itself to both Goodwood and the FIA is what can be done. And it’s simply not good enough to say that in both cases the cheats must be discovered, exposed and punished. That much we all know.
The multi-billion dollar business that is F1 and the once-a-year pageant that is the Revival might at first seem to have little in common, yet both are at the pinnacle of their respective fields. And that makes them both very powerful.
But it is as ludicrous of the FIA to start handing out fines to those it believes to have broken the rules as it would be for Goodwood to do the same. When it is impossible to establish how much or, indeed, how little damage a transgression has caused, how can a financial punishment be appropriate or proportionate?
No one is going to emerge from the F1 spy scandal with credit. Ferrari, in its pursuit of McLaren, appears to have forgotten that rarely has anyone ended up looking good while trying so hard to make someone else look bad. The FIA, in allowing drivers’ points to stand but those of the constructors to fall while administering a fine which few can make sense of, has made itself look out of touch and incomprehensible. As for McLaren, I don’t doubt the integrity of Ron Dennis for one second, but when something that serious has been going on for that long among such high-ranking members of teams, not knowing is not enough. He should have known and blown the whistle long before he did.
Goodwood has made clear its view of those who break its rules and while its published instruction that ‘anyone found to be bringing the event’s credibility into question in this way will not be invited back to future meetings’ refers only to those who run oversize engines, it is fair to expect a similar sanction to apply to those gaining a significant and unfair performance advantage in any other way. The sense of this sanction is its simplicity: there’s no murky middle ground.
Perhaps there is something for the FIA to learn from this. What is desirable is a clear-cut, non-financial penalty that would therefore have equal impact on any transgressing team regardless of budget. So how about something to remind the world every time the car appeared in public? Perhaps those who crossed the line and were caught should be forced to carry a sign saying ‘Rumbled’ on each side of the airbox. It might sound silly, but it would be cheap and easy to implement, could be applied across the board and would be not only much fairer than a fine but, in the image-obsessed world that is F1, much more painful, too.