Apparently – it is the season to get legal it.
FOM has been chasing social media individuals and groups who use F1 or Formula 1/One as part of their twitter handle or web site domain name – and threatening them with legal action unless they desist from using the trademark.
Now the FIA have caught the bug. Having escaped with little or no criticism from the mainstream media for the back of a fag packet’s worth of content they published following FIA’s panel of experts’ investigation into the events surrounding Jules Bianchi’s crash, it appears Monsieur Todt has decided to stir the hornets nest.
Philippe Streiff is an ex-F1 driver who was badly injured during F1 testing in 1989 and is now paralysed. French media reported that Streiff had been critical of the outcome of the panel of expert’s deliberations. He accused the FIA of instigating the enquiry with the primary motive of exonerating itself of any potential liability.
The Frenchman had allegedly told Radio Free: “Shame on Jean Todt, who ordered and organised at the last World Motor Sport Council in Doha, Qatar, the report about the accident of Jules Bianchi.
“It was a document prepared by a group of ten friends, including Professor Gerard Saillant, to clear the errors of the FIA” (GMM News).
Streiff did not pull his punches, and F1i.com documents an interview he gave. He accuses Jean Todt and Gérard Saillant having “a thirst for money and power… and embezzling money from the FIA foundation and the ICM where he is vice-president and Gérard Saillant is the president.”
Phillippe claims the FIA did not have the appropriate insurance to cover Bianchi and calls for Jules’ family to take action against the FIA. Nicolas Todt, Bianchi’s manager, is cited as “a disgrace”.
In response, today the governing body of world motorsport released this statement. “The FIA, its President Jean Todt, as well as Gérard Saillant, President of the FIA Medical Commission, are dismayed to learn of the remarks made about them by Philippe Streiff in his recent comments on the state of Jules Bianchi’s health.”
“These remarks having been published by certain media, the FIA, Jean Todt and Gérard Saillant categorically state that Philippe Streiff’s insulting and defamatory comments are utterly unfounded and demonstrate malicious intent.
“In view of the seriousness of this deliberate attack on their reputations, they have had to ask their lawyers to lodge a complaint for public defamation and insult so that the circulation of Philippe Streiff’s statements is stopped immediately and sanctioned in an appropriate manner.
“They find it regrettable that this incident only serves to add to the suffering of Jules Bianchi’s family, for whom they would like to reiterate their support.”
This is a remarkable action for the FIA to take, simply because it stirs up the controversy once again. In the time it took to pen this article, a Google search on “Streiff” and “the FIA” has revealed an incremental 68 stories have been published on this matter.
The FIA lawyers may well have advised their client that there are further potential ramifications from them pursuing Streiff. Depending on the jurisdiction where this legal action is enacted, Phillippe Streiff may be able to present a defence similar to ‘fair comment’.
In the USA this common law defence is to protect free speech and any plaintiff seeking to prosecute for defamation, must broadly demonstrate the defendant intended ‘actual malice’.
For this reason, it is no coincidence that the statement of from the FIA accuses Phillippe Streiff of ‘malicious intent’.
Of course, there are variants on this notion of ‘fair comment’ in the differing national jurisdictions; however, should the matter proceed to a court hearing the plaintiff may suffer cross-examination regarding their own contributory actions on which the defendant chose to comment upon.
The FIA could then open themselves up to cross examination lines of enquiry into the independence of their panel of experts selected to investigate the events in Suzuka. The intentions behind the breadth and remit of the investigation would have to be established.
One area the FIA may find to be of concern is that the summary report published by the FIA makes no reference to an examination of how their officers have been enforcing Formula 1 regulations, as mandated by the World Motorsport council and whether this specifically could have had any effect on the events in Suzuka.
It could be suggested that there has been a failure by FIA officials to properly enforce and control the speed of cars under caution conditions when held to the standard of the World Motorsport Council regulations.
There have been many F1 fans of F1 suggesting on social media that double waved yellow flag cautions have not been properly enforced by the Formula 1 race director for quite some time.
The World Motorsport Council regulation calls for drivers under double waved yellow flags to “slow down and be prepared to stop.” Yet even prior to the tragic events in Japan last year, there were occasions when the drivers were clearly ignoring this regulation and were not punished in any way.
At the German GP in 2014, Adrian Sutil’s car was stricken on the pit straight a few hundred yards from the high-speed final turn. Cars travelled through this section at exceptionally high speed whilst marshals struggled to recover Sutil’s Sauber. This all happened while that sector of the circuit was under the caution of double waved yellow flags. No driver was even reprimanded.
Lewis Hamilton commented on this at length following the race. “I was really concerned for the marshals. It was really concerning. When you come round that corner at serious speed and then there are marshals standing not far away from where you’re driving past, for me that’s the closest it’s been for a long, long time.”
Hamilton revealed that he had flashbacks to memories of watching the terrible footage from the 1977 South African GP when Tom Pryce collided with a marshal crossing the track with a fire extinguisher in his hand. Both men were killed in the incident.
“When I used to work at a driving school in Bedford and one day I came in and they had this video playing all the time from a race years and years ago,” Hamilton recounted. “A car stopped on the track, a marshal ran across the track and got hit by a car coming past.
“So that was the first thing I thought about and I couldn’t believe that the Safety Car hadn’t come out.”
The FIA report has been widely interpreted as concluding that the drivers in Japan were travelling too quickly whilst under double waved flags. At that time Adrian Sutil’s car was stranded less than 50 feet from the edge of the circuit and marshals were working in increasingly heavy rain in an attempting to recover the Sauber to a safe position.
The rest is tragic history.
If the FIA summary report following the investigation is to be believed, the control of the speed of the cars by FIA officers was not considered.
The failure to address this particular issue could easily create the impression that the investigation was not properly framed and create questions as to the motivation or reasons for this.
Of course there were others from within the F1 circus who have commented on what happened in Suzuka. Niki Lauda observed, “They could have started [the race] earlier, there is no question about it — in the end that would have been better.”
The final report from the FIA investigation denied the start time of the race had any bearing on the Marussia driver’s accident. Yet the recommendations from the report now mean 5 races will commence earlier than usual in the 2015 season.
The lack of transparency from the FIA over the investigation it conducted, may well lead some to believe that this enquiry had a restricted remit, without the intention to thoroughly examine all the contributory factors.
This view could be formed without ‘malicious intent’.
Were it to be demonstrated during a legal process that the FIA report was incomplete and those investigating the matter were aligned with the FIA from self interest; then Streiff’s observations may well have been ‘fair comment’, whether or not this is the notion of the legal definition.