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Friday, 21 July, 2000, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Don't punish Hakkinen
Black box
Hakkinen has fallen foul of F1's complex rules
BBC motor racing correspondent Jonathan Legard says the F1 authorities should act quickly to clear Mike Hakkinen of any wrongdoing.

McLaren remain confident that Mika Hakkinen will keep his victory in the Austrian Grand Prix - but the longer the FIA delays a verdict, the more eyebrows are raised.

McLaren maintain they did not tamper with the electronic box which was confiscated from Hakkinen's car after the race because one of the seals was damaged.

FIA officials have already downloaded the software from the box and visited the McLaren electronics division in Woking - apparently without finding a problem - but still no decision has been reached.

The box at the centre of the dispute is the so called black box, which works in the same way as those on aircraft.

Every F1 car has one, packed with hundreds of microchips to record everything that happens to it. Each is sealed with an FIA stamp, and is usually sited at the bottom of a car's sidepod to keep the weight down.

FIA had their chance

FIA officials examine all 22 cars and black boxes on the grid at the start of the weekend to ensure that they comply with the rules.

Armed with full details of the car's electronic control system, officials can check whether a team is cheating.

McLaren must be aware that a broken seal is a breach of the rules in itself
  Jonathan Legard
They can order another inspection of any car at any time over the race weekend and then compare the readings.

If they find discrepancies then the team in question will be called to explain themselves.

In McLaren's case, one of the seals on Hakkinen's car was found to be damaged after the race at the A1 Ring.

In theory that indicated the black box had been tampered with, and the car had been running illegally.

McLaren dispute this and claim that the FIA findings taken earlier this week will prove their point that they have done nothing wrong.

The team, however, will be aware that a broken seal is a breach of the rules in itself. So even if the computer software before and after the races matches up, the FIA could still issue a penalty.

Hakkinen in the clear?

One FIA source has suggested that Hakkinen could keep his points but McLaren could be docked their 10 points.

That would keep Hakkinen firmly in the running in the drivers championship, eight points behind Michael Schumacher, but would restore Ferrari to the top of the Constructors Championship.

McLaren have already suffered this season at the hands of the FIA when David Coulthard was disqualified from second place in Brazil because of an illegal front wing.

They will learn next Tuesday afternoon when they meet FIA experts and Austrian race stewards in London whether their discomfort is to be doubled.

On the face it, Hakkinen doesn't deserve a penalty. His performance throughout last weekend was outstanding.

If anyone has to pay the price on this technicality which offered no performance advantage, surely it is the team.

Nonetheless a damaged seal seems a harsh way to lose points and it behoves the FIA to ensure that the rules are consistently applied across the board, as McLaren's team principal, Ron Dennis requested in Austria, otherwise he will feel even more reason to cry foul.

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See also:

16 Jul 00 |  Motorsport
Austrian Grand Prix racewatch
16 Jul 00 |  Photo Galleries
Austrian Grand Prix in pictures
14 Jul 00 |  Motorsport
Coulthard: Schu should be punished
17 Jul 00 |  Motorsport
McLaren confident of Hakkinen win
16 Jul 00 |  Motorsport
Hakkinen back on track
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