Ferrari will find out in Paris on Wednesday afternoon whether it is to face further sanctions over the German Grand Prix team orders controversy.
Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal, is the only senior figure from the Maranello squad set to travel to the FIA World Sport Council hearing, where he and his lawyer's will defend themselves against claims that they used illegal team orders at Hockenheim and subsequently brought the sport into disrepute.
Although race drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa will not be present in Paris, they are expected to be made available via telephone or video steam to the members of the WMSC should their evidence be needed. The case hinges on the events in the German Grand Prix when Massa sacrificed his lead to Alonso – shortly after being told over the radio by race engineer Rob Smedley that his teammate was "faster" than him.
It was Smedley's apology to Massa immediately after he moved aside for Alonso, plus the clear unhappiness from the Brazilian driver after the race, which pointed to the fact that Massa had been ordered to move aside, rather than had chosen to do so of his own free will. Sources suggest that part of Ferrari's defense will hinge on the fact that no clear order was given for Massa to give up his lead – so therefore no actual breach of the regulations could have taken place. It was the same stance that Ferrari adopted immediately after the German GP, when Domenicali met the press to explain his team's actions that day.
"We gave information to Felipe about what was the situation," Domenicali said in his regular Sunday night media briefing. "Because we have already seen in the past that certain situations could not give the best result to the team. That was the information we wanted to give and we leave the drivers to understand and take notice of it in order to make sure the team, in terms of the global results, gets the best."
The message from Ferrari is likely to be clear: that there is a big difference between information being given to a driver and a straight order being handed down. Domenicali also suggested that Sunday night in Hockenheim that Smedley's apology to Massa that day was not for having to move aside for Alonso, but because his car was not quick enough.
"It was not an apology this way...You have to consider the fact, and you can check with his communication on the radio several times in the past, that Rob Smedley is correctly in a very good conjunction with Felipe," added Domenicali. "This is the key to their success. He gave the information to Felipe and he saw what happened and he was not happy about the situation of the car that was not so fast – and sorry, it was slower than the other one."
Despite remarks from former FIA president Max Mosley in recent weeks suggesting that Ferrari should be punished further for what happened, there has been no clear indication coming out of FIA channels about what the WMSC will do. Some suggestions have pointed toward a harsh punishment for Ferrari, which will include both drivers and team losing their points from the German Grand Prix. Should that happen, then it is likely the matter will head for the courts.
Other sources suggest that the FIA will let Ferrari off completely, claiming that what they did in Germany was merely team "strategy" rather than team "orders." The governing body could then issue a clarification on what the difference between the two is – and could even repeal the team orders ban on the grounds it is unenforceable.
As well as finding out what the FIA will do to Ferrari, the hearing will also provide some insight into the workings of the governing body on such controversial matters under new president Jean Todt. Unlike his predecessor, Todt has been eager to keep himself out of the spotlight since he took over in the top position at the end of the last year. In contrast to recent years, when Mosley actively led WMSC disciplinary actions, the current FIA president will not take a formal role in the disciplinary hearing and sources suggest may not even attend the hearing. Instead, the hearing will be chaired by Graham Stoker, the FIA Deputy President for Sport – who is renowned as an expert in sport law.
Should the FIA deem that Ferrari be punished beyond the $100,000 fine handed down at Hockenheim, then a range of options are open to it. This could be a suspended ban, an increased fine, a loss of points, exclusion from the race, or even expulsion from the championship.
The FIA hearing is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. local time in Paris, with a verdict due later in the afternoon. The WMSC is meeting beforehand in the morning for a rescheduled meeting to discuss more regular matters, which could include the prospects for a new team in F1 in 2011, next year's calendars and future regulations.