Entertainment & Sports Law

Lawyers Rev Up for Grand Prix Case

Corrected: No engines screamed, no crowd roared, and no champagne was in sight. Instead, lawyers had the track to themselves in a sixth-floor conference room in the London office of Sidley Austin yesterday, as they argued a case that could change the result of last month’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

Moved from the Paris headquarters of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile because a planned transit strike, the International Court of Appeal hearing is to determine whether illicit “cool fuel” was used by some drivers in the Fomula One racing event, as the Motor Sports Association alleged on behalf of its license-holder, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. The complainant counsel involved in this “arcane discussion of fuel temperatures in on-board tanks, in fuel rigs, in hoses even, and the legalistic debate over whether McLaren’s appeal was admissible under Formula One rules” has a tough road to travel, recounts the London Times today, because he is seeking not only to overturn the result of the race but to avoid making his client look like a poor sport.

“It would be highly damaging for the sport if the title was to be won this way, with the fans probably feeling it was more about grubby maneuvering by the lawyers than by the drivers’ skill,” said Nigel Tozzi, the counsel representing rival Ferrari. “As McLaren are fond of saying themselves, the championship should be decided on the track, not in the court.”

The result of the hearing is expected to be announced in Paris later today.

(Corrected at 3:39 p.m., central time.)

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