Lewis Hamilton will know tonight whether or not he stands to regain the Belgian Grand Prix victory that was taken away from him in controversial fashion earlier this month, as the FIA Court of Appeal convenes in Paris.
Although the official verdict is not expected to be released until Tuesday afternoon, the Briton will know today [Monday] whether or not the court will even bother to hear his McLaren team's plea that the retrospective 25-second time penalty that dropped him to third place was too harsh.
Hamilton stands accused of having gained an advantage in his battle with race leader Kimi Raikkonen by cutting the final chicane and then overtaking the Finn at the next corner - despite lifting off to allow Raikkonen back ahead on the intervening straight and apparently having that effort confirmed by race director Charlie Whiting..
Hamilton's critics, including the stewards on the day, claim that his attempt to hand the advantage back to the world champion was insufficient to counteract that momentum he had gained from missing the chicane - evasive action the McLaren team claims was unavoidable after Raikkonen forced the Briton off-line. The officials have since attempted to clarify the situation by addressing the drivers' briefing at the Italian Grand Prix a week ago and insisting that anyone gaining a similar advantage should not pass at the next corner, but wait until after that, by which time any momentum gained should have been lost again.
The stewards decision to demote Hamilton from first to third produced a championship swing in favour of Ferrari's Felipe Massa who, having been largely anonymous in tricky conditions at Spa-Francorchamps, was not only handed his fifth victory of the year, but also a chance to close to within two points of Hamilton, instead of being eight adrift heading to Monza. The Brazilian also finished ahead of his McLaren rival in Italy last weekend, and the gap between them now stands at a single point. Should the 23-year old Hamilton be reinstated as race winner, his advantage would grow to seven with four races remaining.
"All we can do is present the facts," McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh admitted, "Most people who were watching the race would say Lewis deserved to win and not Felipe. I'm probably slightly partisan on this, but I do actually believe that's what most people would imagine.
"We have just got to present the data and whatever the outcome is, that is the outcome. We are not counting on those points. We hold the lead in the drivers' championship by one slender point and we can expand upon that in the coming races."
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo would not be drawn on the possible outcome of the hearing when questioned by journalists recently, other than to say that, in his opinion, 'rules should be respected'.