In a startling revelation, it has been suggested that the FIA - world motorsport's governing body - may have broken its own rules in handing out the unprecedented $100 million USD fine to McLaren-Mercedes over Formula 1's much-publicised spying scandal in 2007.

The penalty, meted out after McLaren was found to be in possession of confidential technical data belonging to arch-rivals Ferrari last summer, remains the largest in the history of the top flight, and one of - if not the - largest in sport full stop. The Woking-based concern also saw all of its 2007 constructors' world championship points stripped away from it in a meeting of the governing body's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC).

In the consequent period of instability, Lewis Hamilton ultimately lost out on the drivers' laurels to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen by the scant margin of a single point at season's end.

Now, however, the Independent reports that questions have been posed about the legality of the fine, the paper claiming that 'it appears to have been in breach of the statutes on which the FIA was founded' as 'not everyone who voted on the fine may have been authorised to do so'.

According to Article 14 of the FIA statutes, the WMSC 'shall consist of...a total of 26 members who, with the exception of the president, must represent an ASN (national association) having at least one event entered on the international sporting calendar of the current year.'

Neither F1 supremo and commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone nor former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt - the man seen as most likely to replace current FIA President Max Mosley when the 68-year-old eventually steps down [see separate story - click here] - represent an ASN. Both are 'members by right' and therefore sit on the WMSC, though only the former voted on the McLaren case, with the Independent arguing that Todt's 'authority to vote on other WMSC matters remains open to question'.

The paper concludes: 'If members of the WMSC have failed to meet the requirements of Article 14, the council has no jurisdiction to support its actions, since the statutes are the source of its power. Any decisions taken in these circumstances would be ultra vires and possibly void.'

The FIA has recently come under fire following the salacious tabloid revelations about Mosley's private life, with suggestions that a breakaway grand prix series is in the offing refusing to go away.

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