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GP Week : Issue 171
w BRIEFLY » As the F1 media gathered in Seoul’s Yeongsan Station, waiting for the express train to Mokpo, gales of laughter could be heard drifting along the platform. The source? A report in Spanish newspaper Diario AS, which not only claimed that Kimi Raikkonen had deliberately knocked Fernando Alonso out of the Japanese Grand Prix as part of a Renault engine-powered conspiracy to help Red Bull, but that belief in the conspiracy was a commonly- held opinion in the paddock. On the understanding that anything one journalist said instantly became a commonly-held opinion, it was decided that Narain Karthikeyan will replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari next year; that Sebastian Vettel is retiring from F1 to take up basket-weaving; and that the Korean Grand Prix would be moved to Suzuka. You heard it here first » The Formula One Teams’ Association have announced that the maiden US Grand Prix in Austin will be the site of the final FOTA Fan Forum of the season. The fora, which have proved to be popular with fans since their inception last season, offer F1 fans the opportunity to grill paddock insiders – from drivers and team personnel to members of the press corps – about anything F1-related that takes their fancy. Previous fora have been held in association with the Japanese, Italian, and British grands prix, to name but a few. The Austin edition, which is being run in association with technological bigwigs – and Caterham partners – DELL will take place at an as yet unnamed location in Austin on 14 November. Fans can apply for tickets through the FOTA website. After a year that has seen his aircraft grounded, staff unpaid for months, and the highly publicised suicides of Kingfisher Airlines employees driven to financial ruin by his business practices, Force India team owner Vijay Mallya has been served with a non-bailable warrant for his arrest. Much as Al Capone was eventually done for tax evasion, the agent of Mallya’s downfall was a series of bounced cheques, amounting to the paltry sum of £1.25 million – peanuts when the overall scale of Kingfisher’s financial woes is taken into account. “Since they failed to appear before the magistrate, the court has ordered issuance of non-bailable warrant against Kingfisher, Mr. Vijay Mallya and four other Kingfisher officials,” GMR Infrastructure, which operates Hyderabad Airport, said in a statement released on Friday. Compounding Mallya’s woes is the news that the Airports Authority of India (AAI) will not allow Kingfisher’s planes back into the skies until their dues are cleared. The company’s fleet has been grounded since 1 October, when an employee protest over unpaid wages turned violent. “For the remaining dues of [£19.5 million] (for which no cheques were issued and hence didn't bounce), we are filing civil suits,” an AAI spokesman told India’s Economic Times. “But given the serial of discharge our payment would be way down as banks that have to recover almost [£1 billion] would be top priority, which means we may never get anything. So if Kingfisher is able to fly again by clearing the current three hurdles, we will allow them to actually operate aircraft only when they clear our dues. That seems to be the only hope of getting some money out of the airline.” Mallya announced earlier this week that his aircraft would remain grounded until 20 October, but it no longer looks as though he will have any choice in the matter. In addition to the AAI’s statement on unpaid dues, the Indian business media is reporting that Kingfisher Airlines stands to have its operating licence revoked by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation; a decision is expected to be made on 20 October. Reports that Mallya will be arrested upon his return to India are not strictly true – the businessman, politician, and F1 team owner has until 5 November to clear his debts with GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited before the non-bailable warrant will lead to instant arrest. As a result, the Force India team owner is likely to attend the Indian Grand Prix at the end of the month, where he will face a series of uncomfortable questions from local and international media alike. After much wrangling with the British government, including an appearance before a specially convened tribunal, McLaren have successfully argued that the famous $100 million fine levied on the race team by then-FIA president Max Mosley in the wake of the 2007 Spygate scandal is tax deductible. The FIA’s World Motor Sport Council ordered McLaren to pay the largest fine in the history of sport when designer Mike Coughlan was found to be in possession of swathes of Ferrari data, supplied by Scuderia employee Nigel Stepney. McLaren were not the only team to be found with illegal data that year; Renault were found to have two years’ worth of McLaren data on their computer systems, but escaped punishment. “McLaren Group is a successful UK company, which provides high- quality employment and substantial tax revenue,” a team spokesman said in Yeongam on Friday. “In 2007, McLaren Racing Ltd was required to pay a penalty, following a breach of the International Sporting Code of the FIA. After consideration, a Government tribunal has found that such a contractual penalty is tax deductible.” Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) argued that because the fine had been levied for cheating, it did not comprise part of the McLaren Group’s ordinary trading. “The penalty arose from McLaren's interference with Ferrari's intellectual property,” HMRC’s lawyers argued in court. “Such interference was not part of McLaren's trade or incidental thereto.” In his summary judgment, Judge Charles Hellier determined: “This cost was not one imposed on McLaren, but one which it was contractually obliged to pay under contractual obligations undertaken for the purposes of its trade; it did not result from the action of an external regulator, but from a body to whose dictates it had agreed to submit as part of its trade and in order to gain income... the penalty was something which arose from its trade, was connected with its trade and was incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of its trade.” WANTED: VIJAY MALLYA SPYGATE? 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