Former Grand Prix driver Philippe Streiff has found himself in hot water with the FIA, with the Frenchman forced to retract statements he made which were allegedly critical of the sport’s governing body after it threatened to launch defamation proceedings against him.
Streiff – whose promising racing career was cut short when he was rendered a quadriplegic in a testing accident in 1989 – had been quoted as saying that the FIA’s specially-appointed panel which investigated Jules Bianchi’s accident at the Japanese Grand Prix was implemented to absolve the governing body of any liability.
The FIA was quick to hit back at those claims, and issued a scathing statement indicating that it had instructed its lawyers to lodge a complaint of public defamation.
“The FIA, its President Jean Todt, as well as Gérard Saillant, President of the FIA Medical Commission, are dismayed to learn of the remarks made about them by Philippe Streiff in his recent comments on the state of Jules Bianchi’s health,” it read.
“These remarks having been published by certain media, the FIA, Jean Todt and Gérard Saillant categorically state that Philippe Streiff’s insulting and defamatory comments are utterly unfounded and demonstrate malicious intent.
“In view of the seriousness of this deliberate attack on their reputations, they have had to ask their lawyers to lodge a complaint for public defamation and insult so that the circulation of Philippe Streiff’s statements is stopped immediately and sanctioned in an appropriate manner.
“They find it regrettable that this incident only serves to add to the suffering of Jules Bianchi’s family, for whom they would like to reiterate their support.”
Bianchi was severely injured when he struck a trackside recovery vehicle in heavy rain and fading light at last year’s Japanese Grand Prix. After remaining in an induced coma for several weeks, the Marussia driver was taken off artificial respiration and deemed well enough to be transferred to France where his rehabilitation treatment continues. He has never regained consciousness.
Streiff was quick to back down offer a full retraction and apology for his remarks, which he partly attributed to a lengthy interview.
“I got carried away in front of the camera,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “The interview lasted long and I am aware of making statements that were rude and slanderous against Jean Todt , Gérard Saillant and the FIA, and I sincerely regret it.
“I refute and and retracts these statements, which are unfounded and call to the press to remove them from their media.
“Finally, I asked Jean Todt and Gérard Saillant, who are aware of my health problems, they accept my apology. I am sorry to have made statements that do not correspond to the consideration they deserve.”
The FIA hasn’t responded to Streiff’s latest statement.
It isn’t the first time that Streiff has courted controversy. He has been a consistent source of information leaked to the tabloid press about the condition of Michael Schumacher, often quoting sources close to the specialists who are treating the seven-time World Champion for critical head injuries suffered over a year ago in a skiing accident.
Out of respect to the Schumacher family, we have never reported a single one of these stories despite the overwhelming number of doing so to sensationalise the former champ’s condition.
(It should be noted, however, that his manager Sabine Kehm has repeatedly rejected Streiff’s past comments, only to proceed in the next sentence to parrot what he’d just said.)
Streiff may have been out of line, but on the flipside there is the question of the conduct of Todt and Saillant.
Saillant recently visited the workplace of former FIA medical delegate Dr Gary Harstein to try and have the American fired for posts he had written on his personal blog. To describe that as heavy-handed would be a masterstroke of understatement.
As veteran F1 journalist Joe Saward pointed out on his own blog, all Streiff needed to do in response would be “to turn around and say: “Well, look at the Montagny business”.”
You may recall that Franck Montagny – himself a former F1 driver – tested positive for a cocaine derivative at the Putrajaya Formula E round late last year. It took until the New Year for Montagny to publicly announce his suspension, while the FIA has said nothing in the weeks prior or in the three weeks since Montagny was busted for racing with recreational drugs in his system. Yet along comes Streiff, and they respond within a matter of minutes.
“Did Montagny really give an interview without first checking with the federation that it would be a good idea? And if the federation thought this was a good idea why is it helping him?
“And if Franck did not get the go-ahead from the FIA why has there been no reaction to avoid the perception that it is helping Franck? Montagny deserves to be punished – he admits as much himself – but what has the FIA said?
It begs the question of whether the FIA has any plans to tell its side of the Montagny affair, but the longer that it remains silent, the more it begins to look like it is protecting Montagny rather than throwing him in front of the bus for being so stupid to risk his and his peers lives by racing while high. The story will continue to build while the FIA maintains itself silence.
Chasing after Philippe Streiff seems like a misplaced priority indeed.
Image via Linternaute