Tomorrow’s the day when McLaren will receive their punishment over lying to race officials after an incident at the Australian Grand Prix. Note: this is in addition to Lewis Hamilton being disqualified from that race for breaking the overtaking rules.
It makes me laugh that they’re charged with bringing the sport into disrepute. This is the same FIA who have blatantly favoured one team for many years, who regularly threaten (and sometimes carry out those threats) to drop circuits that don’t pay the extortionate fees, and whose president has appeared in the tabloids thanks to his dubious extra-curricular activities (a consequence of which is that he is no longer welcome in some host countries).
So what happened in Australia? The safety car was deployed three laps from the end of the race (lap 56) after a collision between Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) and Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber). Behind the SC, Jarno Trulli (Toyota) slid off the track; Lewis Hamilton passed him but then let Trulli retake his position.
After the race, the stewards penalized Trulli for passing Hamilton while they were behind the safety car. This bumped Hamilton from fourth to third place. However, after further investigation, it emerged that McLaren sporting director Dave Ryan told Hamilton to let Trulli pass him; both Ryan and Hamilton denied this when quizzed by the stewards. It’s this (the denial) that’s at the heart of these charges.
The five charges faced by McLaren are:
- McLaren (i.e. Ryan) lied to the Australian Grand Prix stewards when they denied that Hamilton was told to allow Trulli to pass under the safety car;
- the team told Hamilton to support and confirm the untrue statement;
- McLaren did nothing to rectify the situation after learning that Trulli & Toyota had been unfairly penalised;
- maintained the untrue statement was true at a subsequent meeting, even having heard recordings the proved they were untrue;
- at that second meeting, the team again made Hamilton repeat the false statement.
Hamilton has said that he was uncomfortable doing it: “I am not a liar or a dishonest person, I am a team player”; he says he didn’t lie but was told (by Ryan) to “withhold information”. He’s recently told the press that he even considered quitting F1 because of this incident.
The general consensus is that Hamilton will escape additional punishment but I’m not entirely sure. McLaren, however, could be suspended for a race or two, or even thrown out. They don’t have many points (just 13 so far) so I don’t see the FIA just stripping their points – it’s going to be more draconian, I think. Even though Ron Dennis stepped down as team principal (unrelated to this), new principal Martin Whitmarsh has offered an “unreserved apology”, and Ryan was sacked (after 35 years with the team!), the FIA still have a serious hate on for McLaren. Mind you, some key sponsors including Mercedes have threatened to pull out if McLaren are given an “unreasonable” punishment.
It’s also been interesting to hear past drivers (e.g. Ralf Schumacher) express their surprise at the FIA’s reaction – it’s not like McLaren are the first (or last) team to mislead the FIA or stewards. It’s a cut-throat business and the teams are used to “testing the boundaries”, especially when it comes to the technical specifications.
So what will happen tomorrow? I think the FIA will stomp on McLaren, probably suspending them for a couple of races. I don’t think they’ll eject McLaren completely because the sport needs Hamilton, not least because he’s the current world champion and attracts lots of fans (and their money). Equally, I don’t think the FIA will fine them as they don’t want to be seen to be “weak”, even though many people think it’s actually “sensible” or “fair” to not add to the existing punishment.
At the end of the day, I don’t understand why McLaren are still in F1 – if it was my team, I’d have walked away long ago because of the blatantly unfair treatment they’ve received from Ecclestone, Moseley et al. The good news is no matter how hard they try, the FIA won’t be able to help Ferrari win the championship this year.