Following the saga of the Australian and Malaysian Grands Prix, McLaren have been summoned by the FIA World Motor Sport Council to answer charges that they have brought the sport into disrepute. The charges come after it was realised that Lewis Hamilton and David Ryan failed to disclose all the information available to them at a stewards inquiry in Melbourne following the on-track passing/re-passing involving Hamilton and Jarno Trulli.
McLaren have stated that David Ryan, the team’s Sporting Director at the time, asked Hamilton not to mention the fact that the team had asked him to allow Trulli to repass after the Italian Toyota driver fell off the track momentarily. However, Trulli did make his way pass the McLaren and finished the race in third place. An initial investigation found Trulli to be in the wrong and the driver was handed a hefty penalty, although at the time, Jarno professed he had little choice but to repass because Hamilton had slowed significantly and moved away from the racing line.
Toyota started to appeal the steward’s decision, but given the controversial nature of the results anyway (due to the ongoing diffuser issue), Toyota backed down and withdrew their appeal. However, audio evidence from McLaren’s pit-to-driver radio later revealed that the team had been in contact with Lewis during the incident and had asked him to slow down and allow Trulli to pass. Since this information was not given to the stewards at the time Trulli has now been reinstated and Hamilton disqualified. However, there is a larger issue now that needs addressing and it is this that has caused the FIA to consider bringing further action against McLaren.
An extraordinary WMSC meeting has been scheduled for April 29th, 2009, where McLaren representatives will be required to attend in Paris at the FIA’s headquarters. The official charge is that McLaren have breached Article 151c of the International Sporting Code, which details how teams cannot partake in any “fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally”.
The FIA have charged McLaren with five counts of breaching Article 151c.
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has been invited to appear before an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris on Wednesday, 29 April, 2009, to answer charges that, in breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code, it
- on 29 March, 2009, told the stewards of the Australian Grand Prix that no instructions were given to Hamilton in Car No. 1 to allow Trulli in Car no. 9 to pass when both cars were behind the safety car, knowing this statement to be untrue;
- procured its driver Hamilton the current World Champion, to support and confirm this untrue statement to the stewards;
- although knowing that as a direct result of its untrue statement to the stewards, another driver and a rival team had been unfairly penalised, made no attempt to rectify the situation either by contacting the FIA or otherwise;
- on 2 April, 2009, at a second hearing before the stewards of the Australian Grand Prix, (meeting in Malaysia) made no attempt to correct the untrue statement of 29 March but, on the contrary, continued to maintain that the statement was true, despite being allowed to listen to a recording of the team instructing Hamilton to let Trulli past and despite being given more than one opportunity to correct its false statement;
- on 2 April, 2009, at the second stewards’ hearing, procured its driver Hamilton to continue to assert the truth of the false statement given to the stewards on 29 March, while knowing that what he was saying to the stewards was not true. FIA Press Release.
On Friday 3rd April, while at the Malaysian Grand Prix, McLaren’s team principal Martin Whitmarsh suspended David Ryan, and since then the two parties have separated. McLaren made a statement earlier today that they had received the summons to the WMSC meeting at the end of the month and that David Ryan no longer works for any of the McLaren group of companies.
McLaren acknowledges receipt of an invitation to appear at an FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting in Paris on April 29, received this afternoon.
We undertake to co-operate fully with all WMSC processes, and welcome the opportunity to work with the FIA in the best interests of Formula 1.
This afternoon McLaren and its former sporting director, Dave Ryan, have formally parted company. As a result, he is no longer an employee of any of the constituent companies of the McLaren Group. McLaren Statement.
Also on Friday, Lewis Hamilton gathered the press in the media centre at Sepang and offered an apology to the FIA, his team and the fans. Hamilton professed he is not a liar and stated that he was following instructions from one member of the McLaren team.
It has since been discussed all over the Internet how this will impact McLaren’s and Hamilton’s reputations, and of course, the saga from 2007 has been raised once again. Back in ’07, McLaren banded together and held strong; a philosophy often taken by sporting teams of winning together, and losing together. However, the way McLaren have handled this particular incident is quite different, with the team singling out one person and immediately removing that person from the equation (the team). Perhaps it is the new team principal’s way of doing things, perhaps it was just seen as the better course of action to take.
Undoubtedly this will have a negative impact on the team, and although some will say (myself included) that McLaren pay Hamilton, therefore he should do what they say and it is also up to the team to be correct and truthful, this will also have a negative impact on Hamilton. After all, a lie is a lie. During his apology at Sepang, Lewis stated that he felt like quitting the sport over what had happened, which perhaps sounds a little drastic and melodramatic, does perhaps offer some redeeming value in his reputation. Unfortunately though, while I am absolutely certain this is not the first nor will be the last time a driver or team have lied to the FIA, the fact they have been so publicly caught and shamed by it will only damage the core trust placed in them by motor sporting bodies as well as McLaren’s rivals and supporters.
Possible sanctions that could be imposed on McLaren should they be found guilty of these charges range from complete disqualification from the 2009 World Championship (drivers and constructors) as well as monetary fines, to a mere slapping of the wrists and suspended sentences. It is my opinion though, given how strictly the FIA have dealt with cases like this in the past, that McLaren will be lucky if they are contesting both titles for the remainder of the season. While it is highly unlikely that Hamilton will be thrown out of the drivers – his appeal to fans is too great – the team could very easily be disqualified from the constructors battle, just as they were in 2007.
So what do you think? Should McLaren face further charges/penalties, or is it enough that Hamilton was disqualified from Australia and both driver and team shamed in the international media? How would you deal with this particular case?