F1: McLaren to face the FIA music

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarTuesday, April 7th, 2009

 
 

McLaren has been summoned to appear before the World Motorsport Council at the end of March to explain its employees’ actions in misleading race stewards following the Australian Grand Prix.

It has also announced the end of its relationship with sporting director Dave Ryan.

The hearing was announced in a press release from the FIA this afternoon which says that Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has been invited to appear before an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris on April 29.

It said the team faces the following charges:

  • That the team, 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.
  • That it 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.

McLaren acknowledged in a statement this afternoon that it had received notice of the hearing, and also that it had terminated its relationship with Dave Ryan:

“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 One.

“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.”

Both of these moves are grave news for fans of the team and of its driver Lewis Hamilton. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh has acknowledged that Ryan was a lynchpin of the squad.

His departure, at a point when the team is already struggling due to its underperforming car, is a body blow.

And no-one needs reminding of how the WMSC has viewed McLaren’s transgressions in the past.

The damage caused to the relationship between the team, Lewis Hamilton and his father Anthony by the affair is also set to have long-term repercussions that could see the former child prodigy part company with an outfit he had previously said he had intended to see his career out with.

Mercedes sporting director Norbert Haug has damned Whitmarsh with faint praise, saying he personally has faith in the beleagured team boss, but that he can’t speak for the company’s board.

He said: “The whole affair is not what we want — absolutely not. We have a good relationship, I know exactly how much money we are spending and what positive values we got last year.

“This is currently not a positive value — the newspapers are full of our stories, it’s certainly not creating the right image, and if it would not be bearable we need to sit down in Stuttgart and take our decision.

“But for now, I have all the faith I can put behind Martin. He’s a great guy and runs the team in a very good way.”

A worse scenario – one at least that hasn’t cost life and limb – is hard to imagine following the high of last season’s nailbiting championship win. The team seems to have dealt itself a near-fatal wound.

The only tiny glimmers of hope are slight. One, that the car doesn’t seem to be quite as bad as feared. But that’s little consolation if Hamilton’s not in the mood to drive it, or if the team is barred from racing it.

Two, that the WMSC might back down from the ultimate confrontation and impose a penalty that puts the sport and the season’s competition first. But read down the list reproduced above and see if this seems likely to you. And the charges – with their repeated use of the phrase “procured its driver Hamilton” – make it quite clear where the blame is going to land.

Or three, that Hamilton will reap tangible benefits from his public apology at the weekend and feel able to move on.

But these are slim hopes for a season that started out looking bright and, by race two, is already essentially wrecked. From here onwards it’s all damage limitation and the price is as high as they come – the future of the entire team.

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