Lewis Hamilton has been stripped of his third place in the Australian Grand Prix after stewards reconvened and decided the McLaren driver and his team had deliberately misled the original investigation into how the race had finished.
Jarno Trulli, who had crossed the line third but was punished by race stewards, is reinstated in his original position while Hamilton has been removed from the race results altogether.
In a statement, the stewards said: “The Stewards having considered the new elements presented to them from the 2009 Australian Formula One Grand Prix, consider that driver No 1 Lewis Hamilton and the competitor Vodafone McLaren Mercedes acted in a manner prejudicial to the conduct of the event by providing evidence deliberately misleading to the Stewards at the hearing on Sunday 29th March 2009, a breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code.
“Under Article 158 of the International Sporting Code the driver No 1 Lewis Hamilton and the competitor Vodafone McLaren Mercedes are excluded from the race classification for the 2009 Australian Grand Prix and the classification is amended accordingly.”
The defending world champion had overtaken Jarno Trulli under the safety car when the Toyota driver ran off the track – which is legal – then dropped back to fourth when Trulli re-took him.
Stewards penalised Trulli 25 seconds after the race for overtaking under a safety car, dropping him out of the points and moving Hamilton up to third. He argued that Hamilton had slowed, leaving him unable to avoid overtaking.
Although Hamilton is reported to have given interviews after the race in which he said the team had ordered him to let Trulli through, he is said to have given different evidence to the original stewards’ inquiry – leading to their decision to punish the Italian.
Toyota abandoned plans to appeal, realising that a similar appeal last season by McLaren had been ruled inadmissable. But stewards reopened the inquiry because of new evidence, believed to be radio transmissions from the two teams.
Trulli was pleased with the decision: “I am happy because I just wanted some justice, and I am happy I got it. I have to thank the FIA because it does not happen very often that they reconsider something.
“It must have been really hard for them, but they had common sense to really try and understand what was going on. I have been always honest and it has paid off.”
The decision moves Toyota up to second in the constructors’ championship, despite both their cars starting in the pitlane following exclusion from qualifying for running an illegal rear wing.
We say, while the blunt wording of the stewards’ statement suggests McLaren have been caught bang to rights, fans who remember last year’s discredited stewarding will need a lot of convincing before they believe this decision is fair or factual.
And, even if it does prove to be unarguable, the whole messy end to the race and the way the penalties were handled do nothing to build confidence that this season will be any better administered than the one before.