Martin Whitmarsh’s newly-minted job as McLaren team principal appears to be on the line after just one grand prix – after a error of judgement by a senior staff member led to a misleading statement to race stewards.
In a press conference at Sepang this morning Whitmarsh revealed that Davey Ryan, the team’s sporting director, had been suspended for instigating the actions that led to Lewis Hamilton being disqualified from the Australian race.
He told journalists that Ryan, who had argued the team’s case at the hearings about last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, in which McLaren was widely viewed as on the receiving end of unacceptably harsh treatment, was “highly sensitive” as a result of that experience.
He explained the incident thus: “Lewis got out of the car and gave a truthful account of what happened.
“When they got to the stewards, Davey, who had been part of what happened at Spa was highly sensitive and I think that in the heat of the moment his judgement was not to give a truthful account and I think Lewis was then led by that.”
In other words, Davey (already back in the UK) lied to the stewards and Hamilton went along with it. His suspension is expected to become a dismissal, with Whitmarsh adding: “We have lost a significant anchor to this team.
“In my 20-odd years working for McLaren, I doubt if I’ve met a more dedicated individual than Davey.
“He’s been an integral part of McLaren since 1974 and has played a crucial role in the team’s many world championship successes since that time.
“However, his role in the events of last Sunday, particularly his dealings with the FIA stewards, has caused serious repercussions for the team, for which we apologise.”
A tearful Hamilton added later in an emotional press conference that Ryan had instructed him to “withhold information”.
He said: “I’m not a liar or a dishonest person” and called the events of the past week “definitely the worst thing I’ve experienced in my life”.
He added: “I could not tell you how sorry I am for the embarrassment. I apologise to the race stewards for wasting their time and making them look silly.”
So, can Whitmarsh remain in post in the face of this latest debacle at McLaren? Unsurprisingly, he was asked this question and, according to James Allen who was at the press conference, said he could not rule anything out or in.
And the FIA has helpfully hinted that so serious a matter might have future repercussions. It has, after all, been handed a golden opportunity to disrupt the unity of the FOTA teams’ organisation, in which McLaren CEO Ron Dennis is a leading player.
But the idea of Hamilton being barred from future races or even disqualified from the season has been met with scepticism from commentators who point out he is easily the sport’s biggest box-office draw.
However, whether McLaren will be able to take any points forward, either in the drivers’ or the constructors’ contests, is a point up for discussion.