Lewis Hamilton could be facing suspension or even exclusion from the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship after it was revealed that he and his McLaren-Mercedes team had 'deliberately misled' the FIA over his pass on Toyota's Jarno Trulli in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne four days ago.

Following a second stewards' meeting in Sepang ahead of this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix, the defending F1 World Champion was disqualified from third place in the season curtain-raiser Down Under [see separate story - click here], and since then a spokesman for the FIA has stated: "Given the seriousness of this matter, we cannot rule out further action at this stage."

It is suggested that the only two courses of such 'further action' available to the governing body's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC), should the issue make it that far, would be suspension from a future race or races or - even worse - disqualification from the world championship altogether.

Hamilton and McLaren's crime at Albert Park was one of acting 'in a manner prejudicial to the conduct of the event by providing evidence deliberately misleading to the stewards' following an investigation into the pass on Trulli, with a subsequent enquiry in Sepang finding the Woking-based outfit and its star driver guilty of breaching article 151c of the International Sporting Code, which covers 'any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motorsport generally' - and carries with it penalties ranging from a reprimand to exclusion from the entire world championship.

The FIA has published a transcript of the pits-to-car radio conversation between Hamilton and McLaren in Australia [see separate story - click here], upon the basis of which it made its decision to exclude the 24-year-old from the results of the season-opening race.

Should the matter indeed be referred to the WMSC, it would not be the McLaren's first brush with controversy in recent campaigns, having been fined a sporting record $100 million and disqualified from the constructors' world championship in 2007 over the espionage row that rocked the top flight to its core.

In an interview with German broadcaster RTL, triple former F1 World Champion Niki Lauda - now an outspoken commentator on the sport - has blasted the fact that it took the FIA four days to come to a definitive ruling on the subject as 'the biggest joke of all time'.