Martin Whitmarsh has been forced to defend both McLaren-Mercedes and its star driver Lewis Hamilton in the face of accusations that they 'deliberately misled' Formula 1 race stewards following last weekend's Australian Grand Prix – insisting 'there was no lie in that hearing'.
The reigning F1 World Champion found himself disqualified from third place Down Under – a position he had controversially inherited following the initial 25-second penalty handed down to Jarno Trulli, who Hamilton had passed and then let re-pass under a late-race safety car when the Italian ran briefly off-track on debris from the Sebastian Vettel/Robert Kubica collision – in the wake of a further stewards meeting in Sepang today.
When asked by Melbourne officials whether he had been purposely told by his team to allow the Toyota back past him again in Albert Park, the British ace had said no – but a pits-to-car radio transmission released by the FIA [click here
], as well as a media interview given by Hamilton after the chequered flag had fallen, subsequently proved that statement to be untrue. The governing body revealed that the stewards now 'felt strongly that they had been misled by the driver and his team manager (Dave Ryan)'.
“Both the driver and the team manager stated that no such instruction had been given,” the FIA said. “The race director specifically asked Hamilton whether he had consciously allowed Trulli to overtake. Hamilton insisted that he had not done so.”
McLaren team principal Whitmarsh, however, stated that upon asking FIA race director Charlie Whiting in Australia whether or not Hamilton should let Trulli reclaim his position, he had received no answer – and instructed his driver to relinquish the place to avoid risking a penalty for illegally overtaking under a safety car.
“There is no implication that Lewis lied to the stewards,” the Englishman is quoted as having said by international news agency Reuters
ahead of this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix. “I think he answered the questions that were put to him in an honest manner but, according to the stewards, the team should have provided a fuller account of what happened.
“There was understandably concern in the team that he had passed Trulli under a safety car. We didn't know Trulli was right off the circuit, and Lewis was asked to give back the place. We thought that was the safest thing to do. Once that instruction was given to Lewis, he didn't agree.
“There was no lie in that hearing. We the team made a mistake in that we did not provide a full account of a radio conversation that we believed was being listened to in any case.
“At the stewards meeting, we mistakenly believed that the stewards were aware of that radio conversation. The stewards now believe that we weren't explicit enough about that radio conversation. We regret that and it was a mistake by the team.
“They believe that the omission of the information about the radio conversation between the team and Lewis was withheld, and that is what they believe was misleading.”
With the FIA now admitting that 'given the seriousness of this matter, we cannot rule out further action', there have been suggestions that Hamilton could yet be suspended from future grands prix or even – some fear – excluded from the entire 2009 world championship [see separate story – click here