Lewis Hamilton has apologised to the FIA and his fans for the latest Formula 1 crisis into which he and McLaren-Mercedes have plunged headlong – but he insisted that, like the Albert Park race stewards, he too had been 'misled' by his team as he endures 'the worst thing I've experienced in my life'.
The reigning F1 World Champion was disqualified from third place in last weekend's 2009 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix after the sport's governing body determined in Sepang yesterday that he and McLaren had provided 'deliberately misleading' information to race stewards in giving their version of what had happened under the late-race safety car that had initially caused Toyota rival Jarno Trulli to be handed a 25-second penalty, thereby promoting Hamilton from fourth to third.
In the intervening days, the FIA investigated and subsequently made public the pits-to-car radio communication between the nine-time grand prix-winner and his team [see separate story – click here
], in which he is explicitly instructed on two occasions to 'allow the Toyota through' – contradicting what Hamilton and team manager Dave Ryan had told the Melbourne stewards, and making it appear as a deliberate ploy to get Trulli penalised and thereby inherit the position.
The 24-year-old is adamant he did not lie, and that he was merely doing as he had been told – as the FIA threatens possible 'further action' against both driver and team, that could even stretch as far as exclusion from the entire world championship.
“I'm not a liar or a dishonest person,” he is quoted as having said by the BBC
, adding that the episode is 'definitely the worst thing I've experienced in my life'. “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.”
Hamilton was accompanied by Ryan to the hearing Down Under five days ago, and the sport's youngest-ever title-winner revealed that the New Zealander – a man with 35 years' experience at McLaren – had instructed him prior to the meeting to 'withhold information'.
“I just wanted to tell of what happened and I was misled,” the visibly emotional Stevenage-born ace continued. “As a human being and as a man it's right for me to stand in front of you and put my hands up. I want to say sorry to all my fans. I am not a liar or a dishonest person; I am a team player.
“If the team ask me to do something, I generally do it – but I felt awkward and uncomfortable. This is not an easy thing to do, to step back and realise I was in the wrong – but I was in the wrong. I was misled. I don't know what else is going to happen in the future.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh – who yesterday was equally adamant that Hamilton had not lied [see separate story – click here
] – also apologised to the FIA, with the two parties already sharing a considerable history in the wake of the espionage row back in 2007 and string of punishments meted out to the Silver Arrows and particularly their 'number one' driver by the top flight's governing body last year.