In the wake of the 'misleading' information scandal engulfing McLaren-Mercedes in Malaysia this weekend, Martin Whitmarsh has refused to rule out resigning from his role of team principal at the Woking-based outfit – a position he has held for barely a month.
Not even a fortnight into the 2009 world championship campaign, Formula 1 has already found itself embroiled in – some would say has inflicted upon itself – a whole heap of controversy, with Lewis Hamilton and McLaren being disqualified from the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne for having been deemed to have 'deliberately misled' FIA race stewards in an effort to gain a rostrum position Down Under.
The guilty parties in the episode have been exposed as long-time team manager Dave Ryan and reigning world champion Hamilton, a driver who has always strived to present an ultra-clean image of himself. With the sport's governing body musing over 'further action' that could extend as far as exclusion from the entire 2009 season, the fall-out threatens to be spectacular.
“As you can imagine it is a very sad day for the team,” acknowledged Whitmarsh. “I had to take an incredibly difficult decision, [and] we have suspended our long-standing sporting director, Dave Ryan. He has been with the team for 35 years. I have personally known him for 20 years, and I think anyone in this paddock who knows him knows that he is a very straightforward, dedicated, committed and hard-working individual.
“I think anyone who knows Dave will know that he did not set out with any deliberate intention to mislead the stewards. He went to that stewards meeting with Lewis, I am sure, with the intention of being very clear and straightforward. I think what the stewards should rely upon is that when the teams are called before them, they will give a totally true and open account of what happened – and there was a belief that a true and honest account would get the result of the positions being reversed.
“However, it has become clear from discussions with Dave last night and through into this morning that during the stewards meeting he was not entirely full and truthful in answers that he gave the stewards – and consequently we had no alternative today other than to suspend him. Dave has been sent home and we need to, during the course of this weekend, understand exactly what happened and make the decisions about Dave's future. There was no-one else senior [involved].
“The case is that Dave made a very serious error of judgement in going into that stewards meeting, and he is paying the consequences of that. I think that Lewis was not entirely truthful, but Dave was the senior member of the team. I think they were trying to deal with the situation but they got it wrong. Dave, as part of the management of the team, has to take responsibility for leading that process. It is something that he deeply regrets, [that] Lewis and I and the team regret, and it is something that we have got to put right.
“We have got to deal with this weekend and take stock of the situation, and we have got to look in a bit more detail at all of the events that surrounded that. From my perspective obviously it is a point of deep, deep regret. It is not how I wanted this year in particular to start, and it is something for which the team and myself are not only deeply embarrassed but deeply regretful. I think for Dave it has been a shattering day.”
Confronted with accusations that McLaren is 'contaminated by a culture of cheating', Whitmarsh remained adamant that there had been absolutely no malicious intent in Ryan's actions. He added that the hitherto greatly-respected New Zealander was 'highly sensitive' after experiencing Hamilton's controversial demotion from first place to third in last year's Belgian Grand Prix.