Bernie Ecclestone has insisted that it is Martin Whitmarsh who must take responsibility for the Melbourne 'lies' scandal into which McLaren-Mercedes has plunged just weeks into the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship – and he revealed that not only is the team likely to face further sanctions, but it could also face losing its star driver Lewis Hamilton.
The controversy arose after Hamilton revealed that respected long-time McLaren sporting director Dave Ryan had instructed him to 'withhold information' from race stewards in Albert Park, over the incident that saw the reigning world champion pass and then let re-pass the Toyota of Jarno Trulli in the closing stages of last weekend's Australian Grand Prix.
Though both men denied under questioning that Hamilton had been told by the team to let his Italian rival by – what ostensibly now appears to have been a deliberate attempt to get Trulli punished and thereby inherit third place – the pits-to-car radio communication subsequently published by the FIA betrayed their statements.
That saw Hamilton disqualified from the results of the curtain-raising outing Down Under and – with his glittering reputation in tatters – forced to issue a grovelling public apology in which he repeatedly stressed that he is 'not a liar' [see separate story – click here
]. Worse still, the incident has left his long and outwardly rock-solid relationship with the Woking-based outfit under serious strain, particularly in the light of the Mercedes-powered MP4-24's current chronic lack of competitiveness.
Whilst the sport's governing body has since seemingly absolved the 24-year-old in recognising that he was 'put in an impossible position' by McLaren [see separate story – click here
], it would appear the team is not set to get off so lightly, with Ryan having been suspended from his position and 'further action' threatened against the multiple world champions should a World Motor Sport Council hearing be deemed necessary to look into the situation in greater detail.
Whitmarsh – who took over the role of team principal from Ron Dennis barely a month ago – has refused to rule out resigning over the issue as his head rests on the block, particularly if it emerges that he was complicit in the false account that was given to the Australian Grand Prix stewards. Either way, Ecclestone is adamant that the 50-year-old must carry the can.
“Ron is an honest, straightforward guy,” the F1 commercial rights-holder told the Sunday Mirror
in Sepang. “He would always say 'the buck stops here' and wouldn't expect Whitmarsh to do it. He'd do it himself.
“Now the buck stops with Martin, so it is whatever he wants to do. Ron has not been here, so you can't blame him.”
Like Hamilton, Whitmarsh sought to defuse the crisis somewhat in Malaysia this weekend by similarly issuing a public apology – but Ecclestone warns the damage may already have been done.
“He (Hamilton) is terribly upset,” the 78-year-old affirmed, “and his father is more upset than Lewis [at] having his son called a cheat.”