Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that a ban from Formula One could be the punishment for McLaren when it appears before the World Motor Sport Council later this month to answer charges of lying to race stewards at the Australian Grand Prix.
The team was called to appear before the WMSC by the FIA on a charge of bringing the sport into disrepute, after it was found that the Mercedes-powered outfit had deliberately misled stewards about the circumstances regarding the late Safety Car period in Melbourne – when Jarno Trulli overtook Lewis Hamilton while the race was running under caution.
The issue has already led to Hamilton issuing a public apology about what happened after he supported the team's claim that he hadn't been ordered to allow Trulli through – with radio evidence then proving the claim to be incorrect.
As well as Hamilton being excluded from the race, long-standing McLaren employee Dave Ryan has also been dismissed from his job for his part in the incident.
While the WMSC could now take a range of punishments into consideration when it meets to discuss what occurred in Melbourne, Ecclestone admitted that a ban from competition could be a real possibility for the team, especially given that it is only a matter of years after McLaren was involved in the Formula One spying saga and thrown out of the constructors' championship.
“We need to investigate closer what went on,” Bernie told the Daily Express
. “It is about stealing a point and a place but those are worth money so basically it is fraud, although I am sure it started off more innocently without thought of the consequences.
“There are many options open if the charge sticks and it would be a terrible thing if any team were banned from races. But it could happen.
“It is not so long ago that McLaren were in front of the Council and it is never good for anyone if you are back in court quickly for something similar.”