McLaren could be set for the loss of more than just its dignity and reputation when the FIA meets to discuss the team's fate at the end of the month – with suggestions Mercedes-Benz and a key sponsor may walk away too in the wake of the Melbourne 'lies' scandal.
The Woking-based concern has been summoned to appear before the World Motor Sport Council in Paris on 29 April, charged with having 'deliberately misled' Albert Park stewards following last month's Australian Grand Prix, ostensibly in a bid to inherit the final podium position by way of a penalty for Toyota star Jarno Trulli.
The options open to the sport's governing body – should it deem it necessary to punish McLaren further than its disqualification from the 2009 curtain-raiser – include, at their most severe, exclusion from the entire season. That is a situation that would not sit easily with the multiple world championship-winning outfit's sponsors.
A source from one of the squad's major backers told British newspaper the Daily Telegraph
: “I can say that if a disproportionately large penalty were given to McLaren on April 29, then the sponsor that I am associated with might leave.”
Mercedes, for its part, has hinted that it too may not be hanging around, with every manufacturer presently involved in the sport questioning the continued viability in the light of the global economic crisis and dramatic slump in car sales, as well as the fact that environmentally-friendly technology is appearing increasingly attractive, to the detriment of the high-octane world of F1.
There is speculation that the three-pointed star may be considering selling its 40 per cent stake in the McLaren Group in favour of remaining on the grid merely as an engine-supplier. In addition to McLaren, Mercedes currently provides powerplants to Force India and championship pace-setters Brawn GP.
“Daimler has the goal to be prominent with 'green technology',” mused Helmut Lense – a member of the supervisory board of the Stuttgart marque's parent company – in an interview with the Stuttgarter Zeitung
newspaper. “Does Formula 1 fit? Would it be the right signal to step out of F1 now and instead concentrate on pollution-free propulsion technologies?”