Mercedes-Benz has dropped its clearest hint yet that a harsh penalty from the FIA over the Melbourne 'lies' scandal implicating McLaren-Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton could lead to the German manufacturer pulling out of Formula 1.
The Woking-based outfit is due to appear before the governing body's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Paris on Wednesday charged with bringing the sport into disrepute by breaching Article 151c of the International Sporting Code.
The controversy arose when it was revealed that Hamilton and respected long-time McLaren sporting director Dave Ryan had 'deliberately misled' stewards following the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne last month over the incident that saw the defending F1 World Champion pass and subsequently let re-pass the Toyota of Jarno Trulli under a late-race safety car period, ostensibly in an effort to get the Italian penalised and inherit third place by default.
Whilst initial punishment was limited to disqualification from the Albert Park results, both the FIA and F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone have since stressed that 'further sanctions' are far from out of the question – with the most serious penalty applicable that of exclusion from the entire 2009 campaign.
Though Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug has been quick to re-iterate the Stuttgart marque's continued commitment to the cause in Bahrain this weekend, the CEO of parent company Daimler AG has been anything but as certain.
“If circumstances should change, perhaps because of an unreasonable punishment by the FIA, it is possible that we could consider our engagement,” Dieter Zetsche confessed in an interview with German news magazine Focus
The Daimler executive committee are understood to be due to meet on Monday – two days before the WMSC reunion – to discuss a possible exit from the top flight. Mercedes was known to have been extremely unimpressed at having had its name dragged through the mud over the infamous espionage row into which McLaren plunged only two years ago.