Formula 1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has dropped hints that the FIA is likely to go easy on Lewis Hamilton and McLaren-Mercedes when both driver and team appear before its World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Paris tomorrow charged with bringing the sport into disrepute over their Melbourne 'lies' shame.
The defending F1 World Champion and his Woking-based outfit are both held accountable of breaching Article 151c of the International Sporting Code in having supplied 'deliberately misleading' information to Albert Park stewards following last month's curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Hamilton and respected long-time McLaren sporting director Dave Ryan twice contended that the former had not been instructed to move aside for the Toyota of Jarno Trulli under a late-race safety car period Down Under – something that earned the Italian a penalty – but subsequently published pits-to-car radio communications proved their arguments not to be true.
The fall-out from the controversy has been significant, with Ryan being dismissed following more than three decades of loyal service to the team, Hamilton making an emotional public plea to his fans a week later in Sepang – in which he repeatedly insisted that he is 'not a liar' – and McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, a man who has been in the job less than two months, writing a letter of apology to FIA President Max Mosley in which he accepted that the squad had been in the wrong.
What's more, there have been worrying noises coming out of the Mercedes-Benz camp of late that – in the wake of McLaren's second major F1 scandal in three years following the infamous espionage row of 2007, for which it was fined a sporting record $100 million and disqualified from the 2007 constructors' world standings – should what it holds to be an 'unreasonable punishment' be meted out, then the German manufacturer may find itself forced to 'consider our engagement' [see separate story – click here
]. The Stuttgart-based marque currently owns a 40 per cent stake in the multiple title-winning British outfit.
The top flight's powers-that-be – Ecclestone amongst them – are known to be nervy of any more car makers following Honda out of the exit door, however, meaning that whilst it is within the governing body's remit to hand down a penalty as severe as exclusion from the remainder of the 2009 campaign, the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive is confident any further sanctions deemed necessary will be 'fair'.
“I am absolutely positive that Mercedes would like to look upon this as fair for everybody,” the 78-year-old – himself a member of the WMSC board – is quoted as having said by The Times
. “If there is any punishment to be meted out, it will be fair and I am sure they would support that.
“I don't think they would decide to leave Formula 1 because somebody had done something wrong and been punished. I think they (the WMSC) will be very fair.”
Other possible outcomes of Wednesday's reunion in the French capital include suspension for a number of grands prix, a hefty fine or a combination of the two.