McLaren don’t have an easy time of it – but a big chunk of it has been of their own making. They have been pretty well punished for the furore over the Ferrari information they purloined last year, and their relationship with the sport’s governing body has never been great.
So there was an expectation that McLaren could be hit hard when an extraordinary meeting of the FIA’s WMSC convened today to hear evidence and hand down punishment for the ‘Liar-Gate’ controversy, after the McLaren F1 Team, or more correctly Lewis Hamilton and David Ryan, lied to stewards about events on the track in Melbourne. Those lies cost McLaren a ban from the Australian Grand Prix, but most expected to see further punishment – including a big fine and a possible ban from the rest of the 2009/2010 season.
The problems concerned Hamilton’s actions under the safety car. Overtaking is not allowed, and Trulli overtook Hamilton, under the safety car, after veering of the circuit and losing the place to Hamilton. But what McLaren lied about was that Trulli was forced to overtake Hamilton after he deliberately slowed, forcing Trulli past.
David Ryan has left McLaren and Lewis Hamilton has publicly apologised for the lie (I was just following orders – honest guv!) and today saw McLaren’s Team Boss Martin Whitmarsh attend the hearing alone. And it worked. The FIA agreed that there had been a change in the culture at McLaren, and imposed a three race ban on McLaren, but suspended that for 12 months. It is conditional on McLaren not breaking the rules again and there being no new evidence in the Australian GP issue. After the hearing, Martin Whitmarsh said “I hope that this will draw a line and we can carry on with racing”.
McLaren did get off lightly, but with such a topsy-turvy start to the season, and the problems that has brought F1, banning the reigning world champions for the rest of the season would probably have punsihed F1 as much as McLaren. Probably a sensible and pragmatic verdict.