Thursday, April 9, 2009

McLaren called before WMSC again: what will their punishment be?

7 April 2009 by Keith Collantine

Some developments are met with such little surprise they barely even qualify as ‘news’. The FIA summoning McLaren to appear before the World Motor Sports Council surely meets this criteria.

The team are being called to explain why they misled stewards about Lewis Hamilton allowing Jarno Trulli past under the safety car in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix.

It doesn’t take a cynic to see the result is a foregone conclusion as the team has already been found guilty once. But what will the punishment be, and why haven’t we seen the ‘disrepute’ rule being used for similar infractions?

The punishment

McLaren faces charges under article 151C of the International Sporting Code, that it has brought Formula 1 into disrepute – the same charged it faced over ‘Spygate’ two years ago.

On that occasion McLaren received a staggering fine of £50m ($100m at the time, though the final sum paid was less) and was excluded from the constructors’ championship.

Having been warned off further transgressions at the time, they could face an even harsher punishment at the hearing on April 29th. If the FIA do this, it is vital that not only the minutes of the WMSC meetings are made public, but also those of the original stewards meetings (if there are any - it has been suggested none are taken). F1’s reputation would suffer more harm if McLaren were perceived to have been subjected to a kangaroo court.

Notably absent from the FIA’s list of charges is any claim that McLaren brought a false appeal against Trulli, which has been suggested by some. This is because they did not, as the FIA’s documents makes clear:

The stewards, having received a report from the race director, have considered the following matter, determined a breach of the regulations has been committed…
Australian Grand Prix document 69

You can find the original document in the F1 Fanatic aus09-document-686970-pdf

Dave Ryan

McLaren has admitted not telling the truth and today formally sacked Dave Ryan, the sporting director who had been with the team for 34 years. But questions are still being asked about where else responsibility lies within the team - whether with Martin Whitmarsh or Lewis Hamilton.

McLaren’s acceptance of the WMSC summoning was effusive in its promise of co-operation:

We undertake to co-operate fully with all WMSC processes, and welcome the opportunity to work with the FIA in the best interests of Formula 1.

And gave a clear hint their defence will be that Dave Ryan was responsible and they have taken the appropriate course of action:

This afternoon McLaren and its former sporting director, Dave Ryan, have formally parted company. As a result, he is no longer an employee of any of the constituent companies of the McLaren Group.

If that is their case, they will have to make abundantly clear they can prove it.

Lewis Hamilton

There has been much speculation about what effect this might have on the future of Lewis Hamilton. Will he, like Michael Schumacher in 1995, quit the team where his reputation has been tarnished by unsavoury allegations?

I have two thoughts on this comparison. First, how often did McLaren make these visits to the World Motor Sports Council before they promoted Hamilton to race driver in 2007? Quite rare, actually - certainly not as often as they have been since.

This just an observation of a pattern and not proof of anything. But it was interesting to see an FIA spokesperson suggest the governing body views Hamilton as a victim in the matter after his admission of guilt:

We recognise Lewis’s efforts to set the record straight today. It would appear that he was put in an impossible position.

Second, leaving Benetton ultimately did nothing to save Schumacher from having a reputation for, to put it mildly, being a bit of a scoundrel. More on that in a moment.


There have been a few occasions of teams being charged with bringing the sport into disrepute in recent years.

Before ’spygate’ the most famous as Ferrari’s infamous use of team orders in the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. The team were fined $1m - but that was for their drivers’ behaviour on the podium, the FIA specifically rejected the claim that the use of team orders brought F1 into disrepute (before banning them in 2003).

After McLaren the most recent team to face the charge was Renault, when it was accused by McLaren of using its intellectual property in the same way McLaren had been found guilty of using Ferrari’s. The FIA found Renault guilty but gave it no punishment “due to the lack of evidence that the championship has been affected.”

The truth

Misleading, obfuscation, whichever euphemism you prefer, there have occasions in recent years when prominent F1 individuals have given questionable accounts but not faced a similar investigation.

In 2006 Michael Schumacher denied he had deliberately stopped his Ferrari during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix to impede his rivals. The stewards rejected his explanation, one remarking with incredulity: “He lost control of the car while travelling at 16kph! That’s something completely unjustifiable.”

The only difference between Schumacher and Hamilton on these occasions was that Schumacher failed to convince the stewards he was telling the truth. So are McLaren actually being punished for the Australian Grand Prix stewards getting their original judgement wrong?

Last year McLaren tried to appeal Hamilton’s penalty in the Belgian Grand Prix. The FIA claimed former permanent steward Tony Scott-Andrews had changed his mind about another incident which McLaren intended to cite as precedent. When McLaren approached Scott-Andrews he informed them the FIA’s point of view was, “grossly inaccurate and misleading”. Who here was not being straight?

I am not making a case for McLaren’s defence. The sacking of Ryan is a clear acceptance by the team that they had discussed what to do behind the safety car at Melbourne, took the wrong decision and, when asked by the stewards, denied what they had done.

But I am suggesting perhaps they are not the only people in F1 who have not been entirely clear about their version of events in the recent past, and not the only ones who have brought F1 into disrepute.

Source : F1Fanatic

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