Today’s verdict by the World Motor Sport Council to issue a three race ban for McLaren, but to suspend it for 12 months has received a fairly balanced reaction.
Given the original incident, where Trulli was allowed to pass Hamilton behind the safety car in Melbourne, what happened in the stewards’ room there and in Kuala Lumpur and what has transpired since with McLaren going out of its way to demonstrate that it has accepted mistakes were made and changed the governance of the team, this is a well balanced and light judgement. To go further would have been excessive.
McLaren pleaded guilty and the human cost at the team has been very high, with the departure of Ron Dennis, the architect of McLaren’s success and of Dave Ryan, one of its most dilligent and loyal employees for over 35 years. Lewis Hamilton has taken a huge blow to his prestige and integrity, which will take many years to redress. No doubt many of the team’s major sponsors have been in contact expressing concern that the team’s questionable sporting integrity might damage their brands by association.
FIA president Max Mosley saw no need to labour the point on this matter and said he was satisfied that a real and lasting change had been made at McLaren with the departure of Dennis and the appointment of a new chairman, a captain of industry, Richard Lapthorne.
Mosley said, “In the end there were decisions taken by the people who are no longer involved. That being the case, it would have been unfair to go on with the matter.
“We think it’s entirely fair. They’ve demonstrated there’s a complete culture change and under those circumstances it’s better to put the whole thing behind us.
“Unless they do something similar, that’s the end of the matter.”
Mosley suggested that the decision to lie to the stewards in Melbourne and to continue the deceit in Malaysia was down to sporting director Dave Ryan and implied that the FIA felt Dennis had been involved. Although Whitmarsh told journalists in Malaysia that no-one more senior than Ryan had been involved in the matter and Dennis strenously denied that his decision to move away from the race team had anything to do with the case, the implication in Mosley’s words is that he feels he was involved.
The press attending that conference at which Dennis made his announcement on April 16th was notably light on F1 journalists, they were either general media or media from the motoring side and those who were there were not fully aware of the facts of this case, so did not question Dennis as rigorously on the F1 side as they might have done.
Mosley added that he was impressed with the attitude of team principal Martin Whitmarsh and the way he has conducted himself since the controversy.
“Martin Whitmarsh made a very good impression,” said Mosley. “He’s straightforward and wants to work with us. We’re all trying to do the same thing, which is make the championship successful. Martin fully understands that and we reacted accordingly.”
McLaren team boss Whitmarsh said, “I would like to thank the FIA World Motor Sport Council members for affording me the opportunity to answer their questions this morning,” said Whitmarsh.
“We are aware that we made serious mistakes in Australia and Malaysia, and I was therefore very glad to be able to apologise for those mistakes once again.”
Compared to Dennis, Whitmarsh is a very uncomplicated man with a light touch and he has decided to go the non-confrontational route with the FIA, something Dennis could not contemplate. How that leaves him and the team in the future will be interesting to watch.
As will his reaction to the budget cap, which is likely to be announced tomorrow.