There is some very strong criticism of Lewis Hamilton and McLaren in the media today, a wave of hysteria in the wake of Lewis Hamilton’s punishment for ‘deliberately misleading’ the stewards.
It has been written in some quarters that Hamilton could be banned for some races by the World Motor Sport Council, which is due to meet in June. An emergency meeting could be called sooner. An FIA spokesman has hinted that there could well be further repercussions for McLaren and Hamilton, “Given the seriousness of this matter, we cannot rule out further action at this stage.”
This situation reminds me a bit of Jerez in 1997. Michael Schumacher smashed into Jacques Villenueve in an attempt to win the world title. He failed and there was a general outcry for him to be banned from the first few races of 1998.
Instead he was thrown out of the 1997 results, the idea being that it set a precedent for the future to ensure that no-one would try that kind of thing again, knowing that the penalty was disqualification from that year’s championship.
At the time it was made quite clear by Bernie Ecclestone that there was no way F1 was going to start the 1998 season without its main box office draw. It would be commercial suicide and the same applies today. Schumacher was not prevented from racing and nor will Hamilton be a no-show at races later this year. Both have suffered a stain on their image as a result of the events. In Schumacher’s case, he never managed to shake it off.
But Hamilton might be given a suspended ban, in other words if he steps out of line again, the ban will kick in. Another whacking great fine for the team is not to be ruled out either. Here in Malaysia the perception of the foreign (ie no-British) media is also that McLaren have been stupid and that this is a serious matter. The other teams feel broadly the same way. In other words, it’s more or less unanimous.
Hamilton was the victim of muddled thinking and poor communication over the radio from his team. He knew he was in the right, passing Trulli when the Toyota was off the track and the team confused the issue. However the problem came in the stewards room and afterwards, when he and McLaren were happy to let Trulli take the rap and lose the 6 points for passing Hamilton behind the safety car.
It’s really surprising that they didn’t think this one through. Once the story about Hamilton telling reporters he had been told to let Trulli through broke late on Sunday night and others including myself here on this blog, referred to it on Monday, the team should then have voluntarily gone to the FIA and said that there had been a mistake. They would have stayed 4th, where Hamilton finished.
I don’t buy all this “McLaren were being paranoid about FIA” stuff, if that was truly the motivation for telling him to let Trulli past, then surely they would have wanted to be be whiter than white on Monday and explained that there had been a cock up on the radio, not Trulli’s fault, give Trulli his points back.
In the current climate, where the teams are trying to make a go of the association known as FOTA and to face up to the FIA and Ecclestone for control of the future of the sport, this would have been a fantastic opportunity to do something truly sporting, a sign of solidarity and brotherhood with Toyota, who were blameless in this. It’s the fact that they were happy for Toyota to suffer that makes it inexplicable to me.
Since FOTA held that press conference in Geneva, we have had the points system being changed twice, a €30 million budget cap being voted in, both McLaren and Toyota being shown up in the first race, Toyota for having an illegal rear wing, McLaren for misleading the stewards. We have three teams protesting three other teams which is going to drag out to an appeal….. and the season has only just started!
The spirit of brotherhood and togetherness is being severely tested. “FOTA.. Shmota”, as Bernie put it.