The FIA World Motor Sport Council announced at lunchtime today after a brief hearing in Paris that McLaren will not be forced to miss any races this season, nor will it lose any constructors’ championship points. Instead it has decided to suspend the sentence it planned to hand down, namely a three race ban.
Interestingly, given that this is the second time in two years that McLaren has faced disrepute charges, the suspension is for a period of one year. It’s hard to imagine that they would do anything like this again – and the team was at pains to show that it has changed culture with the departure of Ron Dennis and Dave Ryan and the appointment of a new chairman, Richard Lapthorne, from industry.
The FIA statement reads,
“Having regard to the open and honest way in which McLaren Team Principal, Mr Martin Whitmarsh, addressed the WMSC and the change in culture which he made clear has taken place in his organisation, the WMSC decided to suspend the application of the penalty it deems appropriate.
“That penalty is a suspension of the team from three races of the FIA Formula One World Championship. This will only be applied if further facts emerge regarding the case or if, in the next 12 months, there is a further breach by the team of article 151c of the International Sporting Code.”
McLaren and Lewis Hamilton were disqualified from the fourth place they attained at the Australian Grand Prix, where the lying incident in the stewards’ room occured.
Whitmarsh wrote to the FIA pleading guilty to all charges last weekend. He is determined to get away from the polemics of the Dennis era and the antagonistic way the team dealt with the FIA.
In light of all that has happened between the FIA and McLaren since it first came to light that the team had a 700 page Ferrari dossier in its possession, it now feels as though things have calmed down. McLaren has a good chance of fighting for the drivers’ world championship this year. Lewis Hamilton has only 9 points to Jenson Button’s 31, but his car is improving very quickly. With the five points he lost in Melbourne, he would be on 14 with three quarters of the season to go. As it is, I think he can fight for the title this year.
As for the damage to Hamilton’s reputation, he has gone down in many people’s estimation over the incident. It was a lose-lose for him as one the one hand he looks bad because he lied to the stewards, allegedly because he was told to by the team. On the other hand, by doing what he was told, he appears to be a product of the team and not his own man. He has to just park it and move on, there’s nothing he can do about it now, but I’d expect him to act more individually in the future.
No doubt to reach this verdict there has been some horse trading behind the scenes in terms of commitments that Dennis will never return and that his influence is negated, despite retaining a 15% shareholding in the company. And I wonder if there was some dealing on the proposed budget cap as well. We are due to find out more about that at some point soon.