I posted last night that Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team faced a tough day in front of the stewards and it has proved to be worse than we ever imagined.
When I left the track this evening, in the dark, sitting outside the McLaren team office was a thoroughly dejected looking team principal, Martin Whitmarsh with his communications staff, picking through the wreckage of their day.
Whitmarsh faced the media this afternoon and said that the team did not lie to the FIA stewards The stewards have released material this evening that appears to prove that they did lie. It appears hugely damaging for the team, once again and you have to ask how they got themselves in such a pickle over something so simple.
The FIA has published the radio traffic from Melbourne, which proves that Lewis Hamilton was instructed by the team to let Jarno Trulli through, something which contradicts his and the team’s version of events at the original stewards hearing on Sunday night.
An accompanying FIA statement says, “During the hearing, held approximately one hour after the end of the race, the Stewards and the Race Director questioned Lewis Hamilton and his Team Manager David Ryan specifically about whether there had been an instruction given to Hamilton to allow Trulli to overtake,” the FIA said in a statement.
“Both the driver and the team manager stated that no such instruction had been given.
“The race director specifically asked Hamilton whether he had consciously allowed Trulli to overtake. Hamilton insisted that he had not done so.”
There are some very simple but fundamental questions here. Both Hamilton and the team know that the radio is monitored by the FIA and by the TV production people. The following exchange could easily have been broadcast, had it not occured so late in the race:
“Lewis: The Toyota went off in a line at the second corner, …, is this OK?
McLaren: Understood, Lewis. We’ll confirm and get back to you.
LH: He was off the track. He went wide.
McLaren: Lewis, you need to allow the Toyota through. Allow the Toyota through now.
LH: He’s slowed right down in front of me.
McLaren: OK, Lewis. Stay ahead for the time being. Stay ahead. We will get back to you. We are talking to Charlie.
LH: I let him past already.”
So the team told him first to let Trulli through, then told him not to, a classic piece of indecision, by which time it was already too late, he had let him through. When I spoke to Jarno this afternoon he said that Hamilton slowed right down, to 80km/h which is virtually stationary in an F1 car and this must have been when this radio dialogue was going on. Clearly Hamilton was very distracted by it and then left confused by the team when they told him to stay ahead, after he’d already let Trulli through.
Knowing that this radio traffic was in the public domain and that Lewis had given an interview to a journalist in which he’d said the team told him to let Trulli through, it beggars belief that he and the team would then say anything different to the stewards. What were they trying to achieve by saying that the team had not told him to let Trulli through?
At its root, what happened on track is not serious. A misunderstanding over what position to take when a car has gone off the road behind a safety car is not a particularly big deal.
Hamilton would have been justified in holding position ahead of Trulli, while the team kept trying to get an answer out of Charlie Whiting, the race director. Charlie was busy monitoring the state of the track and so on, so did not have time to review tapes of the incident and give them an opinion with only a couple of laps to go in the race.
Afterwards the team could have demonstrated that Trulli went off and that they did their level best to do the right thing and check with race control. At worst Hamilton would have been put back to fourth.
Instead they have managed to create Watergate out of the smallest of issues and, just as in Watergate, it’s the cover up that gets you in trouble.
There is all sorts of nonsense being written about the FIA World Council excluding Hamilton from the championship or banning him for a few races. This will never happen, Hamilton is F1’s biggest box office draw and even if his reputation has taken a bit of a knock, the promoters, punters and TV companies want him at the races.