As the teams return to the UK and the dust begins to settle on an explosive weekend, we start to contemplate the next stage in the saga over Lewis Hamilton and McLaren ‘deliberately misleading’ the stewards.
The feeling on Saturday was that Hamilton’s frank and astonishing ‘mea culpa’, held in the FIA press conference room, was enough to satisfy the FIA. McLaren, however, still have a lot more explaining to do.
“We recognise Lewis’s efforts to set the record straight today,” an FIA spokesman told Reuters.
“It would appear that he was put in an impossible position. We are now awaiting reports from the FIA observer and stewards before consideration can be given to further investigation of his team’s conduct.”
This is ominous. If I was McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh I’d be feeling the trapdoor beneath my feet starting to slip on its hinges a little.
On Sunday morning Whitmarsh revealed that his own future was on the agenda as part of a review of the whole episode, as McLaren prepares to face the music from the FIA.
“In the longer term I can contemplate my own future. Of course it is not self-determining, it’s for the shareholders of this team to take a view and that’s something they have to decide what’s the best thing. I’m not resigning this weekend. We’ve made a commitment to look at how we arrived in this situation and we’ve got to learn from it and we’ve got to better in future.”
The problem for McLaren is that Whitmarsh is the heir apparent, the man groomed by Ron Dennis for the last 20 years to take over. Below him there’s not another dauphin. Whitmarsh is only 50 years old – although he’s probably aged another 10 this weekend – and beneath him there are layers of management, but no-one with hands on racing experience or experience of dealing with FIA and FOM. The next in command is Jonathan Neale, a very competent COO, but not team principal in waiting. If Whitmarsh goes they will almost certainly have to recruit someone.
The list of questions Whitmarsh is likely to face from the FIA is examined by Ed Gorman in The Times blog. He raises some questions that Whitmarsh needs to answer about the scape-goating of Dave Ryan and about what happened between Sunday’s meeting with the stewards and his own appearance before the media on Thursday, when he denied that lies had been told.
Ed writes; “It is easy to imagine Hamilton and Ryan making things up between themselves and going into the room and saying something they should never have done. But the part that stretches credibility to breaking point is the idea that after Melbourne and before the pair were summoned back before the stewards on Thursday in Kuala Lumpur, that no-one else in the team was made aware of what they had said and what was going on. It is important to appreciate that when Ryan and Hamilton went back to the stewards in Sepang they both continued to lie and to stick to their story from Melbourne. This has been confirmed both by McLaren and the FIA. It beggars belief that, in a team like McLaren which has been taught by Ron Dennis to think in a complex and often self-defeating way about even the most simple problems, that this critical issue would not have been more widely discussed by senior management before they went back in and approved by those people (or maybe not approved by some of them).
“McLaren being caught lying through the actions of Ryan and Hamilton is one thing; if it turns out that they have properly scapegoated Ryan and lied again about who knew about what was going on, I would fear for the consequences on their behalf. The FIA is not going to like that at all. The Times does in fact have an admission of sorts on this issue but it would be improper to report it here at this stage.”
Whitmarsh said on Sunday that he had been on a couple of days’ holiday after Melbourne, his wife was with him, and that was why he’d not been on top of the situation. I think that he probably hadn’t realised the full picture and was a little complacent.
Expect word very soon from the FIA as to when the hearing will be set for a deeper examination of this episode. McLaren was warned about its future conduct at the end of the spy scandal in 2007.
Have you noticed how quiet FOTA has been on this issue? No words of support. The teams’ spirit of brotherhood and togetherness does not extend to defending a brother, who shoots himself in the foot as spectacularly as McLaren has done.
The other teams are upset with McLaren for acting with such stupidity. It has done nothing for their cause.