Archive for the ‘Drivers’ Category

The papers are full of the ‘rift’ between Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team over the Melbourne ‘lie-gate’ scandal. They talk of the relationship being ‘on a knife-edge’.

So will it happen? Will Lewis leave the team that has nurtured him since he left primary school? And if that were to happen, which team would he move to?

We have been here before with Lewis. He and his father Anthony were very unhappy about the politics swirling around the team during the 2007 championship, when McLaren were embroiled in the spy scandal surrounding Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan. Many things happened during that season, which took their breath away and made them wonder about whether to quit the sport. F1 is unlike any other level of motorsports because of the sheer intensity of the competition and the ferocity of the politics. Despite many years of studying for the starring role, Hamilton couldn’t believe the baggage that came with it.

And it quickly became apparent that being a McLaren driver, particularly that summer, made him even more of a target than he had imagined. The team seemed to be embroiled in one issue after another.

Hamilton’s reputation did not sustain much damage that summer as a result of the spy story, he was exonerated of any involvement, had no part in the email traffic between team mate Fernando Alonso and test driver Pedro de la Rosa which did for the team. There is no evidence that Lewis knew about the Ferrari data.

However, if you recall, McLaren told the first hearing into the spy story that the information did not pass beyond Coughlan into the organisation. With the subsequent discovery of the email traffic, they were forced to come clean and admit that the Ferrari data had penetrated deep into the company. It was a similar pattern of behaviour to what we saw from them in the days after Melbourne, initial denial, call it deception if you will, then getting caught out by fresh evidence, then grovelling apology. The two situations have significantly damaged McLaren’s integrity and reputation as a sporting institution. Hamilton was not damaged by association with the first, but definitely is through direct involvement in the second.

There were times during that period in 2007 and again in 2008, as Lewis was picking up penalties on the track, when you heard Anthony Hamilton openly wondering whether they should just get out of F1. But the raging ambition to win the world title, to fulfil what they saw as their destiny, kept them in it. Hamilton brought many of the penalties on himself, with his uncompromising approach, but somehow being on McLaren’s team seemed to make it all worse.

Now the Hamiltons are openly questioning whether they can stay at McLaren after all that has happened in the last week. They look across at Massa at Ferrari and Kubica at BMW and wonder why they are not constantly in the political cross-hairs?

Hamilton: "I'm sorry"
Malaysia has made Hamilton feel like Michael Schumacher did in 1994, when Benetton was getting hammered for ‘cheating’ over an illegal launch control system and a dodgy fuel filter. Schumacher was also banned for a few races that summer after ignoring a black flag at Silverstone. He and his manager felt that they had to get away from Benetton to stop the association of his name with cheating and that process led him to Ferrari in the summer of 1995.

Hamilton has grounds for feeling the same way now. It seems to have been established and accepted that he was ‘told’ to mislead the stewards, so should he move to save his reputation from further damage?

On top of that he looks at the team’s general situation at the moment. McLaren have built him a slow car, that’s not the end of the world, but they are likely to face some kind of heavy sanction for their behaviour in Melbourne and Sepang and that must impact on their ability to recover and move forward as a team. They have lost a key organisational figure in Dave Ryan and may yet lose their new team principal Martin Whitarsh, which would leave the ship pretty rudderless.

It would be an earthquake if he were to leave McLaren, given the history, but they are weighing up whether the team is just pre-destined to keep shooting itself in the foot and whether he’d be better off out of there.

So where would he go? Ferrari is the first name on the list, but his old nemesis Fernando Alonso has got their first. He has an agreement to join Ferrari in 2011, with an option for 2010 if Raikkonen underperforms this season.

BMW? There are several problems with BMW, first they already have Robert Kubica and may feel that they do not need Hamilton. Second they are not a team which spends big money on drivers.

Brawn? They have the fastest car at the moment, but that is because they bought themselves a big headstart by not showing up last season. They won’t be able to do that again so easily. The big teams will catch up.

However, if we get the budget cap of £30 million or more, then this will level the playing field in the favour of teams like Brawn. The manufacturers would not be able to beat them on resources alone.

I find it fascinating that the person in power to whom Hamilton appears to have turned for advice in recent days is Max Mosley. He’s clearly learned what Schumacher knew, that the best way to stay ahead of the others is to have a good relationship with the man who makes the rules. Brawn GP is important for Mosley because it is a blue print for his vision of the sport; a well engineered, lean team with customer engines. Low-cost, high quality F1.

The Brawn model is important now, just as re-invigorating Ferrari was in 1996.

If Hamilton were to join forces with Brawn, it would give the team huge commercial appeal, as Schumacher’s arrival gave Ferrari. Brawn says he is looking for ‘strong partners’ for the future. He didn’t say those partners couldn’t be drivers….

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It’s a shame that Jenson Button has yet to see the chequered flag at full racing speed at the end of a full race. Both his wins have been terrific, but this one today was really special and you have to pay tribute to the masterful way that the Brawn team, Button and his engineer Andrew Shovlin managed the changing conditions.

Others, like Glock and Heidfeld made greater gains by gambling on wet tyres, and Heidfeld gambled several times with the result that he made only one pit stop compared to Button’s four. But then Glock and Heidfeld had nothing to lose, while Button had everything to lose.

He said afterwards that the car wasn’t very well balanced on wet tyres, so it was a credit to him that he was able to keep his pace up in the wet conditions,
“The conditions we had today, it’s very unusual to drive the full wets in slightly greasy conditions, we had to go for that option because he thought it was going to rain and we were in the lead. It felt pretty terrible, the rear was always trying to break away. But that was more down to the conditions.

“When we put the intermediates on, the car felt pretty good I had a good balance for the car, because it was the right tyre for that condition, until it started bucketing it down and then no tyre was usable.”

So he did his bit. But the team did a brilliant job. If you compare his outcome with Nico Rosberg’s you’ll see what I mean, Rosberg had the early lead and was on a similar strategy to Button, just a couple of laps shorter on the first stop. He had the pace for a podium today. And yet he made stops on laps 27 and 30 and slipped from 2nd to 8th, with the fourth stop from inters to wets, a stop other cars didn’t make. This could have happened to Button, but he had kept the momentum going and at every stage the team stayed calm and did what was required.

Today’s other great revelation is that we got to see just how fast this Brawn car really is, when Jenson had to push hard in his two laps before his first stop, in order to leapfrog Rosberg and Trulli. He did a 1m 36.641, which is a second faster than the next non-Brawn car!!

That is quite some margin they have, greater than we imagined previously and it’s also impressive to note that that lap time was set at the end of a 16 lap stint on soft tyres, so the Brawn can be said to have fantastic tyre management ability.

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Things are moving so fast here in Sepang it makes your head spin. Lewis Hamilton has just made an appearance in the media centre and given what has to be the most frank and open admission of guilt and sincere apology we have seen in this sport.

He sat alone on the stage and spoke for a little over ten minutes , his voice cracking at times, his body language full of anguish and regret.

“I went into the meeting wanting to tell the story and I was misled. I was instructed and misled by my team manager to withhold information and that’s what I did. I sincerely apologise to the stewards for wasting their time. I’m very sorry for the situation. Sorry to all my fans, who have believed in me. Who I’ve showed you I am the past three years is who I am, I’m not a liar, I’m not a dishonest person, I’m a team player and every time I’ve been informed to do something I’ve done it. This time I realise it’s a huge mistake and I’m learning from it. It’s taken a huge toll on me.

“This is the worst thing I’ve experienced in my life and that’s why I’m here, because it’s right for me as a human being and as a man to stand up here in front of you all and tel you exactly what went on and say how sorry I am. I’m sorry to the team, to my family for the embarrassment.

“I’m sure that the FIA will act accordingly and in the right way.”

He also said that Trulli had driven a great race and that “it wasn’t my intention to get him a penalty.”
Actually by making such a frank admission, it’s likely that he will escape a ban or even a suspended ban. The damage to his reputation and the loss of the result in Australia are likely to be deemed punishment enough.

Hamilton and Ryan have been in the stewards’ room together on many occasions over the past two years and the only thing we didn’t get the chance to ask today is whether this is the first time Ryan “instructed” Hamilton to lie. I’m sure that the FIA will consider this when the world council look at the situation.

The FIA’s Alan Donnelly was at the back of the room listening and the event was televised by FOM’s TV crew, so it was a really public affair.

Hamilton has been criticised in the past for not putting his hands up and saying “sorry” often enough. He couldn’t avoid it on this occasion.

One thing he will have to deal with is the impression many of his critics have that he is a manufactured driver, not his own man. The fact that he went along with the deception, didn’t take a stand at the time, even though he knew what he was doing was wrong, will fuel that impression.

The room was full of media from all around the world, with the Fleet St boys on the front row. At the end there was a light round of applause from some journalists, as Hamilton walked from the room, his shoulders sagging.

How the public will view him now, only time will tell, but it’s been a savagely bad start to the season for Hamilton, for McLaren and for new team principal Martin Whitmarsh.

Other teams are surprised that McLaren has allowed this to come down to individuals, that they have not stuck together as a team. By singling out Ryan, they have acted in a way which is different from the team spirit of McLaren in the past.

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In an intensely feverish atmosphere here in Sepang, as the situation around McLaren and Lewis Hamilton ramps up and threatens to spiral out of McLaren’s control, a bit of light relief has been offered by Sebastien Vettel.

The German driver says in the Red Bull press release reviewing today’s track action,
” It’s very hot and no matter how much you prepare, the first outing is a bad surprise. Fortunately I’ve got a bag with dry ice in it, which I put next to my balls, so at least they stay nice and cool.”

Two questions, Seb.
1. What happens if you have a shunt and the bag bursts?
2. Does this reveal which part of your anatomy really does the thinking?

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A sensational press conference has just concluded here in Sepang, where new McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted that his sporting director Davey Ryan deliberately set out to lie to the stewards in Melbourne and that he told Lewis to follow his lead.
Martin Whitmarsh admits Hamilton was told to lie

Whitmarsh suspended Ryan this morning and the New Zealander is on his way back to England as we speak.

Speaking to a packed media centre, Whitmarsh said that this matter did not go any higher in the McLaren organisation and that he was not consulted before Ryan and Hamilton went to the stewards,
“We knew what had happened and there was a belief that a true and honest account of that would be given.

“Lewis got out of the car and gave a truthful account of what happened (to reporters). When they got to the stewards, Davey, who had been part of what happened at Spa (Hamilton’s penalty for passing Raikkonen) was highly sensitive and I think that in the heat of the moment his judgement was not to give a truthful account and I think Lewis was then led by that.”

When asked whether he would reconsider his own position, Whitmarsh said he could not rule anything out or in.

He said that, “We have lost a significant anchor to this team,” implying that Ryan’s suspension will become permanent.

One of the the things everyone wants to know is what was said in the original stewards’ meeting, as we have only the FIA stewards’ version of events as published yesterday. Whitmarsh said that he has not seen the transcript because one does not exist, “these things are not normally minuted and one of the stewards did not bring his notebook with him,” he said. “We have no access to that, all we can do is ask the driver and team manager what happened at the meeting.”

Hamilton himself will speak soon, at 5-45pm here in Sepang. He has lied, that much is obvious and as reigning world champion it puts a huge stain on his sporting integrity. He should have spoken to the media yesterday having first sorted out the details with Ryan and Whitmarsh, but instead, the whole thing has been allowed to be covered in the media with Hamilton’s reputation taking a hammering. He now has to say, “I lied, I was told to and I’m sorry,” after the event.

It will not improve things much for him, but it will help if he expresses regret. However the problem he will have going forward is that he is perceived by his critics as a manufactured product and the fact that he lied under orders will only emphasise that point.

I hate to keep comparing this to moments in Michael Schumacher’s career, but in 1994/95 he felt that he had to move away from Benetton because of all the allegations of cheating, from the FIA, which were piling up against the team and reflecting badly on him, he moved to Ferrari in 1996.

Steadying the ship generally will be Whitmarsh’s first priority, but after that he will have to work hard to persuade Hamilton that staying with the team is his best long term option.

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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.

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There was a lot of energy in the paddock this afternoon as McLaren went into crisis management mode, with head of communications Matt Bishop (ex F1 racing editor) and Steve Cooper (ex F1 racing journo).

Scrums of TV crews and hardened journos waited around outside the teams offices in groups waiting for Hamilton or his boss Martin Whitmarsh to speak. The chat was all about what punishment they would be given. Many questioned how Hamilton could have told reporters straight after he got out of the car that the team had told him to let Trulli past, but then gone in to see the stewards and said the opposite. Apparently the The FIA will publish the radio traffic on the FIA and F1.com websites at around 1-30pm today, the first example of this since the new transparency policy was introduced.

These gaggles of journos, waiting for their prey, are a common feature of F1 life. When I was a pit reporter in the 1990s I was in the middle of it all. I had a break when I was a commentator and now I’m a reporter again, I’m back in the middle of it.

We have waited hours in the past for Schumacher after some fresh controversy, like Jerez 1997 or Monaco 2006. Hamilton seems to be slipping into Schumacher’s shoes as far as being at the centre of controversy is concerned. What was it Ron Dennis said in 2007? “Competitive animals know no limits.” He was speaking about Alonso but Hamilton is revealing himself to be every bit as ruthless a competitor.

Whitmarsh came out at around 5pm, standing in the doorway at the back of the McLaren garage where the press had moved to. The TV crews waited 20 metres away. A daunting sight and proof of the gigantic interest in the story. Before you ask, the woman in the black outfit works for Spanish TV…


Hamilton had seemed really down at heel in the FIA press conference at 3pm. He refused to speak about the matter under discussion, because it was still being considered at that time, but his body language spoke volumes; he knew he was going to get pasted.

He stared distractedly out of the window as huge flashes of lightening and peals of thunder dominated the sky. Rain like that on Sunday would stop the race, hell you could think about building another Ark..

The only smile he managed was when Jenson Button was asked what it was like having the best car and he said “It feels good.” Lewis was sitting behind him and smiled what looked like a smile of being genuinely pleased for the guy, but it could equally have been a rueful smile. His car is a long way from being the best. Button listed the cars he feels are now, or might become, his closest challengers; Red Bull, Ferrari and BMW. He did not mention McLaren.

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I’m grateful to Robbie for sending me the link to YouTube where there is an extract of Toyota team radio, which gives a vivid picture of what it he experienced when Lewis Hamilton passed him in the final stages of that Australian GP. Trulli slows down to let him repass, but he doesn’t pass.

Hamilton is in front of the stewards, two of whom were Melbourne stewards, as I write this.

Some bits I pulled out from the Trulli recording which I find interesting – Trulli says that if he has a KERS car behind him he is ‘in trouble’ at the restart. The KERS made quite a difference to the racing and certainly helped with overtaking non-KERS cars. Once everyone has it of course the situation will be normalised, but for the moment there are some good opportunities for KERS cars.

When asked whether Hamilton passed him under the safety car, Trulli is not sure if the safety car had been deployed or not. This shows how much of a picture a driver has at a time like this. He knows that there were yellow flags, but hasn’t noticed any SC boards around the track.

Trulli spells out that he passed Hamilton, because he was going very slowly, but then he slowed to let him back past and Hamilton does not go past.

Very interesting stuff and I’m sure under the FIA’s new transparency rules regarding the stewards decisions, full radio extracts of this incident will be published on the FIA and F1.com websites once the decision has been reached. Another example of how the internet is bringing the fans and media closer to the sport and, critically, closer to understanding the sport!

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A story has just appeared on the Auto Motor und Sport website in Germany, which could have explosive consequences for Lewis Hamilton and McLaren this weekend.

It is written by Michael Schmidt, who is one of the most respected journalists in F1.

The gist of the article is that Lewis Hamilton may have some explaining to do to the stewards, for what he said to them in Melbourne, which led to him deposing Jarno Trulli for third place.

The story is headlined “Did Hamilton tell the truth?”.

“Possibly the exclusion of Jarno Trulli in the season opener in Melbourne must be reopened. Doubts have emerged whether the beneficiary Lewis Hamilton told the truth to the hearing.

“Trulli drove past Hamilton between the turns 4 and 5. The Toyota driver said that Hamilton so strongly deviated from the racing line that he thought Hamilton had a problem. Under these circumstances passing him would be permitted. Hamilton denied the allegation of intentionally slow driving. He changed line, because he was busy reading off the Safety Car instructions on the dashboard display.”

But after examining this, the stewards have apparently discovered that at that point in time and on the circuit, the dash display would have been cleared and there was nothing more on the display, which could have diverted Hamilton.

The story continues: “The central issue however to be gleaned is whether the team instructed Hamilton to drive intentionally slowly. Hamilton answered in the negative. However after the race the following story circulated: Hamilton is said to have told a reporter that the team told him over radio to let Trulli through again,”

The story then develops: “This contradiction brought the FIA officials to listen once again to the recordings of the radio traffic. Although there is no statement from official sources, speculation increases that the stewards from Melbourne will be reconvened in Malaysia.

“There are two scenarios. If Hamilton, from ignorance of the rules, let Trulli by, then Trulli would be given back his points and could be restored to third place. Hamilton would then be fourth. But if it should turn out that he did not tell the truth to the stewards, then there could be serious consequences, possibly exclusion from the results. Also in this case Trulli would be again third.”

It sounds like Lewis will either end up losing a point, or all of his points. If the stewards find that he misled them, he may face carrying a suspended ban over his head for a while, or worse….

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Hamilton says ‘Never give up’

Anyone who has read the recent biography I wrote on Michael Schumacher will know that one of his greatest qualities was that he never gave up.

It’s a vitally important quality in a sportsman; the game isn’t over until the final whistle, the chequered flag. It’s something I try to communicate to my own son, look at these guys like Schuey, they never think it’s all over, they try until the last and he’s taken it on board.

Anyway, this is by way of saying that we had a few examples of the value of never giving up on Sunday. Brawn GP wouldn’t even have been there if Ross and his management team had taken the easy option and given up at any one of the many stages during the winter, when a rescue of the team looked hopeless.

It’s become clear to me, incidentally, how vital a part Ron Dennis, Martin Whitmarsh and Norbert Haug played in saving the team. Mercedes didn’t have to come in with an engine, they already had Force India as a customer and to go from no customers to two in a matter of months is quite a logistical challenge.

Another man who didn’t give up was Lewis Hamilton. He went from 18th on the grid to 3rd and got a valuable result in a poor car. A lot of people think he’s overrated and that too much fuss was made in the last couple of years about a driver who was just privileged to be sitting in the best car. Fair enough, that might turn out to be the case so that is why it is vital to see, now that he has a poor car, whether he has Schumacher’s quality of doing the best with what he’s got.. until the bitter end.

I think Sunday was a credit to him. He was lucky that Vettel and Kubica collided, that Trulli was done by the stewards and that Ferrari messed up. Without those things he would have been seventh. But that’s precisely why you never give up, because those things do happen.

Hamilton has posted some reflections on his race on his site and I found resonances of what I’m talking about here.

“It was one of the most unexpected results of my Formula 1 career and, yeah, I think it was one of my best drives too. I’m a fighter, I’ve never given up at any stage of my motorsport career – both on and off the track – and last weekend was the same. I pushed like crazy on every single lap of the race, always looked for the gap and worked with the team over the radio to find every possible way of making us go quicker. This was a fantastic result..maybe on paper not look as strong as our victories, but to come from 18th on the grid to finish third, in a car that we admit is not as good as it should be, is a mega achievement.”

“I learnt to never, ever, ever, give up. We showed in Brazil last year that we would always fight until the very end, and we showed it again in Melbourne.”

It’s a fight now for him and his team to catch the Brawn drivers. At least he is ahead on points of his other likely title rivals, Kubica and the Ferrari drivers.

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