Posts Tagged ‘McLaren’

Today’s verdict by the World Motor Sport Council to issue a three race ban for McLaren, but to suspend it for 12 months has received a fairly balanced reaction.

Given the original incident, where Trulli was allowed to pass Hamilton behind the safety car in Melbourne, what happened in the stewards’ room there and in Kuala Lumpur and what has transpired since with McLaren going out of its way to demonstrate that it has accepted mistakes were made and changed the governance of the team, this is a well balanced and light judgement. To go further would have been excessive.

McLaren pleaded guilty and the human cost at the team has been very high, with the departure of Ron Dennis, the architect of McLaren’s success and of Dave Ryan, one of its most dilligent and loyal employees for over 35 years. Lewis Hamilton has taken a huge blow to his prestige and integrity, which will take many years to redress. No doubt many of the team’s major sponsors have been in contact expressing concern that the team’s questionable sporting integrity might damage their brands by association.

FIA president Max Mosley saw no need to labour the point on this matter and said he was satisfied that a real and lasting change had been made at McLaren with the departure of Dennis and the appointment of a new chairman, a captain of industry, Richard Lapthorne.

Mosley said, “In the end there were decisions taken by the people who are no longer involved. That being the case, it would have been unfair to go on with the matter.

“We think it’s entirely fair. They’ve demonstrated there’s a complete culture change and under those circumstances it’s better to put the whole thing behind us.

“Unless they do something similar, that’s the end of the matter.”

Mosley suggested that the decision to lie to the stewards in Melbourne and to continue the deceit in Malaysia was down to sporting director Dave Ryan and implied that the FIA felt Dennis had been involved. Although Whitmarsh told journalists in Malaysia that no-one more senior than Ryan had been involved in the matter and Dennis strenously denied that his decision to move away from the race team had anything to do with the case, the implication in Mosley’s words is that he feels he was involved.

The press attending that conference at which Dennis made his announcement on April 16th was notably light on F1 journalists, they were either general media or media from the motoring side and those who were there were not fully aware of the facts of this case, so did not question Dennis as rigorously on the F1 side as they might have done.

Mosley added that he was impressed with the attitude of team principal Martin Whitmarsh and the way he has conducted himself since the controversy.

“Martin Whitmarsh made a very good impression,” said Mosley. “He’s straightforward and wants to work with us. We’re all trying to do the same thing, which is make the championship successful. Martin fully understands that and we reacted accordingly.”

McLaren team boss Whitmarsh said, “I would like to thank the FIA World Motor Sport Council members for affording me the opportunity to answer their questions this morning,” said Whitmarsh.

“We are aware that we made serious mistakes in Australia and Malaysia, and I was therefore very glad to be able to apologise for those mistakes once again.”

Compared to Dennis, Whitmarsh is a very uncomplicated man with a light touch and he has decided to go the non-confrontational route with the FIA, something Dennis could not contemplate. How that leaves him and the team in the future will be interesting to watch.

As will his reaction to the budget cap, which is likely to be announced tomorrow.

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McLaren race on as ban is suspended

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.

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Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes Benz has today announced a £1.1 billion loss for the first quarter of 2009. Last year in the same period it made a profit of £1 billion.

This frightening result is partly as a result of writing off a large sum from its failed investment in Chrysler. But it is also because sales are down 34% and the outlook for the rest of the year is bleak.

And the scary bit from the point of view of the company’s involvement in F1 is that it is now committed to slashing costs. “We want to limit our cashflow to the absolute minimum,” said chief financial officer Bodo Uebber.

According to the Financial Times, Daimler has set a target of slashing £3.6 billion this year alone. Workers’ hours and pay are being cut back.

There have been noises coming out of Germany in the last few days questioning Mercedes’ involvement in F1 and suggesting that if the FIA were to punish the team heavily tomorrow at the FIA world council hearing, they might follow Honda and quit the sport.

Whatever some people might say about Max Mosley wanting the manufacturers to leave the sport, it would be foolhardy at a time like this for F1 to seek to lose any team or major supporter.

The feeling is that McLaren has been seen to have done enough to satisfy the FIA that it has reacted to the events of Melbourne and of the Ferrari dossier case 18 months ago and made real, deep and long lasting change to the way it goes about its business. It has changed its governance, replaced the chairman, issued an apology from the driver, Lewis Hamilton and written a letter pleading guilty to all the charges.

A loss of 30 points or a possible suspended two race ban seem the likely outcome tomorrow.

Meanwhile Ferrari seems to be the team shaping up to make threats about leaving F1. Its president Luca di Montezemolo made a flying visit to Bahrain and met with other FOTA members and with Bernie Ecclestone and made some suggestions to the Italian media that Ferrari is not interested in F1 controlled by a £30 million budget cap, nor by standard engines.

Although it has a seat on the world council, Ferrari was not planning to attend tomorrow’s extraordinary meeting because it had been called to hear the McLaren case. But as it seems likely that Max Mosley will use the occasion to vote through the budget cap and rules for 2010, Ferrari is reviewing that decision.

Everyone goes on about the FIA and Ferrari being hand in glove, but in 20 years in the sport I have never seen them as far apart as they are now.

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McLaren pleads guilty…

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has written to the FIA ahead of next Wednesday’s world council meeting, essentially pleading guilty to all five charges of bringing the sport into disrepute over the issue of lying to the stewards in Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur, according to the Times.

“Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, has written to Max Mosley, the president of the FIA, informing him that his team accept that they are in breach of Article 151c of the Formula One sporting regulations, which covers bringing the sport into disrepute. The letter also contains a full apology from Whitmarsh for this latest serious transgression by the Woking-based team, ” the paper says.

By acting this way the team is essentially saying to the FIA, ‘Look, we accept that what happened with the stewards was wrong, we’ve taken steps to correct this with Lewis’ apology in Malaysia, key people leaving the team and a new chairman coming in who will provide a new style of management, just tell us what the sentence it, ‘

Whitmarsh appears to be taking a pragmatic approach to this crisis. There is now no need for the motor sport council to carry out an exhaustive investigation into what happened on April 29th, no need to call Hamilton, Dennis or Ryan into the courtroom to give evidence.

But the world council has a hard job on its hands in deciding what the punishment should be. Some experienced hands here are talking about a points deduction, which would also have a financial penalty to it as the lower they finish in the constructors’ championship, the less prize money they would take home. Others still talk about a two race ban.

I have noticed that the FIA’s Alan Donnelly has been spending a lot of time around the McLaren area this weekend and all sides realise the importance of getting it right on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Mercedes are playing down stories about their involvement in F1 being in doubt, after negative comments made by a union leader in Germany. It is however possible that the manufacturer, which has a 40% shareholding in the team, might seek to take a greater say in the overall management of the team after this second embarrassing incident.

The Telegraph, meanwhile, quotes an unnamed McLaren sponsor saying, “I can say that if a disproportionately large penalty were given to McLaren on April 29 then the sponsor that I am associated with might leave. But the punishment must fit the crime.”

It is the second time in 18 months that Whitmarsh has had to pen a letter of open and full apology to the FIA. He did so in 2007 at the conclusion of the case over the Ferrari dossier which ended up in McLaren’s possession. In both cases it came after the team had initially claimed that it had done nothing wrong.

This case has already been very costly for McLaren in human terms, it has lost Dave Ryan, the veteran team manager and Ron Dennis, the driving force behind the team for almost 30 years.

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Ron Dennis announced today that he is stepping down as CEO and chairman of McLaren Group and has walked away from all racing activities, a decision he says is unconnected with the team’s current disciplinary problems and which he reached alone.

He will head McLaren Automotive, making road cars, a business which later this year will be spun off from the McLaren Group. He has said he wants to double the company’s value in the next five years. The new chairman of McLaren is Richard Lapthorne, the current chairman of Cable and Wireless Plc. Dennis and Whitmarsh will both report to him.

Dennis says that he found it easier to miss the Malaysian Grand Prix than he had expected and so he has no qualms about relinquishing all control of the McLaren Group business to Lapthorne and full control of the racing team to Martin Whitmarsh, to whom he bequeathed the team principal role on March 1.

There has been widespread speculation about the timing and motive for this move. Dennis has categorically denied that it has anything to do with the Melbourne ‘liargate’ scandal and the FIA hearing on April 29th. It is being presented as Ron’s own work, not the result of a back room deal with Max Mosley, nor of a power play by Anthony Hamilton.

I posted yesterday that he was most likely making this move hoping that it would give the team the best possible chance of escaping exclusion from this championship. McLaren were fined £50 million and lost their constructors’ championship points barely 18 months ago and thus go into a second trial over issues of honesty on April 29th with some trepidation. What is the next stage in punishment, if you are proved to be a serial offender, after a £50 million fine and loss of constructors’ points?

Dennis is the kind of man who likes to be central to things and to take control of a situation and so if this move is not linked to their current problems, it seems odd that he should seek to move away from F1 at a time when strong leadership and experience are most needed.

It is quite plausible that he thinks that by stepping away from the team now, drawing the sting, if you will, that the team will escape the kind of punishment which might cause it’s very existence to come into question, such as exclusion from the 2009 season. I still don’t believe that this will happen, but if it did, it would rupture the relationship with many of the sponsors and would test the resolve of 40% shareholder Mercedes.

So will Ron’s move effect the outcome? The FIA world council on April 29th is seeking to uncover the facts of what happened after the race in Melbourne when sporting director Dave Ryan and Lewis Hamilton deliberately misled the stewards. Whitmarsh said in the press conference on Friday in Sepang that no-one more senior than Ryan was involved at any stage in this plot.

The WMSC will seek to discover if this truly is the case and whether Dennis or Whitmarsh was involved at any stage. Other team principals I have spoken to say it is hard to believe that Ryan would have been sent in an hour after the race without any briefing from Dennis or Whitmarsh, it’s just not how things are done, especially as Whitmarsh had appeared on TV after the race talking about the significance of the stewards’ enquiry.

Some commentators also see the hand of Lewis’ father, Anthony Hamilton in this departure. It is no secret that he spoke several times to Max Mosley over the course of the Malaysian GP weekend and his anger at the way the team allowed the situation to unfold around, and damage, his son was clear. I’m fairly sure he put pressure on the team to agree for Whitmarsh to issue the full apology in that Friday press conference in Sepang and he was instrumental in briefing Lewis what to say in his own press meeting shortly afterwards.

But does he have the clout to force Dennis to step down from the team in which he still retains a 15% shareholding? Did Anthony remove the man who had nurtured Lewis since he was 13 years old and gave him his opportunity in F1?

As world champion and F1’s biggest box office draw, Lewis Hamilton has significant power, but I can’t see that it is sufficient on its own to bring a move like this about.

I think this is a tactical play. Dennis knew in 2007 that if he fell on his sword and walked away the spy scandal would have a less painful ending, but he chose not to do that. Perhaps his reading of the situation now is that this is the only way to avoid obliteration for the team. If so it rather suggests that he believes his role will be uncovered on April 29th and he’s positioning himself and the team for that.

But I don’t know whether it is like that this time. I don’t know whether walking away and saying ‘Max and Bernie will not be displeased to see me go’ covers it. If Whitmarsh was involved in briefing Ryan and Hamilton he will still have to face the music and there is also the question of whether Dennis walking away really means an end to the saga as far as McLaren are concerned.

There is more to come from this.

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According to Autosport website there is something cooking at McLaren, with the suggestion that former team principal Ron Dennis is to make some kind of an announcement about his future plans today (Thursday).

There are  suggestions he could step back completely from his involvement with the Formula 1 team. He already relinquished the team principal role to Martin Whitmarsh on March 1st, but has stayed involved with at least a finger or two on the tiller and was present at the Australian Grand Prix, where the team was found to have ‘deliberately misled’ the stewards after the race.

If it is the case that Dennis is removing himself from the racing team altogether, it is likely to be connected in some way with McLaren’s strategy for the April 29th FIA world council hearing at which the team is set to face charges of ” fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motorsport generally.”

It is often said that all political careers ultimately end in disappointment and the same is often true of other competitive animals, like sports figures and particularly racers. Dennis has had a stunningly successful career thanks to his relentless attention to detail and determination, but in the last few years he has repeatedly left himself and his organisation exposed, as they are now over the lying scandal in Melbourne. Partnerships like those with Mercedes and key sponsors are at stake.

A career like Dennis’ should have ended with a final world championship followed by a knighthood, but the spy scandal of 2007 can’t have helped that cause and any association with what went on in Melbourne would add to the damage. To quit now appears to be a sign that this mighty career is ending in disappointment.

The facts concerning what went on in Melbourne and Dennis’ part in it will be established on 29th April, but if Dennis is walking away it is either because he has been pushed or because he is taking control of the situation and positioning himself for what is to come, thereby protecting the team and its future.

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Fresh insight into McLaren case

I’m grateful to one of my readers, doctorvee, for posting a very interesting comment here on the JA on F1 site. He highlights an interview which McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh gave to the BBC at the end of the Australian Grand Prix.

“…there’s some debate about whether it’s a 3rd place at the moment given that Trulli fell off and re-passed under the Safety Car…

[Ted Kravitz asks him to expand on this.]

…At the end, under the Safety Car, Trulli fell off onto the grass and Lewis had no choice but to go past him. He was not on the racing circuit. Trulli then re-took the place under the Safety Car, which ordinarily you wouldn’t do.

I know that the FIA are looking at it at the moment and doubtless we’ll have a ruling in due course.”

doctorvee adds: “Martin Whitmarsh was not asked if there were any radio conversations. But he chose to omit this information regardless. The BBC’s viewers were left with the impression that Jarno Trulli had passed Lewis Hamilton of his own accord, not having been invited to do so. This version of events is very similar to the one we are led to understand was relayed to the stewards.

This would seem to suggest that very soon after the end of the race, a version of events — the official McLaren party line, as it were — was constructed. This is the version of events that Martin Whitmarsh gave to Ted Kravitz and the BBC’s viewers. ”

His conclusion from all this is that the line presented by Davy Ryan in the stewards room was the team’s party line, not the act of a ‘rogue employee’, as it is now being presented. The significance of this is that the FIA WMSC will seek to analyse the degree to which others in the team were involved.

Whitmarsh shows that he is eager to secure the third place. But the word ‘ordinarily’ is the one that catches my eye here, it shows that a degree of reflection is taking place, but also that there may be extenuating circumstances. It almost invites a sub clause in brackets, such as …(unless invited to do so…)

What do you think?

Meanwhile the FIA has released some more information on the second stewards’ hearing in Sepang, which appears to show Hamilton and Ryan sticking to their line that Trulli passed without invitation, despite being played recordings of both the original radio traffic and Hamilton’s post race interview, where it is quite clear he had understood that the team was telling him to let Trulli through.

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I have no wish to start scaremongering, but looking at Bernie Ecclestone’s comments in the Express that he wouldn’t rule out a ban of a few races for McLaren, makes me look through the F1 calendar at the races ahead with some nervousness.

The recent precedent was BAR, which received a ban over its fuel tank irregularities in May 2005. In that instance BAR was found guilty of ‘fraudulent conduct’ and the word ‘fraud’ was used again this week by Ecclestone in the McLaren case,

“It is about stealing a point and a place but those are worth money so basically it is fraud, although I am sure it started off more innocently without thought of the consequences,” he said.

Ecclestone also highlights the fact that McLaren will be back in front of the beak on similar charges to the ones they faced less than two years ago and it is never a good thing to show you haven’t mended your ways.

I’d be surprised if McLaren – and therefore Lewis Hamilton – missed races, but if he did, the timing might get a little uncomfortable for Silverstone. The hearing is April 29, very shortly before the Spanish GP. If handed a three race ban on April 29, it could be for Monaco, Turkey and British GP, the last at Silverstone, in June.

BAR were banned with immediate effect and forced to miss the next two races in the calendar after the decision, which were Spain and Monaco. They were also excluded from San Marino, the race where the illegal fuel collector system was discovered. Hamilton has already been excluded from Australia, where his offence occurred.

However BAR faced the international court of appeal, whereas McLaren face the World Motor Sport Council, who whacked them in 2007 over the spy story and who can issue more or less any punishment they see fit.

Exclusion from the constructors’ championship, or loss of constructors’ points again, as in 2007, remains the more likely option I believe, as that punishes the team and not the driver and carries a financial penalty as well, with loss of earnings from their share of the commercial revenues of the sport.

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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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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.

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