Posts Tagged ‘McLaren’

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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Here’s a snapshot of the reaction from some of my international colleagues in the media.

First to Germany, where, true to form, leading tabloid Bild have making mischief with Photoshop again. Last week Hamilton was morphed onto a snail’s body, today he’s got Pinocchio’s nose and is described as the ‘lying world champion’ Ouch!

Next on to Spain, where El Pais simply has the headline, “Lying for a podium.” They feel that this has been a damaging moment for the world champion, but do not feel that the matter requires any further punishment.

That said, many in Spain are rubbing their hands with glee. In AS, the strongest of the Spanish daily sports papers, the writer says that McLaren has lost all credibility. In a stinging attack it says that McLaren used to stand for all the best of British sporting values, but since the arrival of Hamilton that has been eroded. It questions how a team with such great resources and allied to such a prestigious brand as Mercedes, could make such stupid mistakes.

In Italy they are playing with a fairly straight bat. La Gazetta dello Sport, the leading sports daily just reports the facts, as does Corriere dello Sport. “Hamilton risks further sanctions, is the line they take,

Meanwhile in the UK there is some really tough stuff, particularly in the Daily Mail, where they really go for it,

Get this; “When the story of Lewis Hamilton’s career is written, it will record how he bankrupted himself in the counting house of reputation for the sake of one single point…. McLaren, the most arrogant team in the paddock, self-deluded in their own righteousness, are contaminated by a culture of cheating.”

I’m supposed to be going to a dinner tonight, hosted by Mercedes boss Norbert Haug and McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh for seven or eight UK journalists, including the Mail, Times etc. Could be quite a tense evening….

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There is some very strong criticism of Lewis Hamilton and McLaren in the media today, a wave of hysteria in the wake of Lewis Hamilton’s punishment for ‘deliberately misleading’ the stewards.

It has been written in some quarters that Hamilton could be banned for some races by the World Motor Sport Council, which is due to meet in June. An emergency meeting could be called sooner. An FIA spokesman has hinted that there could well be further repercussions for McLaren and Hamilton, “Given the seriousness of this matter, we cannot rule out further action at this stage.”

This situation reminds me a bit of Jerez in 1997. Michael Schumacher smashed into Jacques Villenueve in an attempt to win the world title. He failed and there was a general outcry for him to be banned from the first few races of 1998.

Instead he was thrown out of the 1997 results, the idea being that it set a precedent for the future to ensure that no-one would try that kind of thing again, knowing that the penalty was disqualification from that year’s championship.

At the time it was made quite clear by Bernie Ecclestone that there was no way F1 was going to start the 1998 season without its main box office draw. It would be commercial suicide and the same applies today. Schumacher was not prevented from racing and nor will Hamilton be a no-show at races later this year. Both have suffered a stain on their image as a result of the events. In Schumacher’s case, he never managed to shake it off.

But Hamilton might be given a suspended ban, in other words if he steps out of line again, the ban will kick in. Another whacking great fine for the team is not to be ruled out either. Here in Malaysia the perception of the foreign (ie no-British) media is also that McLaren have been stupid and that this is a serious matter. The other teams feel broadly the same way. In other words, it’s more or less unanimous.

Hamilton was the victim of muddled thinking and poor communication over the radio from his team. He knew he was in the right, passing Trulli when the Toyota was off the track and the team confused the issue. However the problem came in the stewards room and afterwards, when he and McLaren were happy to let Trulli take the rap and lose the 6 points for passing Hamilton behind the safety car.

It’s really surprising that they didn’t think this one through. Once the story about Hamilton telling reporters he had been told to let Trulli through broke late on Sunday night and others including myself here on this blog, referred to it on Monday, the team should then have voluntarily gone to the FIA and said that there had been a mistake. They would have stayed 4th, where Hamilton finished.

I don’t buy all this “McLaren were being paranoid about FIA” stuff, if that was truly the motivation for telling him to let Trulli past, then surely they would have wanted to be be whiter than white on Monday and explained that there had been a cock up on the radio, not Trulli’s fault, give Trulli his points back.

In the current climate, where the teams are trying to make a go of the association known as FOTA and to face up to the FIA and Ecclestone for control of the future of the sport, this would have been a fantastic opportunity to do something truly sporting, a sign of solidarity and brotherhood with Toyota, who were blameless in this. It’s the fact that they were happy for Toyota to suffer that makes it inexplicable to me.

Since FOTA held that press conference in Geneva, we have had the points system being changed twice, a €30 million budget cap being voted in, both McLaren and Toyota being shown up in the first race, Toyota for having an illegal rear wing, McLaren for misleading the stewards. We have three teams protesting three other teams which is going to drag out to an appeal….. and the season has only just started!

The spirit of brotherhood and togetherness is being severely tested. “FOTA.. Shmota”, as Bernie put it.

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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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New McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has just come out into the Sepang paddock to speak to the media after the news that Lewis Hamilton and the team have been thrown out of the results of the Australian Grand Prix for ‘deliberately misleading’ the stewards over the incident with Jarno Trulli, involving overtaking behind the safety car.


“Lewis was instructed to give the place back to Trulli, “said Whitmarsh. “The team thought, having not seen the incident, that it was the safest thing to do. That instruction was given to Lewis and he didn’t agree. Before that discussion was finished, Trulli had been passed. If we look at the speed traces and compare it to other periods, he didn’t do anything abnormal and it’s quite clear that Lewis shouldn’t have passed him. As soon as that happened we spoke to race control to ask if we could retake the place. race control was busy and couldn’t answer us.”

He added that the team then thought when they met the stewards that they were aware of the radio conversations. This turned out not to be the case.

He went on: “The stewards now believe that we weren’t explicit enough about that radio conversation and thought that was prejudicial to the decision that they reached. We regret that and it was a mistake by the team.

“There is not implication that Lewis lied to the stewards. I don’t know what they meant by (deliberately misleading), you’d have to ask them. They clearly feel that the team didn’t give enough information about the radio conversation.

“They believe that the omission of the information about the radio conversation between the team and Lewis was withheld and that is what they believe was misleading.”

The suggestion being voiced here is that the FIA considers this matter so serously that it is considering taking this matter to the World Motor Sport Council where further sanctions might be applied.

Coming less than two years after McLaren was fined a record $100 million for the Ferrari spying scandal, the team is trying very hard to deflect the impression that it has acted dishonestly again.

Hamilton and McLaren being thrown out for misleading the stewards means that Trulli gets his third place back. Ironically he and his Toyota team had been thrown out of qualifying for having rear wings which were overly flexible and therefore illegal. Which of the two crimes is the worse?

These two incidents certainly make two of the big manufacturer-backed teams in F1, appear less than honest..and this is only the first race of the season.

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Yesterday I posted on Heikki Kovalainen’s quick lap at Jerez, as McLaren pile on new aerodynamic parts in an attempt to claw back lost ground on the opposition.

Kova did a 1m 18.202 lap on a single quali lap simulation. He’d tried a two lap run shortly before which was in the high 1m 18s.

This compares with Jenson Button on Tuesday in the Brawn, who did a 1m 17.844 lap, again on a single flying lap simulation. So on that basis the McLaren was 4/10ths slower than the Brawn in outright pace. If that is a true reading, it means that they have found about 6/10ths this week with the new parts.

However, when you look at the long run times, the picture is not so encouraging for them. In comparable runs, albeit on different days, Button does a 10 lap run on Tuesday with laps mainly in the high 1m 18s and a couple of high 1m 19s.

Meanwhile yesterday Kova did only one long run, a 12 lapper, which was mainly in the low 1m 20s. So on that basis, McLaren is still some way behind on the long runs.

Today they are with Williams again and I think tomorrow they have the place to themselves. Some secrets will be coming out of the box, no doubt stuff they don’t want others to see before Melbourne. Look out for their press release this evening with details of the times, but will they tell the full story?

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McLaren find some speed

Heikki Kovalainen turned the wick up today on the McLaren as the Jerez test continued for a fourth day with just McLaren and Williams present.

It was very hot again in Jerez, the track temperature was 37 degrees and the McLaren pulled a lap of 1m18.202, which is four tenths slower than Jenson Button’s fastest yesterday. By recent standards this is quite an improvement for McLaren. Even yesterday their fastest run with Lewis Hamilton at the wheel was


The team has been bringing new aero parts to the car in an effort to solve the problems which have dogged their testing so far; lack of grip and rear end aero instability, largely caused by the diffuser.

It looks like McLaren may be moving closer to the front. It’s been a superhuman effort by the team in Woking and there will no doubt be plenty more to come throughout the season.

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Today is the final day of the group pre-season test programme for Renault and Brawn. McLaren and Williams continue until Thursday. It’s the last chance the teams in Jerez will have to try out new parts and fine tune their cars on the track before Melbourne. We have Brawn, McLaren, Williams and Renault all operating with a single car.

So far this month the two main stories have been the stunning performance of the Brawn Mercedes cars, which came so close to never seeing the light of day after Honda pulled out of F1 and the trouble McLaren has been going through with a slow car.

Those two teams are to the fore in Jerez this week, with the Brawn car clearly a good second faster than the rest, while McLaren seems to have improved its car thanks to new aerodynamic parts, including a new diffuser.

Yesterday’s lap time sheet was misleading. It showed Alonso fastest, but that did not tell the story.

Rubens Barrichello drove the car yesterday morning and his lap times looked effortlessly fast and consistent. It’s not just the speed of the Brawn which impresses. It is the consistency, which makes it a formidable weapon in races as well as qualifying.

Rubens was easily circulating in the 1m 19s all morning. His fastest time, a 1m 18.398s lap, came on lap 4 of a 7 lap run, in which three of the laps were 1m 18s and three were low 1m19s. The car would go signficantly faster on a low fuel qualifying simulation. He handed over the car to Jenson Button, but the Brit managed only a couple of short runs before the car stopped with a gearbox problem, missing the last two hours of running. The car has done well to run fairly trouble free so far, but this incident shows that reliability is the main concern for Melbourne.


Renault’s Fernando Alonso ended the day a fraction faster than Barrichello, catching all the headlines, but his time came out of the blue, on a single lap qualifying simulation, so he would have been carrying quite a bit less fuel than the Brawn car. Looking at his other runs, they were manly quite short, but a 14 lap run saw laps mostly in the high 1m19s and low 1m20s, the thick end of a second per lap slower than the Brawn.

McLaren had Lewis Hamilton on track and the world champion did mainly short runs, mostly in the 1m 20s and 21s. He did a 21 lap long run with laps mainly in the low 1m20s, so a good second off the Brawn car.

Williams had Nico Rosberg doing long runs once again. The team seems to have focussed on long runs with heavy fuel at the recent tests, clearly working on reliability. The car showed that it’s pretty fast though, in Barcelona, when Rosberg took the fuel out and went for it. Yesterday the car was lapping in the low 1m 21s improving to 1m 20s on the third long stint.

It looks as though there isn’t much to choose between the McLaren, Williams and Renault in performance terms, but the Brawn is in another league altogether.

Extrapolating that out with the results from last week’s test, it seems that the pecking order at the moment is Brawn, then a gap to Ferrari, Toyota and BMW, then a small gap to Renault, McLaren, Williams, Red Bull with Force India and Toro Rosso somewhere just behind that group.

But as we saw last week with Renault and have seen this week with McLaren, the cars are so new, it’s possible for a team to make a big step with one development part. So the pecking order may not stay that way for long.

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I come away from the Barcelona test feeling that this is going to be a great season of racing, but in a very different way from the McLaren vs Ferrari battles of the last two years.

The testing performances we have seen so far suggest that McLaren has, if not a mountain, then certainly a big hill to climb, while Ferrari, BMW and Toyota look very strong, one might almost say equally strong.

If the performance we’ve seen here is carried over to the early part of the season, as it has been in recent years, then you could see Kubica, Heidfeld, Raikkonen, Massa, Trulli and Glock fighting for wins and podiums early on. I don’t think it will be too long before Alonso joins in either, as the Renault team made a big step forward this week thanks to a new front wing and underfloor parts. They started behind and are still a bit behind, but closing in fast.

Kimi Raikkonen said that the Ferrari team has not yet pushed for the ultimate lap times, implying that there is more to come, but from what I saw in Barcelona there is little to choose between the top three teams on pace. Certainly when the BMW does similar runs to the Ferrari, it sets similar lap times. When it comes to racing, Toyota may have a slight disadvantage from not running KERS at some tracks early on, but they are adamant that the decision, taken early, not to start the season with KERS was the right one. Their car is very driveable, predicatable and consistent. Jarno Trulli thinks he can do great work with it. The car is still not as comfortable as some of its rivals over the kerbs, but it’s a vast improvement on last year’s model.

The new rules have cut the maximum downforce level available on the cars to below the level they used to have on low downforce tracks. This has meant many things, but one of them is that braking stability is now harder to find, as downforce is an important part of getting the car slowed down. I stood at the heavy braking zone at Turn 10 for a few hours this morning and studied this closely. Everyone is more jittery than they were there last year, but if I had to pick a winner under braking I would say that it’s the Ferrari. The Brawn car is giving a little bit away there compared to the Toyotas and BMWs, and so is the Renault.

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