APRIL 7, 2009
McLaren called in by the FIA
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has "been invited to appear before an Extraordinary Meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris on Wednesday, April 29, to answer charges that it is in breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code.
The FIA says that the team told the FIA Stewards in Melbourne that no instructions were given to Lewis Hamilton to allow Jarno Trulli to pass when both cars were behind the Safety Car. This statement was untrue. The federation says that McLaren "procured its driver" to support and confirm this untrue statement and that as a result of this action Trulli was unfairly penalised and McLaren made no attempt to rectify the situation.
The FIA went on to say that at a second hearing in Malaysia the team continued to maintain that its statement was true, despite being allowed to listen to a recording of the team instructing Hamilton to let Trulli past and despite being given more than one opportunity to correct its false statement. The federation claims that the team again "procured" Hamilton to not tell the truth.
There is no doubt at all that a McLaren team member did do something untoward in Melbourne, but it is vitally important for the sport to handle this with great care. There is much more than McLaren's reputation at stake. The team has already taken action of its own and parted company with Dave Ryan, the man at the centre of the storm. He has been with the team for 35 years but clearly has done something that the team believes stepped over the line.
A problem exists because of the personalities involved and the history between the FIA and McLaren. This means that, rightly or wrongly, the FIA is in danger of being accused once again of victimising the team.
Mosley and his staff argue that this is not the case but, in our experience, the view in F1 circles in that the FIA is anti-McLaren, although people will not always speak out and say such things directly to the federation, which perhaps explains the different interpretations.
The FIA argues that there is no favouritism and that this is proven by the fact that McLaren supplies all the teams with ECUs and was not punished as much as it might have been in 2007.
On the other hand, one has to ask why McLaren is being dragged up on an Article 151c charge when others in the sport have committed serious transgressions which have resulted in lesser punishments. The Toyota team, for example, was found to have run illegal rear wings in qualifying in Melbourne, but there was no follow up at all. The cars were sent to the back of the grid and no-one made very much of it. The cynics in the F1 paddock say that things would have been different if the dodgy rear wings had been McLaren's.
It is vitally important therefore that the punishment fits the crime. If this is not the case the wounds that were created in 2007 will open again. This will have more than one effect: it will do very serious damage to McLaren's reputation; but at the same time it will also underline the belief - widely-held in F1 circles - that this is little more than the continuation of a personal vendetta.
McLaren has responded to the FIA statements by saying that the team will co-operate fully with all WMSC processes, and welcomes "the opportunity to work with the FIA in the best interests of Formula 1". The team added that Dave Ryan has now formally left the team. He is no longer an employee of any of the McLaren companies. If Ryan has a story to tell, then presumably he will now be happy to tell it.
One other question which really should be addressed is how a sport that is supposed to be so sophisticated and technologically advanced still has stewards' hearings where there are no transcripts of the radio calls. Why was this whole matter not addressed at the beginning of the process?
One can argue that the best way forward would be to open the stewards' meetings to other teams and the media so that the process can be seem to done.