Smoking Guns, Silver Arrows: Lewis Hamilton and McLaren's Lies

Andy ShawCorrespondent IApril 9, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - APRIL 05:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes is seen in his team garage before the start of the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on April 5, 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

As the pressure mounts on McLaren, the team embroiled yet again in a damaging scandal, questions have to be raised about the role of world champion Lewis Hamilton in the affair.

Hamilton was disqualified from this year's season-opening Australian Grand Prix for providing information "deliberately misleading" to the race stewards, but the "Liegate" scandal, as it is now being called, threatens to run far deeper than this.

McLaren have been summoned before the FIA World Motor Sport Council to explain their actions in Australia and Malaysia, where they repeated their earlier misinformation relating to a safety car incident in the Melbourne race.

Jarno Trulli passed Hamilton under the safety car, but it was later revealed that the Italian had made the overtake because the McLaren driver had let him past.

Hamilton and his team denied this in the stewards' hearings, only to be countered by evidence from the team's radio logs.

McLaren could face a range of penalties, from a mere fine to exclusion from this year's world championship.

It is not the first time the team has found itself in such a situation: In 2007, they were found guilty of possessing and using information stolen from the Ferrari team.

McLaren were fined $100 million, an FIA record, and excluded from the Constructors' world championship.

During the "Spygate" trials, as they became known, McLaren's then lead driver Fernando Alonso offered his cooperation with the FIA's proceedings, in exchange for immunity from the sanctions that would eventually be levelled against the team.

Many believe that this offer explains why Alonso and teammate Hamilton escaped exclusion from the drivers' championship, even though they obviously benefited from McLaren's illegal activities and should, common sense permitting, have been punished.

It is being reported that Hamilton's father Anthony has already been on the phone to FIA President Max Mosley, making a similar offer concerning McLaren's latest transgressions: The Hamiltons will provide any evidence necessary to convict McLaren of wrongdoing, as long as they themselves are absolved of any guilt.

When Alonso used this tactic in 2007, he was criticised for his disloyalty: In this case, Hamilton will almost certainly (rightly) be understood to be protecting his own reputation, which has already taken a battering in the wake of this scandal.

The difference, of course, lies in the agenda of painting Alonso as the antagonist in the Spygate affair, whereas Hamilton will be portrayed as the innocent victim; such an analysis goes beyond the scope of this article.

Hamilton has already claimed that he was "misled" by sporting director David Ryan, yesterday dismissed from McLaren after 35 years of service due to his role in the Australian GP fiasco.

This claim is unbelievable at best, yet another fabrication at worst, because Hamilton himself was in the stewards' meetings and must have been involved in the discussions that eventually led to his disqualification.

Furthermore, the fact that Hamilton himself was disqualified from the Australian race for misleading the stewards is evidence that he must have been speaking, and therefore complicit in McLaren's wrongdoing.

However, McLaren are trying a tactic that they attempted to use during the Spygate hearing: Then, they suggested that McLaren employee Mike Coughlan had received confidential information from Ferrari's Nigel Stepney, but that the information had penetrated no further into the company.

That story was eventually found to be fabricated, and the complicity of senior McLaren figures uncovered, but the "rogue employee" hypothesis is something McLaren will be hoping will work this time around.

With Ryan no longer working for McLaren, and unlikely to work again in Formula One, he will almost certainly not be present at the WMSC hearing, and therefore unable to defend himself against the accusations McLaren are bound to level at him.

With the exception of a few people who still believe that the initial Australian Grand Prix decision (to penalise Trulli for overtaking under the safety car) was a stewards' error alone, most in the know now accept that McLaren and Hamilton lied to the stewards for their own gain in Australia and Malaysia.

The fallacy in the "stewards' error" reasoning is that they expected the stewards to make the correct decision despite the fact they had been deliberately denied access to critical information by McLaren.

As fans, we are entitled to expect a certain degree of competence from race stewards, but not to the extent of clairvoyance.

In any case, the revised Australian GP results are in the past, and all attention should now focus on the WMSC hearing, scheduled for April 29.

A young, talented, British world champion, Hamilton is commercially too important for the sport to be punished too severely by the FIA; it is reasonable to expect that whatever punishment McLaren face after their hearing, Hamilton's aspirations for a second world championship will remain unaffected.

In fact, if his father does strike a deal with Max Mosley, his testimony could grant him an all-too-convenient immunity from the fate that befalls his team.

But the scandal will have further sullied the star's image in the eyes of those who already view him as being scheming, manipulative and possessing an uncompromising win-at-all-costs mentality.

In short, Hamilton may escape punishment at the end of this month, but his reputation will not.


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