Four days after being moved into a podium position, Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team were left with no points from the first race of the season in Australia.
The FIA deemed both the team and the driver had not been completely honest during a meeting to discuss Hamilton's incident with Jarno Trulli during the race.
McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh gave his take on the decision on Thursday evening and AUTOSPORT was there.
Q. What is your reaction to what has happened?
Martin Whitmarsh: Well it goes without saying that obviously we are disappointed with what has happened. But under the circumstances we are not going to appeal.
As we see it, what happened here is that during the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix, under difficult conditions, there was a safety car incident whereby Jarno Trulli fell off the circuit and Lewis [Hamilton] could legitimately pass Trulli. I don't think that is in question.
Of course, the team could not see it. Lewis informed the team that he had passed Trulli - and there was understandably concern within the team that he had passed Trulli under a safety car. At that time, we did not know that Trulli was right off the circuit and Lewis was asked to give back the place to Trulli. That was a team view, having not seen it, and we thought it was the safest thing to do.
Once that instruction was given to Lewis, he did not agree. He said: 'Look, the guy was off the circuit, I don't need to do this.' A discussion was occurring and before that discussion was finished, Trulli had re-passed. If we look at the speed traces at that time, and compare it to other periods behind the safety car, then Lewis did not do anything abnormal. And I think it is also quite clear that Trulli should not have re-passed.
As soon as that happened, we then spoke to Race Control, to explain that and ask if we could retake that place. At the time, understandably Race Control was busy and they were not able to give us an answer. We asked several times, but clearly they were very busy. So we had to then deal with it. We felt it would be resolved by the stewards after the race.
At the stewards' meeting, we mistakenly believed that the stewards were aware, Charlie [Whiting] was there, and the FIA was there, of that radio conversation. The stewards now believe that we were not explicit enough about that radio conversation, and felt therefore that that was prejudicial to the decision that they reached. Obviously we regret that, and that was a mistake by the team, but we have got to accept the decision that has now been made.
Q. But the indication in the ruling is that Lewis [Hamilton] lied to the stewards. What do you say to that?
MW: I don't think there is any indication of that. There is no suggestion that Lewis lied to the stewards.
Q. The FIA statement said ‘deliberate' though. What did they mean by that?
MW: I don't know what they meant by it, you will have to ask them. But from what I understand there was a belief that the team was not explicit enough in terms of the content of the radio conversations. We don't believe that those radio conversations had a material effect on the fact that he was passed by Trulli under the safety car, but they clearly feel that despite that information, which was listened to by Race Control who was present, that the team did not give enough information about that radio conversation. I don't think there is any implication that Lewis lied, or such a statement is contained in what they said or what they believe.
Q. But the ruling says that Lewis provided evidence that was ‘deliberately misleading.'
MW: What they believe is that... the information about that radio conversation with the team was withheld, and that is what they believe was misleading.
Q. But it sounds like what Trulli said about the incident was very different from how Lewis presented it to the stewards?
MW: No, I don't think it is. There is no dispute about how Lewis overtook Trulli. Trulli was off the circuit and that was quite legitimate. With regard to then how Trulli then took [Lewis], I believe it was still considered by the stewards to not have been legitimate. What the stewards were concerned about was that there had been, and was, a conversation going on between the team and Lewis, and the feeling is that the team was not explicit enough about it.
Q. But the FIA deems it is a grave breach of sporting conduct, and has already indicated that this could go to the World Motor Sport Council, where further sanctions could be taken against McLaren…
MW: Well, you've got more information about that than me. I think the problem that the stewards have, is that they believe the team were not explicit enough in releasing that information. We do not think that it affected the outcome and the decisions, but that was their opinion.
Q. Do you believe the stewards have been right in what they have done? Have they been fair?
MW: I believe it was a harsh decision. I think the facts of the case are that Lewis made a legitimate pass and subsequently was re-passed. At the time the team asked several times to Race Control if it could re-pass and at the time, understandably, Race Control was too busy to be able to answer that question. So, we felt that the decision of the stewards in the immediate aftermath of the race was fair. But the stewards now believe that the radio conversation, which occurred and was listened to by the FIA, because in their opinion that was not explicitly made in the submission that the team made, that we withheld that. And therefore they came to this decision today.
Q. Would you agree it is a bleak day for McLaren, in the wake of Spygate a few years ago and the biggest ever fine?
MW: I think it is a regrettable day, and the fact is, the belief is, that we were not explicit. But I don't believe that that information would have made any difference to the decisions and the deliberations at the time. It certainly was not a deliberate attempt. It is quite clear that the radio conversations are listened to by the FIA, they are open, and the FIA was present during that hearing. So in the opinion of the team representative, there was a belief that it was known and there had been a conversation with the FIA.
Q. But they have reopened a case that was already closed, so something showed that the new evidence was something you had not given them?
MW: I think there has been a range of media speculation and therefore it was right to just look and see if there was any information that they didn't have. I don't believe there was any information that they didn't have – but they believed the team was not explicit enough in providing that information.
Q. Lewis after the race only spoke about getting past Trulli, but never mentioned stopping and giving the place back…
MW: He didn't stop, and the telemetry data which was shown to the stewards today showed that the lap on which he was overtaken was no different from the succeeding lap that was under the safety car. It was difficult conditions but there was no evidence from the data that Lewis did anything that induced Trulli to go past.
Q. How has Lewis taken this, as this is the start of his title defence?
MW: Well, as you would imagine, Lewis is extremely disappointed with it.
Q. Do you accept the decision?
MW: I think it is a harsh decision but I think experience has told us that you have to accept these decisions and these things that come along, and you have to build on your focus for this weekend and the races beyond that. There is no point dwelling on it.
Q. But isn't the whole point about the moment that Trulli passed Hamilton, rather than the radio conversations?
MW: I don't believe that there is anything in the statement, or there has been anything from the stewards, that indicated that they were lied to.
Q. But they said you were ‘deliberately misleading'..
MW: What I believe is that the stewards are saying, is that the information was not provided to them. And that information was about the radio conversation between the team and Lewis, and they feel the team could have been more explicit about that than it was.
Q. But do you really feel that, given the strong wording of the statement?
MW: I do believe that, because I believe that to be the case. There was no lie in that hearing. We, the team, made a mistake. We did not provide a full account of a radio conversation which we believe was being listened to in any case, and we don't believe was material to the decisions being made by the stewards.
Q. But did you not give them that conversation deliberately?
MW: I wasn't party to the actual meeting, but as you can imagine in those situations, you focus on the points that you believe are relevant. And the team, in the opinion of the stewards, was mistaken in not providing all the information. I think the people who were there, representing the team, supposed the conversations were known about because our radio conversations are open to the FIA in any case.
Q. In interviews after the race, Lewis said he was told by the team to let Trulli pass. The indications from this hearing are that he said something completely different?
MW: I think what Lewis told the media afterwards was that he had been asked by the team to let the driver through.
Q. And then told the stewards something completely different?
MW: I don't believe he did. All of the content of the conversation between the team and Lewis was not fully and explicitly shared with the stewards.
Q. So he was economical with the truth then?
MW: He answered the questions that were put to him in an honest manner, but the team should have provided, according to the stewards, a fuller account of what happened.
Q. Did you let Lewis down in that way then?
MW: We are a team and we are disappointed about this. I am sure when you look back on it we could have dealt with it in a different way. I think the radio conversation was not something that the team sought to conceal – it is with the FIA in any case and the people who were there felt the FIA was aware of that conversation. With hindsight it would have been better to have very explicitly gone through that conversation. The people who were there did not do that.
Q. So you believe you are Lewis have been honest?
MW: I believe the team and Lewis are completely honest in how we go about F1.
Four days after being moved into a podium position, Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team were left with no points from the first race of the season in Australia. The FIA deemed both the team and the driver had not been completely honest during a meeting to discuss Hamilton's incident with Jarno Trulli during the race. McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh gave his take on the decision on Thursday evening and AUTOSPORT was there.