McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh says his team is taking a realistic approach about what may happen to its sponsors and engine partner in the event of being given a draconian penalty by the FIA next week.
The Woking-based outfit is to answer disrepute charges at a hearing of the FIA's World Motor Sport Council relating to former sporting director Dave Ryan and driver Lewis Hamilton deliberately misleading stewards at the Australian and Malaysian Grand Prix.
There has been speculation that if the team is given a severe punishment, which could include championship exclusion or race bans, then it could lose its sponsors and split with engine partner Mercedes-Benz.
Such a scenario has been hinted at by Dieter Zetsche, the chairman of Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG, in an interview that will appear in German news magazine Focus on Monday.
"If circumstances should change, perhaps because of an unreasonable punishment by the FIA, it is possible that we could consider our engagement,"' said Zetsche.
Whitmarsh concedes that his team cannot take anything for granted, especially in the current worldwide economic situation.
"There have been some comments that I might be asked about from Dr Zetsche in Daimler and my reaction to this is you would expect in these times any of our sponsors to be prudent about what they are doing," said Whitmarsh.
"No-one could commit to being with us for many, many years at the moment beyond their existing contract, and we're realistic in that regard. But clearly we've got to do a better job in all sorts of departments. One of those departments, which is very clear to me, is that we do a better job on the track."
Whitmarsh has written to the FIA to apologise for his team's behaviour in the lying scandal, and is refusing to predict what may happen on Wednesday.
"We are co-operating with the FIA and it's for the WMSC to decide what action or necessary steps should be taken," he said. "It appears to be known that I have written to the FIA, but I can't disclose the contents of that letter. In due course the WMSC will decide what they want to say on that."
When asked if he felt his job as team principal will become easier once Wednesday's events are out of the way, Whitmarsh said: "Let's get Wednesday out of the way first, then we'll worry about that. Being a team principal is always challenging. There are high expectations - and if people don't want that they shouldn't be doing it."