Lewis Hamilton has been disqualified from the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. The stewards reconvened in Sepang today to discuss additional evidence obtained from Toyota and McLaren (assumed to be radio transmissions). The stewards felt they were mislead in their inquiries immediately following the race and have subsequently penalized McLaren for “deliberately misleading them” about the incident. The FIA also did not rule out further action against McLaren as the incident could be sent before the FIA World Motor Sport Council.
“The Stewards having considered the new elements presented to them from the 2009 Australian Formula One Grand Prix, consider that driver No 1 Lewis Hamilton and the competitor Vodafone McLaren Mercedes acted in a manner prejudicial to the conduct of the event by providing evidence deliberately misleading to the Stewards at the hearing on Sunday 29th March 2009, a breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code.
“Under Article 158 of the International Sporting Code the driver No 1 Lewis Hamilton and the competitor Vodafone McLaren Mercedes are excluded from the race classification for the 2009 Australian Grand Prix and the classification is amended accordingly.”
Ultimately Lewis did nothing wrong so there is no point in castigating him for letting Trulli by. In fact, in the team communication audio (see link above) you can hear Lewis question the fact that he was instructed to pull over for Trulli: “I don’t have to let him past I should be able to take that position back, if he made a mistake.” However, Lewis may have done something wrong during the debrief after the race when the Stewards asked him about the incident. The implication is that he lied about the team telling him to pull over and let the Toyota pass. Jarno Trulli’s testimony that the McLaren practically stopped on track was a key element but apparently the team and Lewis denied that this was the case. Unfortunately Lewis did tell Speed TV that it in fact was the case. A valuable learning lesson for Lewis (one Schumacher learned years ago and earned him a derogatory title for not talking to the British press) that when asked these questions; it’s best to not say anything about the incidents.
The team told him to pull over and the team is in error although you can understand their concern that Lewis had passed someone under Yellow. Now before we castigate McLaren, I honestly do feel for them as they are trying desperately to make sure they are following the book on procedure. After Spa 2008, they are certainly gun shy about procedure and they made a call that turned out to be wrong. Hardly an offense worthy of criticism given their history with the FIA.
While I think Jarno should keep the position as McLaren made the wrong call to let him pass Lewis, I am not sure the disqualification should be the penalty for McLaren. The stewards statement said that McLaren “deliberately mislead” them and to be honest, I guess if they felt Lewis outright lied about being told to pull over then they may have a case. Did McLaren deliberately mislead them? Did Lewis lie when asked about the incident or was he merely confused?
The nuances are bountiful but looking at this incident in it’s available light, it seems McLaren were cautious and it cost them a podium finish. They told Lewis to pull over for the Toyota and Lewis did. Lewis, to his credit, was really questioning the call but did it anyway in total trust in his team. That is commendable of him. The unfortunate side of the event is that they seemed to have failed to mention the directions of the team to Lewis during the original inquiry after the race and apparently Lewis was not forthright with the stewards on this issue. Something that would help us understand this better is to know what was asked and what Lewis said during the original inquiry. Transparency anyone?
The new classification:
1. Button Brawn GP (B) 1h34:15.784
2. Barrichello Brawn GP (B) + 0.807
3. Trulli Toyota (B) + 1.604
4. Glock Toyota (B) + 4.435
5. Alonso Renault (B) + 4.879
6. Rosberg Williams-Toyota (B) + 5.722
7. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari (B) + 6.004
8. Bourdais Toro Rosso-Ferrari (B) + 6.298
9. Sutil Force India-Mercedes (B) + 6.335
10. Heidfeld BMW Sauber (B) + 7.085
11. Fisichella Force India-Mercedes (B) + 7.374
12. Webber Red Bull-Renault (B) + 1 lap
13. Vettel Red Bull-Renault (B) + 2 laps
14. Kubica BMW Sauber (B) + 3 laps
15. Raikkonen Ferrari (B) + 3 laps
The radio transcript:
Team: OK Lewis, you should need to make sure your delta is positive over the safety car line. After the safety car line the delta doesn’t matter but no overtaking. No overtaking.
Lewis Hamilton: The Toyota went off in a line at the second corner, …, is this OK?
Team: Understood, Lewis. We’ll confirm and get back to you.
LH: He was off the track. He went wide.
Team: Lewis, you need to allow the Toyota through. Allow the Toyota through now.
LH: He’s slowed right down in front of me.
Team: 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.
Team: OK, Lewis. That’s fine. That’s fine. Hold position. Hold position.
LH: Tell Charlie I already overtook him. I just let him past.
Team: I understand Lewis. We are checking. Now can we go to yellow G 5, yellow Golf 5.
LH: I don’t have to let him past I should be able to take that position back, if he made a mistake.
Team: Yes, we understand Lewis. Let’s just do it by the book. We are asking Charlie now. You are in P4. If you hold this position. Just keep it together.
Team: OK Lewis, your KERS is full, your KERS is full. Just be aware. You can go back to black F2, black Foxtrot 2.
LH: Any news from Charlie whether I can take it back or not.
Team: Still waiting on a response Lewis, still waiting.
Team: Lewis, work on your brakes please. Front brakes are cold.
Team: If we are able to use one KERS that would be good. If you deploy KERS please do so now.
Team: OK, Lewis, this is the last lap of the race. At the end of the lap the safety car will come in, you just proceed over the line without overtaking, without overtaking. We are looking into the Trulli thing, but just hold position.
The FIA Statement:
PENALTY IMPOSED ON DRIVER NO 1 LEWIS HAMILTON AND COMPETITOR VODAFONE MCLAREN MERCEDES
SUMMARY OF KEY CONSIDERATIONS
At the first hearing following the Australian Grand Prix the Stewards did not have the benefit of the radio exchanges between driver No 1 Lewis Hamilton and his Team Vodafone McLaren Mercedes nor did they have access to the comments to the Media given by Lewis Hamilton immediately after the end of the race.
From the video recordings available to the Stewards during the hearing it appeared that Jarno Trulliâ€™s car left the track and car No 1 moved into third place. It then appeared that Trulli overtook Hamilton to regain third place, which at the time was prohibited as it was during the Safety Car period.
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. 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.
The new elements presented to the Stewards several days after the 2009 Australian Grand Prix which led to the reconvened Stewards Meeting clearly show that:
a. Immediately after the race and before Lewis Hamilton attended the Stewards Meeting he gave an interview to the Media where he clearly stated that the Team had told him to let Trulli pass.
b. Furthermore, the radio exchanges between the driver and the Team contain two explicit orders from the Team to let the Toyota pass.
The Stewards, having learned about the radio exchanges and the Media interview, felt strongly that they had been misled by the driver and his Team Manager which led to Jarno Trulli being unfairly penalised and Lewis Hamilton gaining third place.
You can listen to both audio clips here.