Wednesday, 29 April could have a significant impact on McLaren’s 2009 season. It has already been a troubled start to the season. The car performance hasn’t been what McLaren were hoping for, plus there has been all the fallout from “Lie-Gate” in Melbourne.
McLaren have been called to the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) to answer charges relating to this incident.
The WMSC have a range of different punishments which they could throw at McLaren. These start off with a basic reprimand/warning. They could choose to fine McLaren.
However, it could be more severe than that. The WMSC could choose take points off the team or ban them for a number of races. They could even ban them from the rest of the season altogether. That’s the worst-case scenario.
We also have to remember that it hasn’t been that long since the “Spygate” scandal. This won’t help their cause.
Everyone who is part of the McLaren team is going to have their legs shaking till the final verdict is delivered. Fans worldwide will be holding their breath.
It is very important that the FIA hold their nerve and give the right punishment. Whatever punishment they give McLaren will set a precedent. If they decide to be hard on McLaren, it will set a very dangerous precedent if teams commit similar or worse offences in the future. They have to be consistent in their punishments.
It’s critical that the punishment they choose is in proportion and fits the crime that McLaren have committed. You get the feeling that the FIA realise the importance of getting this decision right.
Whilst it’s true that lying to the stewards is a serious offence, there are far worse offences. These include a driver deliberately ramming a rival off the track, ignoring a black flag, or having an illegal part on the car (which gives an advantage) and keeping it under wraps. These are just a few examples.
If the FIA were to give a season ban to McLaren over “Lie-Gate,” then what would they do if one of the above offences were committed in future? It would have to be a harsher punishment than the one they give to McLaren over Lie-Gate in order to be consistent and not come under immense scrutiny.
It would be like giving someone the death penalty for robbery, and then somebody afterwards committing a murder. What higher punishment would you be able to hand out then?
This is why the FIA risk going into murky waters if they opt to give McLaren the worst sanction possible. They have to tread carefully, no matter how tempted they are to punish McLaren heavily.
It can’t be forgotten that McLaren have already suffered punishment over this incident. McLaren were disqualified from the Australian GP, losing six points. Lewis Hamilton and the team have also suffered major dents in their reputation. This reputation is going to take a long time to recover. It might never recover.
Lewis’s career has been badly affected. A long-term employee of McLaren (Dave Ryan) has also lost his job as a result of Lie-Gate. It could be argued that there is no need to punish the team any further.
So what is going to be the outcome of this hearing?
An important factor that will go in McLaren’s favour is that Martin Whitmarsh very quickly apologised and admitted that McLaren were in the wrong.
Lewis Hamilton also made that emotional apology in front of the world’s media in Sepang. The FIA accepted this apology. From this acceptance of the apology, it seems likely that any punishment given is going to be aimed at just the team. Hamilton will very likely escape any sanction against him personally.
Lewis Hamilton has attracted many fans to the sport and is the one of the grid’s most exciting drivers. He is now one of F1’s star attractions. Bernie Ecclestone knows that if Hamilton wasn’t on the grid, it would be damaging for audience figures. Therefore his wallet would suffer in the process. His wallet has already taken a big battering after the recent divorce from his wife.
After Michael Schumacher’s incident with Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 at Jerez, there were calls for him to be excluded from the 1998 championship. However, Schumacher was the big star attraction at the time. He ended up being allowed to start the 1998 season from the start.
His presence resulted in a very exciting title battle with Mika Hakkinen. You can see why Bernie didn’t want him banned from races, or excluded from the championship. It’s a similar case here with Hamilton.
Martin Whitmarsh has also written an apology letter to the FIA. He has effectively pleaded guilty to all the charges facing McLaren. The fact that he has done this could certainly help reduce McLaren’s punishment.
In February 2008 the FIA were due to have an unprecedented meeting to decide the legality of McLaren’s 2008 entry as a result of “Spygate.” A letter from Martin Whitmarsh apologising for the Spygate scandal helped McLaren’s cause greatly.
After receipt of that letter that February meeting was soon abandoned. McLaren were then allowed to take part in the 2008 championship. McLaren agreed to go down a different route with the development of their brake system. This is an idea they admitted came from the infamous 780-page Ferrari document.
Therefore, I think the letter from Whitmarsh will make a big difference for McLaren again this time. He won’t be contesting any of the charges against the team. This in fact now makes the hearing a much simpler affair.
His guilty plea to all these charges has removed the need for much of the investigation. The FIA will now not need to hear any evidence from the key figures in Lie-Gate, including Dave Ryan and Lewis Hamilton. Martin Whitmarsh is now going to be entering the hearing alone.
McLaren should never have gotten themselves into this mess in the first place. However, they have reacted well to it in the aftermath and done everything possible to limit the damage. Pleading guilty to all the charges and accepting full responsibility could prove to be the right move. Certainly in everyday life pleading guilty to an offence can reduce the sentence that gets handed out.
The resignation of Ron Dennis has been seen as another factor that could help McLaren. The relationship between Max Mosley and Ron Dennis has been very frosty over the years. Dennis has already denied claims that his decision to resign has anything to do with “Lie-Gate,” although it’s very hard to imagine that the timing of the two events has just been a mere coincidence.
McLaren have also stated their intention to build bridges with the FIA, and improve their relationship. Under Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren now want to change as a team and alter their image. McLaren are going to become a different team to the one we got used to under Ron Dennis.
I am sure many think there will be a massive punishment, but in the end I don’t think it will be that severe.
Surely McLaren will get a sizeable fine. They are also likely to suffer a points deduction. This could range from anything between 20 and 50 points. A suspended race ban is also a possibility. This means that if McLaren do break the rules again, then they would definitely be faced with a race ban.
The absolute worst-case scenario I feel is that McLaren are excluded from the Constructors’ Championship. This would be similar to 2007, but they were still allowed to enter races and score in the drivers’ championship. There is an outside chance of them facing a two-race ban. I can’t see the outcome being worse than that.
Nevertheless, you can never quite tell what the FIA have up their sleeves. They have made some strange decisions in the past.
Let’s hope that for the sake of the 2009 campaign that the appropriate punishment is given, and that the line can be drawn under this affair. Let’s get back to the racing!
Could Mclaren still win this championship?
It’s not impossible that Mclaren could fight back and win a championship this season. The amount of progress that they have made since pre-season testing has been staggering. In the test in Spain they were over two seconds of the pace of Brawn GP. However Mclaren have immense resources and personnel. If anyone can quickly cure their problems and close the gap then it’s Mclaren. Remember 2004 when Mclaren came back to win at Spa after a dreadfully slow and unreliable start to the season.
Each weekend so far this season they have made strides forward. Hamilton did a great qualifying lap and was 5thon the grid on merit rather the result of a lighter fuel load. He qualified ahead of Barrichello with more fuel on board.
In the race he was able to keep up with the front runners, but fell back a bit in the last stint. 4th was still a stunning result for the team. This a result which many would have regarded as impossible before the season began.
Perhaps the most impressive fact was Lewis’s position in the fastest laps of the race chart. His lap was less than 0.4 seconds slower than Trulli’s quickest lap. Both their fastest laps were set towards the end of the first stint. That is now the gap Mclaren have between themselves and the front three of Red Bull, Toyota and Brawn (who incidentally are now much more closely matched than at the start of 2009).
In Spain Mclaren will be bringing a substantial upgrade. A few weeks ago there were predictions from people inside the team, saying that the car would fly in Spain. That suggestion sounded crazy back then, but after seeing the progress the car is making, then maybe it’s not impossible.
Mclaren will have keep control of their expectations as other teams including Ferrari and BMW Sauber are planning massive upgrades are. Brawn GP are also introducing their first major season upgrade in Spain. Therefore they can’t be too cocky.
Nobody is going to be standing still between now and Spain. Lewis admitted that there is even a chance of Mclaren falling backwards in Spain. It all depends on how good everyone else’s major upgrades. The order could look completely different in Spain as the field is so tight. A few tenth’s worth of development will shuffle teams around.
Catalunya is a circuit where it’s important to have really good aerodynamic efficiency, and good tyre management. This is a very demanding circuit where cars with shortcomings are found out. If Mclaren can show a good performance there, then signs could be very promising for the rest of the season.
I think McLaren will end up winning races this season but I feel they will have to wait a bit longer. I can see them returning as regular front runners in the second half of the season.
In terms of the championship it could be too late by then. The gap could be too big to close down. Of course the other factor is what punishment Mclaren receive from the WMSC on Wednesday.
Free practice session one
1. ROSBERG Williams 1m26.687s
2. NAKAJIMA Williams 1m26.736s
3. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m26.750s
4. BARRICHELLO Brawn 1m27.226s
5. KOVALAINEN McLaren 1m27.453s
6. BUTTON Brawn 1m27.467s
7. MASSA Ferrari 1m27.642s
8. GLOCK Toyota 1m27.710s
9. SUTIL Force India 1m27.993s
10. ALONSO Renault 1m28.123s
11. HEIDFELD BMW 1m28.137s
12. TRULLI Toyota 1m28.142s
13. KUBICA BMW 1m28.511s
14. FISICHELLA Force India 1m28.603s
15. BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m28.785s
16. HAMILTON McLaren 1m29.042s
17. WEBBER Red Bull 1m29.081s
18. PIQUET Renault 1m29.461s
19. BOURDAIS Toro Rosso 1m29.499s
20. VETTEL Red Bull 1m32.784s
Free practice session two
1. ROSBERG Williams 1m26.053s
2. BARRICHELLO Brawn 1m26.157s
3. TRULLI Toyota 1m26.350s
4. WEBBER Red Bull 1m26.370s
5. BUTTON Brawn 1m26.374s
6. GLOCK Toyota 1m26.443s
7. NAKAJIMA Williams 1m26.560s
8. VETTEL Red Bull 1m26.740s
9. SUTIL Force India 1m27.040s
10. MASSA Ferrari 1m27.064s
11. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m27.204s
12. ALONSO Renault 1m27.232s
13. FISICHELLA Force India 1m27.282s
14. HEIDFELD BMW 1m27.317s
15. KUBICA BMW 1m27.398s
16. BOURDAIS Toro Rosso 1m27.479s
17. KOVALAINEN McLaren 1m27.802s
18. HAMILTON McLaren 1m27.813s
19. PIQUET Renault 1m27.828s
20. BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m28.076s
It’s been a very interesting day in Melbourne. It was great to see all the cars in anger on the track for the first time. First impressions are that the new cars look great. You get used to them very quickly. I even started to get used to the sight of the Renault after a while.
Who’s hot and who’s not?
In terms of who impressed today, there is no doubt that the 3 teams with question marks over their diffuser (Williams, Brawn GP and Toyota) all look in extremely good shape. All 3 of these teams have performed consistently well throughout the day. Williams are probably the most pleasant surprise of Friday practise, as Nico Rosberg topped both sessions.
Throughout testing it looked as if they were going to be stuck in the midfield. However on their final day in Jerez they set a very fast time, the fastest time set in Jerez all winter. It looks as if they may have brought that form with them to Melbourne. Let’s hope they can keep this pace up throughout the weekend.
TOYOTA – Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock
Jarno Trulli completely walloped Glock in the first half of 2008, but in the second half of the season, Glock improved and came back strong. In the end, it was Trulli who won the team mate war, but it didn’t end up as comfortable as it might have been.
Glock looks to be a very handy driver. After a tough start, he has adapted himself very well to F1. He will improve furthur and have a very good second season.
However, he will find it very hard to beat Trulli. Trulli is in the form of his life at the moment. He is also arguably F1’s best qualifier. If he can get a few cars between himself and Glock, then Trulli has a great chance of leading Toyota’s charge for podiums and wins.
Trulli can find an extra few tenths from nowhere when it matters most. This sets him apart from Glock, certainly when it comes to qualifying.
In 2009, Jarno will be able to get rid of his worst enemy—the grooved tyre. He will be one of the drivers who benefits most from the changeover to slicks. When Trulli first started in F1, he was super-quick on slicks. I think Trulli stands a chance of having his best ever season in F1 in 2009.
Glock will have a good season too but don’t expect to see Trulli’s No. 1 status in the team changing. Glock will push him all the way, but Trulli has enough to stay ahead and may edge further ahead of Glock.
If Toyota is going to win races this season, Trulli is more likely to be the man to deliver them.
FINAL VERDICT: Glock is a very competent driver who will keep Trulli on his toes. However, I don’t see No. 1 status shifting to Timo’s side of the garage this season. Trulli looks set to build on 2008 and will become harder to beat.
Scuderia Toro Rosso – Sebastien Buemi and Sebastien Bourdais
For Toro Rosso, it’s the battle of the Sebs again!
Bourdais may not have had many points last season, but in the final third of the season, he was very strong. Luck wasn’t with him at times.
He could have challenged for the win in Monza—it rained at the wrong time in Spa. Then there was that dreadful decision by the stewards in Fuji. Once he adapted to the car he was fast.
The decision to give Buemi the drive is a strange one. He didn’t finish that high up in the GP2 standings, and his best results came in the sprint races benefiting from the reverse grid system.
I think with so little experience, and having the new F1 cars to adapt to, it will be a very tall order for the young Swiss. As the season goes on, I am sure that he will get more adapted to F1, but it’s going to take some time. I don’t expect him to get results straight away.
Bourdais, on the other hand, could have a very strong season. These new cars could really suit him down to the ground. Over in Champ Car, he was used to cars with slick tyres and more emphasis on mechanical grip.
In Champ Car, there also was the “push to pass” button. This may give him a little head start, when it comes to making the most use out of the KERs system, when it comes to overtaking.
Bourdais could be one of the surprises of this F1 season. He could get the odd podium. I think that he will come out on top at Rosso this season.
FINAL VERDICT: Rosso has brought Buemi into F1 too soon and he may struggle. Bourdais has a chance of having a great second season. He will improve massively on what was overall a disappointing debut season. He will feel more at home with the new spec F1 cars.