I was told to lie by team, says shamed Hamilton

McLaren suspend director who told driver to withhold information from stewards
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In the intervening 24 hours, the world had largely been minded to brand him a liar, notwithstanding the suspension by the McLaren team yesterday of their sporting director, Davy Ryan, who had instructed Hamilton to withhold information from the stewards.

"Melbourne was a great race," Hamilton began. "As soon as I got out of the car I did the television interviews and told my account of the race, then straight away I was told to go to the stewards to discuss the incident with Jarno Trulli." Hamilton had been forced to overtake the Italian under the safety car, when Trulli had slid momentarily off the road.

"It was while we were waiting for Trulli that I was misled," Hamilton continued, "and was instructed by my team manager to withhold information. That's what I did. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and I think the stewards could see that."

Not since a passionate Ayrton Senna addressed the media in Australia back in 1989, after the FIA had penalised him out of victory the previous week in Japan, has a driver so bared his soul in front of the world.

"I sincerely apologise to the stewards for wasting their time and making them look stupid," Hamilton went on. "And I would like to say a big sorry to all my fans and the people who have believed in me and supported me for years. I have not gone through life being a liar and I am not a dishonest person, and I don't want the world to think that. I am a team player. Whenever I have been told to do things, I have done them.

"This has taken a huge toll on me, and I apologise for not speaking to people yesterday. I assure you, it won't happen again. That is why I am sitting before you now. It's not easy to put my hand up and admit that I was wrong, but I owe it to the fans to let them know. It is easy to be misled sometimes."

Hamilton said that only Ryan spoke with him prior to the stewards' meeting, and added: "We literally walked straight to the meeting. I was still in my race suit and had no time to think about what I was being asked to do. It was only afterwards that I wondered why. I had done nothing wrong in the race. Jarno had driven a fantastic race and it was not my intention to earn him a penalty. I don't want to win my points that way. I prefer to do that through hard work, like I did driving from the very back of the grid to fourth place."

The decision to suspend Ryan was taken by team principal Martin Whitmarsh. "Davy was the senior team person there," Whitmarsh said. "He took the responsibility to lead that process. I had to take an incredibly difficult decision. Davy has been with the team for 20 years and he is shattered by what has happened today. But he had the responsibility to ensure that the stewards received a full and honest account of what happened."

Whitmarsh denied accusations that McLaren was "contaminated by a culture of cheating," as one newspaper had claimed, and continued: "Davy made a serious error of judgement, and that is something that we have to put right. Lewis was not entirely truthful, but Davy was the senior team member. We are trying to deal with a situation that we got wrong.

"We were asking race control over the radio for advice and clarification of the situation, before Trulli repassed Lewis, but afterwards there was no discussion between us and Davy about what Lewis should say... It was his [Ryan's] judgement not to give a full account and Lewis was led by that. We've put our hands up and said he made a serious error of judgement... and we've come clean on that."

Prior to the apologies and Ryan's suspension, there had been speculation the FIA might seek further sanctions against Hamilton and McLaren, perhaps even seeking to have them thrown out of the world championship. But just as fears were growing of another debilitating political war between the team and the governing body, such as in 2007, a well-placed FIA spokesman said his advice to president Max Mosley would be that nothing would be served by pursuing things further.

Once again the sport's political machinations overshadowed the action on track, where Williams' Nico Rosberg set the fastest time in the first practice session, and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen in the second. Hamilton was seventh and 11th respectively.

Malaysian Grand Prix: Track guide and qualifying times

*At 3.444 miles, the Sepang circuit is the fifth longest track on this season's Formula One calendar.

*The track is noted for the distinctive sweeping corners and two long, wide straights which were designed to encourage overtaking.

*The track is built on old jungle ground, giving it the highest humidity of any track.

*There is a high chance of rain during this weekend's race, with forecasts suggesting a 95 per cent chance of precipitation.

*First Practice Session

1 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams, 1min 36.260sec;

2 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams, 1:36.305;

3 J Button (Eng) Brawn, 1:36.430;

4 R Barrichello (Br) Brawn, 1:36.487;

5 F Massa (Br) Ferrari, 1:36.561;

6 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari, 1:36.646;

7 L Hamilton (Eng) McLaren, 1:36.699;

8 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull, 1:36.703;

9 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull, 1:36.747;

10 T Glock (Ger) Toyota, 1:36.980;

11 J Trulli (It) Toyota, 1:36.982;

12 G Fisichella (It) Force India, 1:37.025;

13 R Kubica (Pol) BMW, 1:37.039;

14 N Piquet Jnr (Br) Renault, 1:37.199;

15 A Sutil (Ger) Force India, 1:37.241;

16 F Alonso (Sp) Renault, 1:37.395;

17 S Buemi (Swi) Toro Rosso, 1:37.634;

18 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW, 1:37.640;

19 S Bourdais (Fr) Toro Rosso, 1:38.022;

20 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren, 1:38.483.

*Second Session

1 Raikkonen 35.707sec; 2 Massa 1:35.832; 3 Vettel 1:35.954; 4 Rosberg 1:36.015; 5 Webber 1:36.026; 6 Barrichello 1:36.161; 7 Button 1:36.254; 8 Nakajima 1:36.290; 9 Kovalainen 1:36.397; 10 Piquet Jnr 1:36.401; 11 Hamilton 1:36.515; 12 Trulli 1:36.516; 13 Buemi 1:36.628; 14 Glock 1:36.639; 15 Alonso 1:36.640; 16 Sutil 1:36.875; 17 Kubica 1:37.267; 18 Bourdais 1:37.278; 19 Fisichella 1:37.432; 20 Heidfeld 1:37.930.