McLaren chief Whitmarsh to face FIA alone

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The Independent Online

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh will throw himself at the mercy of Formula One's governing body on Wednesday to keep Lewis Hamilton's team in the world championship.

Whitmarsh, who has apologised unreservedly for his team's lying to stewards at last month's season-opening Australian Grand Prix, will attend a hearing in Paris unaccompanied by senior colleagues and without legal representation.

A team source said world champion Hamilton, former McLaren chairman Ron Dennis and Mercedes motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug would all be absent from the meeting of the International Automobile Federation's world motor sport council.

McLaren's in-house lawyer Timothy Murnane will be present purely as an observer.

The team, 40 per cent owned by Mercedes, have been charged with five counts of bringing the sport into disrepute after 'deliberately misleading' stewards at a first hearing in Melbourne and then in Malaysia a week later.

The controversy started when Hamilton and the team denied the driver had been instructed to let Toyota's Jarno Trulli past while following the safety car, despite an order being captured on radio recordings.

Hamilton apologised in a news conference in Malaysia, saying he had been misled by the team who suspended and then dismissed sporting director Dave Ryan.

"I've been working with the FIA...and I'm grateful for the support they've given me and this team," Whitmarsh said at the weekend.

His team were fined a record $100m and stripped of all their constructors' points in 2007 for having secret Ferrari data in their possession.

"Hopefully, that is the start of us building a much better relationship in the future," he told reporters at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Briton is expected to read a statement to the hearing and answer any questions before a verdict later in the day.

The FIA has made clear that Hamilton is unlikely to be punished personally, with a spokesman saying this month that the 24-year-old had been put in an impossible position by his team.

The most likely penalty is a loss of constructors' points but potential sanctions range from a reprimand to being kicked out of the championship.

BAR were handed a two-race suspension in 2005 for having a secret compartment in the car's fuel tank.

"It's very difficult to predict what the court will do," said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. "It would be a shame to lose a team but then again there has to be a penalty for lying to the stewards."

Retired triple champion Jackie Stewart, a long-standing critic of FIA President Max Mosley, said the ruling body had to tread carefully.

"The penalty must match the crime and their track record in that is not good," he told Reuters.

"It may be a ban, they may be penalised, it may be going back on the grid for so many events or not being able to compete," he said.

"But to be taken out of the world championship, you are talking about penalising Mercedes Benz as well as a team or driver."