McLaren make apology ahead of Malaysia ruling

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton's McLaren team have offered an unreserved apology to Formula One's governing body, the FIA, for misleading race stewards in Malaysia after the season's opening grand prix, which led to Hamilton being disqualified.

The team were charged with five counts of bringing the sport into disrepute and will learn their fate at a hearing on Wednesday. Punishments could include expulsion from the championship, suspension, a fine or points deduction.

"We are co-operating with the FIA. I have written to [FIA president] Max Mosley but before 29 April I can't say anything about it," said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh ahead of tomorrow's Bahrain Grand Prix. "It's a letter to them. Certainly, there's been no leak about it from us and I can't comment on it." It is unlikely his profuse apology will lessen the punishment.

On the track, Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took advantage of the warm weather in Bahrain to set the pace in practice. However, it was not a day for drawing hard and fast conclusions. With the two Ferraris and BMW-Saubers, plus Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren, down the wrong end of the second set of timesheets, filling 16th to 20th and last places, this was clearly another Friday in which some – such as Force India's Adrian Sutil in seventh place – ran lighter fuel loads as others focused on set-up work for the race rather than outright lap times. That will come with this morning's final session, and then the first two parts of qualifying this afternoon when all that matters is outright speed.

McLaren again conducted back-to-back tests between different front wings in the morning and Hamilton said he was happier with the newer version. "We've got a very well-balanced car around here," he said. "The track felt very grippy from the start of the session and our work on the prime tyre was very consistent."

Down at Brawn, championship leader Jenson Button was fifth in the morning and sixth in the afternoon, comfortably in contention in conditions in which the ambient temperature reached 37C and track temperatures peaked at 57C.

"It was a pretty standard programme for us on what has been a very hot Friday in Bahrain," Button said. "We have successfully completed our scheduled test items and evaluated a number of set-up options to find the best balance for our car. The heat is intense, but we are well prepared for this and looking forward to the novelty of a dry race weekend. The pace looks good from our initial evaluations and I am sure it will be a closely fought battle in qualifying tomorrow."

In theory, the problem that stymied Button in the rain in China – his Brawn's benign use of its tyres – should enable him to avoid the degradation of his supersoft rubber as rivals run into problems with graining. That was the key to his success in the opening race in Melbourne, and he is optimistic that he will still have the advantage when it really matters.

*F1 powerbroker Bernie Ecclestone yesterday launched a stinging attack on the government's parsimony in helping to safeguard the British Grand Prix, after it emerged that the race may be jeopardised by legal action against Donington Park circuit operator Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd, mounted by the owners, Wheatcroft & Son Limited. The latter are seeking £2.47m in rent arrears and for Donington Ventures Leisure to forfeit their 150-year lease on the circuit, which is scheduled to host the British GP from next year.

Bahrain GP Practice times

First free practice:

1 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1min 33.647sec

2 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:33.907

3 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:33.938

4 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:34.227

5 J Button (GB) Brawn 1:34.434

6 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 1:34.502

7 R Barrichello (Br) Brawn 1:34.531

8 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:34.589

9 M Webber (Aus) RedBull–Renault 1:34.827

10 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:34.827

Second free practice:

1 N Rosberg (Ger) 1min 33.339sec

2 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:33.530

3 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:33.616

4 S Vettel (Ger) RedBull-Renault 1:33.661

5 M Webber (Aus) 1:33.676

6 J Button (GB) 1:33.694

7 A Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes 1:33.763

8 T Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:33.764

9 R Barrichello (Br) 1:33.885

10 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams-Toyota 1:33.899

11 L Hamilton (GB) 1:33.994