McLaren's apology earns reprieve for Australia lies

Hamilton's team receive suspended race ban after 'open and honest' admission

McLaren escaped further punishment having admitted to lying to the race stewards at the Australian Grand Prix last month, when they yesterday received a suspended sentence at an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris.

WMSC members were shown a letter of apology the FIA had received from the new team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, and listened to a statement from him before deciding to suspend the three-race ban they had intended to impose. That would have significantly affected the team, and particularly the drivers Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen.

The FIA said in a statement yesterday: "Having regard to the open and honest way in which McLaren team principal Mr Martin Whitmarsh addressed the WMSC, and the change in culture which he made clear has taken place in his organisation, the WMSC decided to suspend the application of the penalty it deems appropriate. The penalty is a suspension of the team from three races of the FIA Formula One World Championship. This will only be applied if further facts emerge regarding the case or if, in the next 12 months, there is a further breach by the team of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code."

In a statement of their own, the team said: "McLaren accepts the FIA World Motor Sport Council's decision and wishes to thank the FIA World Motor Sport Council members for the very fair hearing they have given us this morning"

"We now look forward with enthusiasm to continuing our efforts to develop a closer and more co-operative relationship between ourselves and the FIA."

Whitmarsh himself added: "I would like to thank the FIA World Motor Sport Council members for affording me the opportunity to answer their questions this morning. We are aware that we made serious mistakes in Australia and Malaysia, and I was therefore very glad to be able to apologise for those mistakes once again.

"I was also pleased to be able to assure the FIA World Motor Sport Council members that we had taken appropriate action with a view to ensuring that such mistakes do not occur again." That action included sacking the sporting director Dave Ryan, and obliging the former team principal Ron Dennis to step down from his remaining Formula One responsibilities.

Missing the next three races – the Spanish, Monaco and Turkish grands prix –would significantly have compromised the team's chances of retaining Hamilton's drivers' world championship and of wresting the constructors' title from Ferrari, but there would also have been a very serious impact on their financial well-being if they had been forced to miss Monaco, the most prestigious and important race on the calendar for both their sponsors and their shareholders.