Whitmarsh attends hearing to decide McLaren fate

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The Independent Online

Formula One's governing body met this morning to decide how big a price McLaren have to pay for lying to Formula One stewards in Australia last month.

McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh arrived in a silver Mercedes at the International Automobile Federation (FIA)'s imposing Place de la Concorde headquarters ahead of the meeting.

Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone followed him in. Neither made any comment to waiting reporters.

McLaren's 24-year-old world champion Lewis Hamilton did not attend the hearing, with Whitmarsh the team's only representative in front of the 26-member world motor sport council.

McLaren are charged with five counts of bringing the sport into disrepute by deliberately misleading stewards to gain third place at the season-opening race in Melbourne and then sticking to their story at the subsequent Malaysian Grand Prix.

Possible sanctions range from a reprimand to suspension from the championship for a team who were fined a record $100 million and stripped of all their constructors' points for a spying controversy in 2007.

Most observers expect the team to escape a ban, with a fine and/or points penalty to be the most likely outcome when the decision is announced later in the day.

The Mercedes-powered team, who have already been excluded from the Australian Grand Prix classification, have dismissed sporting director Dave Ryan while former boss Ron Dennis has distanced himself from the Formula One side of McLaren's business.

A contrite Hamilton has also issued a public apology for creating a situation that he said was the worst he had ever experienced.

Whitmarsh, aware that another hefty fine would be hard for 40 percent owners Mercedes to swallow in the current financial crisis, has also written to FIA president Max Mosley to offer an "unreserved apology" and accept the team were in breach of the regulations.

"McLaren were caught lying and have since offered a full apology to the FIA," the team's former driver David Coulthard said in a column for Britain's Daily Telegraph.

"They have sacked one employee, seen another resign and had their name dragged through the mud. Their card has been marked, their reputation tainted. Do we really need to see more?"