We now know that McLaren misled the Stewards and we know why. During the race McLaren made a simple mistake and they wanted to correct it. After Trulli went off of the track and Lewis passed him everything was fine. Nothing more should have happened and Lewis should have finished in third, Trulli in fourth.
But somebody at McLaren told Lewis to let Trulli past. This was a mistake. A mistake compounded by not undoing it when they had the chance.
When the Stewards called Toyota, Trulli, McLaren and Hamilton to their offices, McLaren felt guilty for losing Lewis his third place. And Dave Ryan, McLaren’s man in the room, decided to get the place back for him. There had been confusion on the pit wall. The team thought they were saying something else. Wasn’t the last instruction “don’t let him past”? Even though it was after it had already happened couldn’t they use that?
Whatever the arguments that went through Dave Ryan’s head he thought he had it in the bag. David Coulthard has said that unless you were preparing data to take to the Stewards you wouldn’t normally meet to discuss what you were going to say. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Dave Ryan answered the question live in the Stewards room to put pressure on Lewis not to contradict him in public.
The worst mistake was that the Stewards hadn’t listened to the, new for this year, unencrypted team radio. Most teams have released their team radio for years, but until this year McLaren or Ferrari hadn’t. Is it possible that in the confusion of the post race whirlwind Dave Ryan forgot that the transcripts would now be released? I do believe the Stewards made a mistake not listening to the team radio before calling the participants after the race.
It is not as if they really expect people to be telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth in these sessions. In these sessions there are almost always two or more parties with differing stories about what happened. Is the one who gets the penalty lying? No they are presenting their impression of events. And Formula 1 races are confusing at the best of times.
So is it a terrible crime? Yes it is. I’ve seen several people asking why so many people believe this is such a great crime when this kind of thing happens all of the time. Former Williams sporting director and future US GPE boss Peter Windsor says he would do the same thing Dave Ryan did. I absolutely believe that most people in the Stewards office, for years, have massaged the story to make themselves look good.
It’s not as if the Stewards encourage and rewards honesty just ask Sebastian Vettel. However now the Stewards have the team radio the game has changed. So was it a big crime? Yes it was the worst crime in terms of F1. It was the crime of stupidity. Not realising that they couldn’t get away with a lie like that anymore.
People have asked would the same reaction exist if it wasn’t McLaren? The answer is that it wouldn’t. Does this mean the situation is unfair for McLaren? Not really. McLaren have suggested for years that they are whiter than white. That they don’t tell lies. They even used this as their successful initial defence in 2007 of the investigations into the spying scandal. They said that they don’t lie and that the situation was caused by a couple of bad eggs. This was believed by the FIA until the e-mail traffic came to light causing the second investigation and the fine. McLaren have always shown themselves in this honest, sporting, fair light. And this shows that something different is the true situation. And that’s news. Ferrari acts like normal isn’t news.
People are surprised that the reaction to this situation has been so large. However I would say that in Joe Public’s world this is worse than the spying scandal. Why? Because in the spying scandal it’s hard to tell exactly what was done, when it was done and why. It’s all nebulous.
This is like ramming another driver off the track. McLaren were effectively driving Trulli off of the track. And yet it is slightly worse than that. This isn’t a heat of the moment decision but rather a cold, calculating attempt to down an opponent. Has this happened before in F1? Yes lots of times. Is this the first time in recent memory that somebody has been caught doing it? Yes probably. The closest incident I can remember was Schumacher parking his car across the racing line in Qualifying at Monaco. And even then he could deny it (even though nobody believed him). In this case they have been caught red handed stealing points. That is why it is such a big story.
Finally for those who believe that the FIA are biased against McLaren I offer one observation. In the post race stewards meeting at Australia the Stewards didn’t use the telemetry information, they didn’t listen to the team radio, they just asked Toyota, Trulli, McLaren and Hamilton what happened. And despite a fifty : fifty split they went with McLaren’s version of the truth. They took McLaren as the ones telling the truth. Does that sound like a team who are being hounded by the FIA?