FIA: Hamilton misled stewards

By BASN Wire Services
Updated: April 2, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Defending Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from the Australian Grand Prix on Thursday for giving misleading evidence to race stewards.

The McLaren driver was awarded third place after the season-opening race in Melbourne last weekend when stewards ruled Toyota’s Jarno Trulli breached regulations by passing Hamilton during a safety car period.

Trulli was reinstated to his original third-place finish, while Hamilton and McLaren were excluded from the results and receive no points.

A new hearing into the matter, convened by governing body FIA, interviewed both drivers and teams. New evidence was heard, including radio transmissions between teams and drivers in Melbourne and media interviews given by Hamilton, which contradicted his evidence to stewards.

After deliberating for several hours, FIA released a statement that said Hamilton and McLaren “acted in a manner prejudicial to the conduct of the event by providing evidence deliberately misleading to the stewards.”

“We’re disappointed by what’s happened, but in the circumstances, we aren’t going to appeal,” McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said. “I believe it was a harsh decision. Experience has told us you’ve got to accept these decisions.

“These things come along, and you have to build on your concentration for this weekend and the races to come.”

In the safety car period, caused by a late crash, Trulli was in third place when he briefly ran off the track. While passing is prohibited during safety car periods, a driver can move up if a car ahead goes off the circuit.

McLaren, having not seen Trulli run off, was told over the radio by Hamilton that he had passed the Toyota driver. The team tried to get clarification from race control about whether Hamilton could remain in third. When that clarification was not forthcoming, McLaren told Hamilton to give back third place, which he did.

In the post-race stewards hearing, Hamilton and McLaren both denied the world champion had been advised by his team to cede third spot back to Trulli. However, the radio communications, and an interview Hamilton gave after the race, both indicated he had received such advice.

“The stewards, having learned about the radio exchanges and the media interview, feel strongly that they had been misled by the driver and his team manager, which led to Jarno Trulli being unfairly penalized and Lewis Hamilton gaining third place,” stewards said Thursday.

Without the radio and interview evidence, stewards in Melbourne ruled that Trulli should not have taken back third, and penalized him 25 seconds, dropping him from third to 12th.

McLaren claimed Thursday they thought race authorities already knew the content of the radio transmission, which can be heard by authorities during the race.

Whitmarsh denied that the stewards’ ruling amounted to an allegation that McLaren and Hamilton lied to the Melbourne hearing, saying only that the team erred by not being more forthcoming about the radio communication between team and driver.

“There’s no indication that Lewis lied,” Whitmarsh said. “There was no lie within that hearing. We the team made a mistake, that we didn’t supply a full account of a radio conversation we believe was being listened to in any case and we don’t believe was material to the decision being made by the stewards.”

Trulli’s reinstatement to third gives him six points and puts Toyota second in the constructors’ championship with 11 points. Teammate Timo Glock finished fourth.

“I didn’t break the rules,” Trulli said. “It was just a question of making sure they could see it and understand it.

“It’s good that they reconsidered it. It shows they really understand there was something they missed and can reconsider with more evidence,” Trulli added. “Immediately after the race, it was probably a bit chaotic for them.”