A new set of newspapers came out this morning, and that means a new set of stories about the latest McLaren scandal. It looks like Lewis Hamilton has won some respect for his contrite apology, which was apparently met with some applause after it finished. Now the media is casting the spotlight on Martin Whitmarsh. It seems as though the journalists don’t believe the McLaren team principal’s protestations of innocence.
This morning, three stories by three of the media’s top F1 journalists have provided food for thought. Take, for instance, Kevin Garside in the Telegraph:
Not so poor Dave Ryan, the middle-ranking manager who left Sepang carrying a heavyweight can, the kind of load you might expect a senior executive to bear. Not at McLaren evidently. Well, not yet anyway.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh says he is considering his position. Given the knife protruding from Ryan’s back, it would appear that any imperative to walk the plank did not seriously trouble the conscience of the team’s high command.
Ryan is a time-served McLaren fixer, a no-nonsense Kiwi 35 years with the team who can find his way around the paddock blindfold. He is normally an enforcer of policy not the author of it.
It is easy to imagine Hamilton and Ryan making things up between themselves and going into the room and saying something they should never have done. But the part that stretches credibility to breaking point is the idea that after Melbourne and before the pair were summoned back before the stewards on Thursday in Kuala Lumpur, that no-one else in the team was made aware of what they had said and what was going on. It is important to appreciate that when Ryan and Hamilton went back to the stewards in Sepang they both continued to lie and to stick to their story from Melbourne. This has been confirmed both by McLaren and the FIA. It beggars belief that, in a team like McLaren which has been taught by Ron Dennis to think in a complex and often self-defeating way about even the most simple problems, that this critical issue would not have been more widely discussed by senior management before they went back in and approved by those people (or maybe not approved by some of them).
Is Ryan, who has been suspended by McLaren, being made the fall guy?
That would appear to be the case. Having known Ryan for more than 25 years, there is no one more honest or straightforward in formula one.
How much danger is the new team principal Martin Whitmarsh in?
He appears to have fallen at the first hurdle thanks to his lack of support for a man who has served the team faultlessly for 34 years. Ryan has widespread respect. On this basis Whitmarsh’s judgment is now being questioned.
This all leaves a serious question mark hanging over the McLaren team. Those that know Dave Ryan say he is an honest man who does what he is told by senior management. He has loyally served the team for 35 years. For me, that was one of the most staggering things about this story — that someone with so much experience could make such a serious error of judgement, and that someone would do anything to jeopardise the reputation of the team they have worked for since the 1970s.
I have to admit that last night as I reflected on McLaren’s latest foul-up, I was going through previous events in my head. All those times when McLaren’s version of events turned out not to be true. There have been plenty of them. I usually gave them the benefit of the doubt. But now, I am beginning to suspect foul play.
You may say that all teams and drivers lie and cheat in sport. This may be true, but it doesn’t make it any more palatable. What annoys me about the fact that McLaren are constantly caught with their pants down is the fact that this is the team that is constantly banging on about its honesty and integrity.
At least Jean Todt didn’t hide the fact that he was unsporting. He just shrugged his shoulders and said that’s what it takes to win. Ferrari have offended me a lot over the years. But they haven’t offended me as much as McLaren offend me today.
If there is even an ounce of truth in the hunch that the journalists have, McLaren are finished as a sports team. They will struggle to regain the trust of the fans unless there is a wholesale change at the top of the organisation.
It is bad enough to mislead the authorities. But it is a lot worse if the team then uses one of its most loyal workers as a scapegoat. Some have noticed the uncomfortable echoes of what happened to Mike Coughlan — so it would bring the events of Stepneygate into a new light as well.