Why McLaren’s actions were wrong

I will write about the Malaysian Grand Prix soon, but I want to say one last thing for the time being about McLaren. There was an interesting article published on The Red Bulletin website today which I found via F1 Fanatic. It makes an interesting point about this hoo-ha:

Now, call me an old cynic, but if I had a pound for every time a driver or team has told a little fib in the steward’s office I would not need to write this blog but would be watching qualifying with my feet up on a rattan chair in some tropical bolthole. Oh wait… I am in a tropical bolthole. Never mind. Anyway, here’s a couple of possible examples. When Honda were found to have extra fuel tanks stashed all over their car, did they, on being asked, immediately ‘fess up and prostrate themselves in front of a tut-tutting world. Hardly.

When Michael Schumacher decided that the area in front of the Rascasse in Monaco would make a perfect parking spot, did he admit that he fancied wrecking the following Fernando Alonso’s final quick lap? No, probably not.

The fact that he was dumped to the back of the grid by the stewards in that instance suggests that they thought he was telling a small white lie in his assertion that there was a problem.

And did we get public apologies, expulsions and sendings home? Not a bit of it. They just got on with the job in hand. In fact, Schumacher delivered one of the outstanding drives his career to climb from 20th to fourth that day.

But nowadays McLaren’s transgression is treated like a betrayal of trust of Judas-like proportions. The wailing and gnashing of teeth going on at Sepang just goes to show what a small parish F1 is, where the smallest incident is amplified to deafening proportions. It has the smack of chap melodrama.

It’s an interesting point. But there is a key difference in the McLaren case which must not be forgotten. In the case of Honda’s dodgy extra fuel tank, and Michael Schumacher’s Rascassegate, those were instances where they broke the rules and then had the spotlight turned on them.

At this year’s Australian Grand Prix, it was McLaren themselves who went off to the stewards. It wasn’t that McLaren broke the rules and then had to defend themselves, as was the case with Honda and Michael Schumacher.

McLaren tried to make out that Toyota and Jarno Trulli had broken the rules when they hadn’t. That is completely different. Here we have a situation where one team has deliberately set out to deceive the world by accusing a rival team of breaking the rules when they hadn’t. And all for the sake of one measly point, at that.

It’s not just the lying that got McLaren into trouble. It is the dirtiness of the trick. It’s the greed. It’s the hypocrisy.

“Let’s play this by the book” indeed!


  1. Your post effectively makes the point that McLaren did nothing wrong on the track, unlike the Honda and Schumacher instances mentioned. In fact, the problem arose because the team went a step too far in their attempt to be fair – they told Hamilton to let Trulli back through into third spot.

    So the point of telling any lies in the stewards’ meeting was not to rob Toyota of anything they deserved; it was to defend something that was rightfully McLaren’s. It is not surprising that McLaren or Ryan should fear that the stewards would take away McLaren’s legitimately earned point – the team has been the victim of innumerable bad decisions by the stewards in the past. Indeed, it is very likely that the decision would have been against McLaren had the truth regarding the radio transmissions been told.

    So your reading of the affair as a sordid attempt by McLaren to rob Toyota of their just deserts is incorrect. It is quite clearly a victimised team assuming that they would be unfairly dealt with again and endeavouring to claim what was rightfully theirs. They did not, as you state, accuse Toyota of anything – they merely covered up the one fact that would give the stewards the justification they needed to hit McLaren one more time.

    It was foolish, there is no argument on that. But it was not an evil plot to defraud a rival team; it was a desperate attempt to receive justice. To paint it otherwise is to go along with the ridiculously exaggerated horror that has erupted in the media over the matter. The fact that the FIA has encouraged this, even to the extent of taking the case to the WMSC (and we all know that court’s reputation for dealing out “justice”) rather than playing things down and keeping everything in proportion, shows that McLaren are right to fear both the stewards and the FIA.

    Is it still paranoia if they really are out to get you?

  2. Clive, I’m afraid I totally disagree with you here. McLaren made a mistake when they told Lewis to let Trulli past. The cost of that mistake was one point. As such, that point was not, as you claim, rightfully theirs. To try and re-gain that point by illicit means is therefore unacceptable.

    If McLaren bungled a pitstop and lost a point, they would not be able to go running to the stewards asking for that point back. In sport, if you make a mistake, you pay the price and you take it on the chin. McLaren’s evasion of responsibility was absolutely pathetic. To call it “a step too far in their attempt to be fair” is a statement that is a world away from what my understanding of sport is.

    McLaren did indeed accuse Toyota (or Jarno Trulli) of passing Hamilton when he were not supposed to. Martin Whitmarsh went on the BBC directly after the race to say that they would appeal the result for that reason.

  3. Glad you picked on that article – been doing some thinking about it myself with a view to an article. One thing though:

    At this year’s Australian Grand Prix, it was McLaren themselves who went off to the stewards.

    I was under the impression race control referred it to the stewards of their own accord?

  4. I have found a video of Martin Whitmarsh’s interview and it’s actually not as clear-cut as I thought. Still, the deception is jaw-dropping when you look back. It is Whitmarsh’s “technically true” which he has been talking about this weekend, but clearly conveys an incorrect picture:

    …there’s some debate about whether it’s a 3rd place at the moment given that Trulli fell off and re-passed under the Safety Car…

    At the end, under the Safety Car, Trulli fell off onto the grass and Lewis had no choice but to go past him. He was not on the racing circuit. Trulli then re-took the place under the Safety Car, which ordinarily you wouldn’t do.

    Yeah, you wouldn’t do it… unless the guy in front pulled over! Doh!

    I know that the FIA are looking at it at the moment and doubtless we’ll have a ruling in due course.

    It’s unclear then whether McLaren went to the FIA about it, or if the FIA decided to look at it of their own accord. The interview is clearly conducted immediately after the race has finished (in the monitors in the background you can see the drivers chatting before going onto the podium). I don’t know how quickly the FIA gets on the case with things like this, but at the time the interview left me with the impression that McLaren had approached the FIA in an attempt to get 3rd place back from Trulli.

    Here we have an instance very early on where Whitmarsh is deliberately misrepresenting the situation. It may be “technically true”, but it is misleading and evasive in the extreme to omit the salient fact that Hamilton had been instructed to move over to let Trulli past.

  5. Sorry, Duncan, but you’re making the same incorrect assumption that everyone makes when you say that it was a mistake for McLaren to let Trulli through again. You are making a judgement with hindsight – a luxury that was not available to McLaren at the time.

    Both McLaren and Toyota knew the rules governing the sport; what they did not know is the way in which the stewards would interpret them (they do not cover the possibility of a car leaving the track during a safety car period). It was highly likely that they would see Hamilton’s pass on Trulli as a breach of the rules and hand out a 25-second penalty. The only correct action for the team was to let Trulli through and then argue it out later.

    It is not clear why the stewards began their investigation; it may have been the result of a McLaren appeal or it may not. No official announcement covers this point and it is irrelevant to the argument anyway.

    In the stewards meeting, Trulli claimed that Hamilton slowed down and moved off line, leaving him no option but to retake third place. His excuse was that he thought the McLaren had problems – yet there is no mention of this in the Toyota radio transmission. Presumably, this is why the stewards asked Hamilton and Ryan about that – a pointless exercise in view of the fact that they had access to telemetry and radio recordings that would have put the matter beyond doubt.

    It is at that point that McLaren made their only mistake – they covered up the fact that Hamilton had been told to let Trulli through, understandably, as I have already pointed out. It was a stupid thing to do and McLaren deserve to lose their appeal because of it. But to be castigated in the press and by the FIA as a result? That surely is inflating things beyond reason and further evidence of the FIA’s determination to punish McLaren at every opportunity.

    Trulli lied too. In his evidence he states that he, too, slowed down after passing Hamilton, yet the McLaren driver did not avail himself of the opportunity. This makes Trulli’s excuse for passing Lewis rather suspect; if Hamilton could refuse to pass, then so could Trulli.

    The sad fact is that the whole furore is the result of incompetent stewards failing to be fair in their decisions and leaving the teams, especially McLaren, in complete confusion as to what is and is not legal. If there is a villain in the matter, it is the FIA in selecting totally unqualified stewards and allowing the WMSC to reach conclusions that are highly questionable and apparently partial to certain teams as opposed to others.

  6. I’m with Vee here. I think people are mistaken their feelings about FIA with what happened. I agree that race control and the stewards are inept and I don’t trust them either; if the whole thing was about Lewis lying about something that was just related to his race, it would still be wrong but I would understand someone coming for the other point of view, but McLaren actions were about Trulli as well and everyone on the team that knew what they were doing had to also knew that they were trying to strip Trulli of not just one but all of his points.

  7. But, Hamilton had already let Trulli past when the instruction came from the team.

    Really, the whole thing has been blown totally out of proportion, with McLaren looking like the bad guys yet again.

    You seem a bit angry at McLaren, Dr Vee.

  8. Every time an appeal is made, one team is hoping to take points off another. To paint McLaren’s appeal as a vicious attempt to blacken Trulli’s name is just laughable.

  9. Clive, While you are right that the rules are a confusing mess (and funnily enough I have a post on this very issue coming imminently), and that the stewards do not always apply the regulations equally, this makes it all the more bizarre that McLaren would seek to further complicate the situation by convolutedly letting Trulli past then later trying to find a loophole that would demote Trulli.

    It is relevant here to point out McLaren’s chosen loophole. That was to seek to get Trulli given a 25s penalty (the only real option open to the FIA) by inviting him to pass and later misrepresent that as an illegal manoeuvre. This would leave Trulli a net 7 places down, in order to gain Hamilton 0 places. For all the talk about proportionality, it seems to be McLaren who used a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Filipe in comment #6 is absolutely right. What angers people about McLaren’s actions is that they tried to strip Trulli of all of his points. It is a bit rich to talk about fairness and then overlook this.

    I have said before that McLaren’s actions bear all the hallmarks of a team jittery about the FIA’s treatment of them. So on this point we agree. Where we disagree is on the severity of what McLaren did. You say McLaren had no way of knowing how the FIA would treat them if Hamilton had stayed ahead of Trulli. In that case, I ask how they knew the FIA would treat them for all of this. They could have kept it simple and sporting, but chose not to.

    Pink Peril, I think you are mistaken when you say that Hamilton had already let Trulli past. The BBC helped when they synced the audio of the radio transmission with the pictures of Trulli’s car. You can see the video here. This lets us see exactly what was happening with the situation.

  10. Actually, it appears from the video and radio synch that Pink Peril is right – the instruction to let Trulli past is given after Hamilton has already done so. So, technically, the McLaren representatives did not lie. Thanks, Duncan. 😉

    Bizarre? I think it’s entirely understandable. I doubt that McLaren considered for a moment what would happen to Trulli if their case was proved – they were concentrating on what would happen to their own team and decided on a silly strategy to influence the stewards. Stupidity, yes, malice, no.

  11. Clive, Are you sure? We are watching the same video? Hamilton asks if his pass is legitimate while he’s on the start / finish straight. After turn 2 Phil Prew instructs Hamilton to “allow the Toyota through”. Through turn 3 Hamliton responds, “okay”. Then after turn 4 Trulli goes past.

  12. Hmm, the video I watched missed that – maybe it dropped it (I remember that exchange from the pure radio transmission). Okay, I’ll give you that one.

    Doesn’t affect my main argument, however. 😀

  13. Thanks Keith, that clarifies the situation a lot. Makes you wonder quite what the FIA were doing, not having done a thorough enough job in Melbourne.

  14. Thinking about all this again (for the umpteenth time!), something fresh has struck me.

    McLaren were unsure about the original overtake behind the safety car, ie when Lewis overtook Trulli after the Toyota went wide.

    Now we didn’t see this on TV at the time and it seems to me apparent from the radio traffic that the team hadn’t seen it either and only had Hamilton’s communications to go on.

    From this they decided to allow Trulli past – one argument is that they were nervous of how the FIA would see the situation, but my current thoughts are that perhaps they were more nervous about Lewis.

    In other words, do the team trust his judgement 100%? He radios in to say he has overtaken Trulli in a situation which is normally allowed yet they still play it safe by instructing him to reverse the positions again. Perhaps because they think Lewis may have got overexcited and taken matters into his own hands?

    Later, having reviewed things they realise the mistake they made and head to the stewards with Dave Ryan aiming to do anything required to get the points back because he ultimately made the mistake which lost Lewis his third place. Could Ryan also have been feeling guilty at losing Hamilton the podium position through his decision not to trust his driver, therefore increasing the guilt?

  15. That’s an interesting thought Craig! I am pretty sure that Dave Ryan felt guilty, but I thought only because his knowledge of the regulations was found to be deficient. I hadn’t thought that they perhaps didn’t trust Hamilton. An interesting perspective.

  16. From this they decided to allow Trulli past – one argument is that they were nervous of how the FIA would see the situation, but my current thoughts are that perhaps they were more nervous about Lewis.

    Very interesting thought – hadn’t occurred to me how it cuts both ways.

    I still think it says more about their FIA paranoia though! To try to make that judgement call for Hamilton when they hadn’t actually seen what had happened was unwise (easy to say so in hindsight, of course).

  17. I can’t watch the link because I am at work, but I listened to the transcripts last week, and when McLaren say to Lewis you need to let Trulli past, Lewis replies I already have.

  18. I agree that it’s more likely to be the FIA paranoia explanation too, was just thinking aloud!

    As for the radio stuff – the team definitely tell Lewis to let him past, then later on as he comes on the radio again to tell them that Trulli is slowing down in front of him the team tell him to hold station. It’s then that Lewis says he has already allowed Trulli through, the BBC clip clearly showed this by syncing it all the radio up to Truli’s onboard camera.

  19. Pink Peril, I think you are getting confused with the moment later on. Craig describes it correctly. When the cars are on the back straight, Phil Prew tells Hamilton to keep Trulli behind. Hamilton says “I already let him past”, but that was a while after he’d been told to let Trulli past.

    For me, that demonstrates exactly that McLaren were confused about the situation and they messed up. So they should have just accepted 4th place rather than deceptively grab 3rd.