Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton was stripped of third place at last weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Thursday for “deliberately misleading” stewards after that race.
The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) also warned that the 24-year-old Briton and his McLaren team, who were excluded from the race classification, could face further sanctions.
The stewards said in a statement after meeting at the Malaysian Grand Prix that they considered Hamilton, Formula One’s youngest champion, and McLaren had provided “deliberately misleading” evidence to stewards at a hearing that promoted the Briton to third place.
They accused both of acting in a manner “prejudicial to the conduct of the event” and in breach of article 151c of the international sporting code.
Mercedes-powered McLaren were fined a record $100 million and stripped of all their constructors’ points by the FIA’s world motor sport council for breaching the same article in a 2007 spying controversy involving Ferrari data in their possession.
“We could not rule out further action at this stage,” an FIA spokesman said.
Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, who had been demoted from third to 12th in Melbourne after stewards ruled that he illegally overtook Hamilton under safety car conditions, was reinstated to the podium.
The loss of points meant McLaren are now in the same situation as champions Ferrari, who failed to score in Australia. Toyota are second in the standings behind the new Brawn GP team, who finished one-two in Melbourne.
‘We didn’t lie’
McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh denied that Hamilton had lied to stewards.
“I don’t believe that there is anything in the statement, or that here has been anything from the stewards, that indicated that they feel they were lied to,” he told reporters, adding that McLaren would not appeal. “I think he answered the questions that were put to him in an honest manner but the team should have provided a fuller account of what happened,” he said.
“I believe that the team and Lewis are completely honest in how it goes about Formula One.”
Trulli was handed a 25-second penalty for overtaking Hamilton during the second safety car period of the race when cars must stay in line.
Toyota did not appeal because they felt there was no chance of success but stewards reopened the matter at the Malaysian Grand Prix after they said “new elements” had emerged. Those elements were understood to be radio communications between the team and driver as well as comments Hamilton made to reporters.
Trulli, who was passed by Hamilton when his Toyota slid off the track, said he had little choice but to overtake the Briton again because Hamilton had slowed down in front of him.
“I thought he had a problem so I overtook him as there was nothing else I could do,” he said in a team statement at the time.
Hamilton had told Speed TV that Trulli went wide onto the grass at the second to last corner and he was forced to go past.
“I slowed down as much as I could. I was told to let him back past, but I mean ... I don’t know if that’s the regulations, and if it isn’t, then I should have really had third,” said the Briton.