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Former World Champion Jackie Stewart has admitted that he is confused over the severity of the situation in which the McLaren team finds itself at the moment; the Woking-based squad faces race bans or even the possibility of being thrown out of this year's World Championship after giving false information to race stewards regarding an incident in the Australian Grand Prix.
"My understanding is that the McLaren officials tried to contact Charlie (Whiting, race director) in the tower, by radio link, to ask for his position on the situation which had occurred between Hamilton and his Toyota rival, Jarno Trulli," Stewart explained. "But Charlie was apparently unavailable, trying to sort out the Sebastien Vettel problem in which the German was involved in a crash with BMW's Robert Kubica, and completed the last three laps with one of his tyres hanging off the car."
The Hamilton-Trulli incident took place under the second and last safety car of the race, as Trulli lost third place to the McLaren after running wide and onto the grass. Hamilton then slowed to let the Italian through, only to explain (with sporting director Dave Ryan) to the stewards after the race that he had in fact not yielded. The FIA then investigated the radio communication between the two, revealing that the World Champion had been given clear instructions to allow the Toyota to retake the position. "It seems strange that only one person has the authority to deal with these inquiries, which could be result-changing in a multi-million-pound sport," Stewart continued. "When you have four stewards at the race, you would think they would have been able to clarify McLaren's position by radio, if Charlie was otherwise engaged. As it is, we now have a potentially serious state of affairs for McLaren - it is hard to see how they can escape stringent sanctions when Lewis has already apologised publicly and the team has admitted that it got things wrong, which leaves them at the mercy of the FIA.
"I am surprised that McLaren have been caught up in something like this, and if there were lies told, they will have to suffer the consequences and it is difficult to believe they will get off with simply a financial penalty, considering that the World Council fined them $100m for their role in an alleged spy scandal involving Ferrari as recently as 2007. We have to put things in perspective - yes, this episode has reminded us that Hamilton is still an inexperienced driver in the grand scheme of things and there is no excuse for telling fibs, if that is what happened."
Stewart added that the aftermath of the incident which brought out the safety car, though, should have been dealt with more seriously. "In my opinion, what Vettel did in Melbourne was potentially more serious than what McLaren have been accused of; that loose wheel could have flown into the crowd and killed somebody, yet he was only penalised 10 places on the grid at the next race, which is no more than a strong slap on the wrist." The German's Red Bull team was also handed with a fine of $50,000 for instructing their driver to attempt to finish the race, despite lacking the wheel.
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