PARIS, April 28 – McLaren's fate over the 'liargate' scandal that overshadowed the Australian Grand Prix will be determined by motorsport's governing body the FIA in Paris on Wednesday.Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes-backed British-based team is in the dock on five counts of bringing the sport into disrepute.
The affair relates to the now infamous incident in the season-opening race in Melbourne when Toyota’s Jarno Trulli slid off the track when the safety car was out.
Trulli was passed by Hamilton who then let the Italian re-overtake.
The stewards in Australia promoted Hamilton to third, ruling that Trulli had illegally overtaken the world champion after being told by Hamilton and McLaren’s sporting director Dave Ryan that there had been no instructions to let Trulli pass.
At a second meeting Hamilton and Ryan stuck to their story, only for it to later emerge that Hamilton had in fact let Trulli pass, on instructions from his team.
Whatever the outcome of Wednesday’s hearing the fall-out for McLaren has already been extensive.
The widely respected Ryan was sacked, and Ron Dennis stepped aside as team boss, to be replaced by Martin Whitmarsh.
In an attempt to soften their punishment McLaren, who will not contest the charges, have written a letter of apology to the FIA.
On the eve of the hearing McLaren could take heart from a report in the British media suggesting the FIA were not planning to come down too heavy on them.
Formula One’s commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, one of the men sitting in judgment on McLaren, has stressed that any punishment will be "fair", according to The Times on Monday.
Ecclestone’s observation came in the wake of a warning from Mercedes that an unreasonable punishment could force their departure from the sport – an outcome that would be disastrous for F1 in the present global economic crisis.
"If there is any punishment to be meted out it will be fair and I am sure they (Mercedes) would support that," Ecclestone said.
According to The Times, the smart money is that McLaren will not be kicked out of the rest of the 2009 season but could face a race ban, a financial penalty, or a combination of the two.
The verdict is due to be announced on Thursday.
Hamilton, whose title defence has got off to a wretched start, has harvested just nine points from the first four races, 22 points adrift of his compatriot, Brawn ace Jenson Button.
The next race is the Spanish Grand Prix on May 10.