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McLaren escapes with a suspended 3-race ban

LEWIS Hamilton's Formula One title defense remained alive yesterday after his McLaren team was handed a suspended three race ban for lying to race stewards.

The International Automobile Federation (FIA) said after a hearing in Paris that the contrite way in which McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh had apologized for the team's behavior was taken into account.

"Having regard to the open and honest way in which... Whitmarsh addressed the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) and the change in culture he made clear has taken place in his organization, the WMSC decided to suspend the application of the penalty it deemed appropriate," the governing body said.

"That penalty is a suspension of the team from three races... This will only be applied if further facts emerge regarding the case or if in the next 12 months there is a further breach by the team."

A three race suspension would have dealt a hammer blow to Hamilton's dwindling hopes of retaining the title, with the 24-year-old already 22 points behind compatriot Jenson Button after four of the 17 races. It could also have had serious implications for the team's sponsors and 40 percent shareholders Mercedes, already under pressure from union leaders to pull out of the sport.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who attended the hearing, was satisfied with the outcome.

Wrists slapped

"It was good for everybody, that decision. They had their wrists slapped and that was all they needed. They've had enough punishment," he told reporters.

"We think it's entirely fair," added FIA president Max Mosley. "They have demonstrated there is a complete culture change, its all different to what it was and in those circumstances it looks better to put the whole thing behind us which is what we've done. Unless there's something similar in the future, that's the end of the matter."

McLaren faced five counts of bringing the sport into disrepute after Hamilton and now-dismissed sporting director Dave Ryan misled stewards at the Australian Grand Prix and in Malaysia a week later.

Both denied Hamilton had been told to let Toyota's Jarno Trulli pass while following the safety car.

Hamilton had passed Trulli legitimately when the Italian skidded off but the team, which had not seen the incident, was concerned its driver had gone ahead illegally and would be punished for it.

After the race, McLaren protested Trulli's third place and the Toyota driver was demoted to 12th. The second hearing reinstated Trulli and excluded Hamilton and McLaren.

Since then, Ryan has left while former boss Ron Dennis has distanced himself from the team. A contrite Hamilton also made a public apology in Malaysia.

Whitmarsh said he accepted the decision. "We are aware that we made serious mistakes in Australia and Malaysia and I was therefore very glad to be able to apologize for those mistakes once again," he said.


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