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McLaren escape with suspended three race ban
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PARIS (AFP) — McLaren were on Wednesday handed a suspended three-race ban for bringing the sport into disrepute, motorsport's governing body, the FIA, announced.

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes-backed team were in the dock on five counts of misleading stewards at the season-opening race in Melbourne in the so-called 'liar-gate' affair.

The FIA said in a statement that, at an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council, McLaren had "admitted five charges of breaching article 151c of the International Sporting Code relating to events at the Australian and Malaysian Grands Prix".

"Having regard to the open and honest way in which McLaren Team Principal, Mr Martin Whitmarsh, addressed the WMSC and the change in culture which he made clear has taken place in his organisation, the WMSC decided to suspend the application of the penalty it deems appropriate," the FIA said.

"That penalty is a suspension of the team from three races of the FIA Formula One World Championship. 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 of article 151c of the International Sporting Code."

Whitmarsh, after appearing at the hearing, said: "We are aware that we made serious mistakes in Australia and Malaysia, and I was therefore very glad to be able to apologise for those mistakes once again.

"I was also pleased to be able to assure the FIA World Motor Sport Council members that we had taken appropriate action with a view to ensuring that such mistakes do not occur again."

The punishment relates to an incident in Melbourne when Toyota's Jarno Trulli slid off the track when the safety car was out and 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.

FIA president Max Mosley described Wednesday's ruling as "entirely fair".

"They (McLaren) have demonstrated there is a complete culture change, that it's all different to what it was," he said after the hearing at the FIA's headquarters at place de la Concorde.

"In those circumstances it looks better to put the whole thing behind us, so unless there is something similar in the future, that is the end of the matter."

The fall-out for McLaren has already been extensive, with the widely respected Ryan sacked, and Ron Dennis stepping aside as team boss, to be replaced by Whitmarsh.

Hamilton, who issued a public apology after the incident, has escaped punishment from the FIA.

The Briton, whose title defence has got off to a wretched start, has harvested just nine points from the first four races of the season, 22 points adrift of his compatriot Jenson Button of the Brawn team.

The next race is the Spanish Grand Prix on May 10.

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