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Coulthard on Hamilton row

Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton has a lot on his mind following the latest controversy to hit his team

David Couthard
By David Coulthard
BBC F1 pundit

The season is not even two races old but Lewis Hamilton finds himself in the most trying situation of his career.

After coming off an amazing championship-winning season, he finds himself with a car that is not performing and right in the middle of a controversy.

Hamilton's integrity has been called into question - and in some cases he has been called a liar - after he was found guilty of giving misleading evidence to race stewards following the Australian Grand Prix.

How has this happened and what does it mean for the world champion?

McLaren have clearly parked the blame for the miscommunication between Hamilton and the race stewards on sporting director Dave Ryan, who as a result has been suspended.

You trust the integrity and safety of the car, so why would you not trust them when they give you a guideline on what to say?

David Coulthard

Hamilton has escaped similar punishment because as a driver he says he acted under instruction from the team. My belief is that this would have been the case.

I've been in that situation many times and you trust your team - you trust the integrity and safety of the car, so why would you not trust them when they give you a guideline on what to say?

What the public has to try to understand is that when you go into a stewards' meeting, you try and present yourself in the best possible light to get the result you want - not being penalised.

It is a part of the sport whether people like it or not.

Here's what happens when the race stewards decide they want to see you.

First of all, the stewards alert the team manager - in McLaren's case that would be Ryan - and he would then immediately go to find the driver.

Lewis Hamilton's McLaren
The lack of pace of the McLaren adds to Hamilton's problems

They would then chit-chat on their way to the meeting, agree on a strategy and present it to the stewards.

But I don't think there would have been a big discussion between Hamilton and Ryan as the incident in Melbourne was quite clear-cut.

Jarno Trulli ran off the circuit, Hamilton passed him and then allowed the Toyota man to re-pass him.

The difficulty is that we simply do not know what was said by Hamilton and Ryan when they went into the meeting.

But I would be absolutely shocked if Ryan knowingly lied or acted in a dishonourable way.

I appeared before the stewards several times with him by my side as my team manager at McLaren; at no time did he ever ask me to give misleading information.

There have been questions asked about why Ryan was allowed to decide what story to tell the stewards without referring to team principal Martin Whitmarsh or his predecessor, McLaren chairman, Ron Dennis.

When a driver goes through difficult times, it is natural to start looking further a field

But Whitmarsh has laid the responsibility at Ryan's door and we have to take him at face value.

Why would Whitmarsh or Dennis need to get involved when going to see the stewards is a very straightforward occurrence?

Dennis is not in charge anymore, he was not scheduled to be in Malaysia - what message would it send out if he suddenly parachuted in to fire fight the situation?

What Dennis might be seriously concerned about, however, is how this affair is affecting the relationship he forged between McLaren and Hamilton.

I believe Hamilton was right to defend himself in front of the world's media and to apologise.

As much as he is indebted to McLaren, he also has to protect his own reputation.

Martin Whitmarsh fields the media's questions in Malaysia
Whitmarsh has had a trying start to his career as team boss

There will be some very frank conversations between Hamilton and his employees but the relationship is long and strong enough to come through this.

Hamilton is contracted until 2010 and so he has no choice but to stay with the team for now.

But it will be a long, hard season ahead, and when a driver goes through difficult times it is natural to start looking further afield.

Hamilton is also learning that his wonderful rollercoaster of Formula 1 is not just up, up, up - he has to ride out the downs as well.

McLaren find themselves gritting their teeth again after a very difficult two years.

Despite having won the drivers' championship in 2008, the spy row of 2007, where they had to publicly apologise for having Ferrari data, was very damaging and now there are question marks over the team and its senior members once more.

In difficult times like this the only option is to regroup and review their strategy going forward.

After the low of the spy scandal this "lie scandal" is not great for McLaren's public relations.

We haven't heard the last of this latest scandal to hit Hamilton and his team

David Coulthard

It will have an impact on the atmosphere within the McLaren group, their sponsors and Mercedes-Benz, who own 40% of the company.

In many respects, Mercedes are a silent partner but now they are having to absorb the knock-on effects of a situation not of their own making.

My instinct about this whole situation is that you have to believe in people.

I have had a long relationship with McLaren and if I felt they were cut from a dishonourable cloth I would distance myself from them.

Can a leopard change its spots, do the modern demands of F1 mean McLaren have adopted a win-at-all-costs strategy?

I can't answer those questions, but I do think we have not heard the last of the latest scandal to hit Hamilton and his team.

David Coulthard was talking to Sarah Holt

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see also
I am not a liar, insists Hamilton
03 Apr 09 |  Formula 1
Hamilton loses Aussie GP points
02 Apr 09 |  Formula 1

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