- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (AP) - Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from the Australian Formula One Grand Prix on Thursday for giving misleading evidence to race stewards.

The McLaren driver was awarded third place after the season-opening GP when stewards ruled Toyota’s Jarno Trulli breached regulations by passing Hamilton during a safety car period in Melbourne on Sunday.

Trulli was reinstated to his original third-place finish Thursday, while Hamilton and McLaren were excluded from the results and receive no points.

A new hearing into the matter, convened by motor sport world governing body FIA, interviewed both drivers and teams, and heard new evidence which included radio transmissions between teams and drivers in Melbourne, as well as technical data from the race.

After deliberating for several hours, FIA released a statement which said Hamilton and McLaren “acted in a manner prejudicial to the conduct of the event by providing evidence deliberately misleading to the stewards.”

“We’re disappointed by what’s happened, but in the circumstances we aren’t going to appeal,” McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said.

“I believe it was a harsh decision. Experience has told us you’ve got to accept these decisions,” he said. “These things come along, and you have to build on your concentration for this weekend and the races to come.”

In the safety car period, brought about by a late crash, Trulli was in third place when he briefly ran off the track. While passing is prohibited during safety car periods, a driver can move up if a car ahead goes off the circuit.

McLaren, having not seen Trulli run off, were told over the radio by Hamilton that he had the Toyota driver. The team tried to get clarification from race control about whether Hamilton could remain in third. When that clarification was not forthcoming, McLaren told Hamilton to give back third place, which he did.

Post-race, the stewards _ without the benefit of McLaren’s radio communication _ ruled that Trulli should not have taken back the third spot, and penalized him 25 seconds, dropping him from third to 12th.

McLaren claimed Thursday they thought race authorities already knew the content of the radio transmission, which can be heard during the race.

Whitmarsh denied that the stewards’ ruling amounted to an allegation that McLaren and Hamilton lied to the Melbourne hearing, saying only that the team erred by not being more forthcoming about the radio communication between team and driver.

“There’s no indication that Lewis lied,” Whitmarsh said.

“There was no lie within that hearing. We the team made a mistake, that we didn’t supply a full account of a radio conversation we believe was being listened to in any case and we don’t believe was material to the decision being made by the stewards.”

Trulli’s reinstatement to third now gives him six championship points and puts Toyota second in the constructors’ championship with 11 points, after teammate Timo Glock finished fourth in Melbourne.

“I didn’t break the rules,” Trulli said. “It was just a question of making sure they could see it and understand it.

“It’s good that they reconsidered it. It shows they really understand there was something they missed and can reconsider with more evidence.

“Immediately after the race it was probably a bit chaotic for them.”

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