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UPDATE 2-Motor racing-McLaren handed suspended three race ban
*McLaren given suspended three race ban
*Whitmarsh apologises in person
*Ecclestone says McLaren have had wrists slapped
(Writes through after verdict, adds quotes)
By Alan Baldwin
PARIS, April 29 (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton's Formula One title defence remained alive on Wednesday after his McLaren team were handed a suspended three race ban for lying to race stewards.
The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) said after a hearing in Paris that the contrite way in which McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh had apologised for the team's behaviour 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 organisation, the WMSC decided to suspend the application of the penalty it deemed appropriate," the FIA 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.
"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 a scrum of reporters outside the FIA's Place de la Concorde headquarters.
"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, who was not at Wednesday's hearing, and now-dismissed sporting director Dave Ryan misled stewards at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix and in Malaysia a week later.
Both denied Hamilton had been told to let Toyota's Jarno Trulli past while following the safety car, despite radio recordings revealing that to be untrue.
Hamilton had passed Trulli legitimately when the Italian skidded off but the team, who had not seen the incident, were concerned their 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 Formula One side of McLaren's business.
A contrite Hamilton also made a public apology in Malaysia.
"In the end, there were decisions taken by people who are no longer involved and that being the case it would have been unfair to go on with the matter," said Mosley.
"McLaren did suffer, they lost all their points from Australia so I think we've done enough and it's fair."
Whitmarsh, who attended the hearing alone and apologised unreservedly, 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 apologise for those mistakes once again," he said.
"I was also able to assure the world motor sport council members that we had taken appropriate action with a view to ensuring that such mistakes do not occur again." (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by John O'Brien and Pritha Sarkar; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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