So last Sunday at the Belgian Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton had his victory taken away from him two hours later by the stewards. This has stoked a few flames and made a lot of people (once again) doubt Formula One.
Honestly with all the backroom politics I am surprised that anyone watches it anymore. Now most people will know that I am a big Lewis Hamilton fan and went to Brands Hatch’s DTM meeting mainly to see him. But I am also a Formula One fan so lets see if I can deconstruct the penalty.
After the second pitstop and on the harder tyres Hamilton was much quicker than Kimi Raikonnen, he had closed the gap since the stop from six seconds to 1.5 seconds. With three laps to go he decided to give it a go on the outside into the last corner (Bus Stop). He got up past Raikonnen into the corner:
He was then forced around the outside of the first part only to be squeezed into going across the run off area on the inside:
Out of the corner he let Kimi back through and then overtook him into the next corner. This next image shows the letter to Mclaren explaining the penalty.
It explains several regulations which amount to the following:
Article 30.3a F1 Regulations
Chapter 30 – General Safety
30.3a – During practice and the race, drivers may use only the track and must at all times observe the
provisions of the Code relating to driving behaviour on circuits.
Appendix L Chapter 4 Article 2g Sporting Regulations
2 – Overtaking
The race track alone shall be used by the drivers during the race.
Article 16.4b F1 Regulations
16 – Incidents
16.4 – Should the stewards decide to impose either of the penalties under Article 16.3a) or b), the following
procedure will be followed :
b) From the time the stewards’ decision is notified on the timing monitors the relevant driver may cover
no more than three complete laps before entering the pit lane and, in the case of a penalty under
Article 16.3b), proceeding to his garage where he shall remain for the period of the time penalty.
However, unless the driver was already in the pit entry for the purpose of serving his penalty, he
may not carry out the penalty after the Safety Car has been deployed. Any laps carried out behind
the Safety Car will be added to the three lap maximum.
Whilst a car is stationary in the pit lane as a result of incurring a time penalty it may not be worked
on. However, if the engine stops it may be started after the time penalty period has elapsed.
To me these rules do not say that Hamilton did anything wrong nor anything right. It does not even mention that someone has to let another car through after overtaking them unfairly. Mclaren during the incident taking place asked the race director Charlie Whiting whether Lewis had done the right thing and were told he had. But then three steward after the race decided otherwise. Looking at the three stewards who made the decision none are FIA appointed, none have any racing experience they just have to try and follow the letter of the law. Surely Formula One should have a set group of stewards who have Grand Prix experience to fulfil this role.
What it all boils down to then was did Hamilton gain an advantage from running off the track. If I am honest I would say yes he did, for example he could have followed the corner a little closer than this:
In the second image the apex is blue. He could have followed the corner closer. Certainly Mclaren can prove that Hamilton was slower than Hamilton down the pit straight but I feel he was always working to set himself up into the first corner. He left no time between being overtaken and taking the place back again. If he had left it until after Eau Rouge then he would have gotten away with it. The penalty then was for Hamilton not relinquishing the position for long enough before taking it back. Then though you have to think… where in those roles above did it say how long the place had to be given back for or even that he did have to. There is precedence for similar decisions, Alonso was penalised for the same thing in Japan 2005 but that hardly makes it right.
The big question then is; is F1 fixed? That is up for debate, Ferrari do seem to get everything going there way, there are two incidents in particular to bring up:
Kimi loses control and ploughs into the back of the superb Adrian Sutil at Monaco. It is judged as a racing incident and the Ferrari driver gets off scot free.
The second offense was Massa in Valencia when his team let the car out into the path of Adrian Sutil (he keeps cropping up) as Sutil was leaving the pitlane. The rules clearly state it is the competitors responsibility to be released when it is safe to be. This was not the case and Ferrari got away with a 50,000 euro fine and no points penalty. Both of these were bad calls and the same would seem to go against Mclaren. Who have had no bigger decision go against them than the $50 million penalty they incurred last year for the spy scandal. Where did $50 million come from? The team itself had little to do with it so why punish them so harshly. The FIA needs to get its act together. It needs a appoint stewards who go to every venue and know what they are doing, they need to be fair and even handed in their decisions. There may have been a place for Hamilton’s penalty but they need to make sure the same rules occur to the big red cars next door at the moment its one rule for Mclaren and one for ferrari.