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GP Week : Issue 27
Hamilton stripped of Belgium Race stewards under fire after controversial decision – questions over whether McLaren can appeal ... LEWIS Hamilton’s sensational last gasp victory in the Belgian Grand Prix has been stripped from him after the Formula 1 World Championship leader was handed a 25-second penalty in lieu of a drive through, for gaining an advantage after cutting the chicane in the midst of a fight for the lead with Kimi Raikkonen. The decision, by race stewards, to administer such a penalty has come in for almost universal derision by the media and fans alike, as what should have been glowing reports of a superb race have turned to negative publicity. 12 months ago, the Belgian Grand Prix was overshadowed by McLaren’s record $100 million fine at the hands of the FIA, and the curse of Spa appears to have come back to haunt the team one year on. Hamilton had cut the chicane at the end of the 42nd of 44 laps, after he had attempted to pass race leader Kimi Raikkonen around the outside of the final chicane. As Raikkonen squeezed Hamilton, the Briton ducked out of the move, cutting across the tarmac run-off and allowing the Finn back ahead as they crossed the line, before ducking into the Ferrari’s slipstream and pulling off a more successful overtaking attempt at the La Source hairpin. The race stewards however determined that Hamilton had still gained enough of an advantage that he merited a drive- through penalty which, having been awarded after the race, took the form of a 25-second penalty, which dropped the McLaren driver to third position. McLaren released a statement late on Sunday afternoon as their sole reaction to the incident. “We looked at all our data and also made it available to the FIA stewards,”a spokesman said. “It showed that, having lifted, Lewis was 6km/h slower than Kimi as they crossed the start/finish line. Having passed the lead back to Kimi, Lewis repositioned his car, moving across and behind Kimi to the right-hand line and then outbraked him into the hairpin. Based on this data, we have no option other than to register our intention to appeal.” Hamilton himself had earlier defended his actions to the media, before the stewards had passed judgement. “Absolutely, absolutely!”he said, when asked if he would be surprised to be punished. “This is motor racing and if there’s a penalty then there’s something wrong because I was ahead going into that corner [the chicane], so I didn’t gain an advantage from it. We were still able to race at the next corner and I gave him his spot back, and I think it was fair and square, so I think it would be absolutely wrong. But you know what they [the race stewards] are like, so we will see.” Hamilton’s pessimistic words carry extra gravitas in light of the decision handed down by the race stewards, with the decision coming at the end of a weekend which has failed to shower the race adjudicating authorities in glory. Bruno Senna, Giorgio Pantano and Andi Zuber were all handed what appeared to be overblown penalties in Saturday’s Spa GP2 race, and Hamilton’s penalty would seem to be the icing on the cake. This is not the first time this season that Hamilton has come under fire from the race stewards, – at Magny-Cours the McLaren driver was handed a drive- through penalty during the race for an identical offence. The only difference between the French and Belgian races, apart from the stewards on duty at each respective race, was the fact that in Belgium, Hamilton did make a clear attempt to relinquish any unduly gained advantage. Apparently this was not enough for the race stewards. The outcry from within F1 circles at the announcement of Hamilton’s punishment has been deafening. There have long been suggestions that McLaren is treated far harsher than its rivals and, following a number of debatable decisions in 2008, yet another seemingly anti-McLaren, pro- Ferrari decision can only do harm to the regulatory authorities and their reputation for even-handedness. One only has to look back two years to the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2006, when Pedro de la Rosa (McLaren) and Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) were involved in a similar incident, in which de la Rosa’s defence of his position led to Schumacher cutting a chicane. Schumacher made no attempt to let de la Rosa retake his position, although Schumacher was soundly beaten in a fair move one lap later. Schumacher’s move went unpunished. Even the type of penalty has come in for criticism, as it remains unclear whether a team can appeal a drive-through penalty, given that they are usually handed out during a race. McLaren must lodge its appeal within the next week, at which point it will be known whether the appeal is valid, and when we might hope to hear it argued at the Court of Appeal. The decision means that, pending the outcome of an appeal, Felipe Massa inherits the race win and moves to within two points of Lewis Hamilton at the top of the championship table with five races remaining.