The FIA ruled to penalise Hamilton today after the qualifying session thus excluding his pole position and making him start P24 (last) in the race tomorrow. Understandably, this ruling has attracted quite a bit of opinion and views fuelled from an emotive context from fans seeing their driver go literally from first to last after what he described was his “best pole ever”.
Before presenting my own opinion on the matter I feel it’s paramount to first examine the full facts and rules upon which the decision is made to not jump to conclusions.
The Rules & Facts
First, here’s the official ruling from the stewards (click for official PDF):
“The stewards received a report from the race director which stated that during post-qualifying scrutineering a sample of fuel was required from car four, however, the car failed to return to the pits under its own power as required under Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations.
“The stewards heard from the team representative Mr Sam Michael who stated that the car stopped on the circuit for reasons of force majeure. A team member had put an insufficient quantity of fuel into the car thereby resulting in the car having to be stopped on the circuit in order to be able to provide the required amount for sampling purposes.
“The stewards determine that this is a breach of Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations and the competitor is accordingly excluded from the results of the qualifying session. The competitor is however allowed to start the race from the back of the grid.”
Now let’s examine this Article 6.6.2 which McLaren infringed upon:
“Competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the event. “Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.”
Note this article was put into place because of a pretty much mirror incident that occurred in Canada 2010 with Lewis Hamilton. He qualified on pole (only McLaren pole in 2010) in an intense qualifying session to later stop the car half way around the track because of lack of fuel. The other teams contested this (because the difference in fuel could have potentially made a difference in that session) and thus this article was brought into place.
What Actually Happened?
BBC’s Gary Anderson sheds light into what actually happened and make McLaren make this crucial, vital mistake.
“The fuel rig guy put the rig on, but he had the handle set to drain fuel. He discovered his mistake and switched it to put fuel in the car. But as a result he didn’t put as much fuel in it as he should have. You have to be able to drive back to the pit-lane and have one litre of fuel left for the FIA to test. He went across the start-finish line 20 seconds before the chequered flag but if they had sat in the garage for three or four more seconds to get more fuel in, they still would have had time to cross the line and complete another flying lap. Sometimes I don’t think McLaren think on their feet.”
Did McLaren underfuel/cheat to go faster in qualifying?
NO!! Absolutely not. As revealed above by Gary Anderson this was a genuine mistake from McLaren owing to a fuel rig problem.
Even if you account for the maximum of 3 tenths the weight of a full, fast lap of fuel accounts for, Hamilton still had the pole by quarter of a second. Hamilton as a driver fully deserved that pole.
Why wasn’t Vettel/Rosberg/Massa punished when he parked the car after the race in Bahrain?
Thats because the rule (Article 6.2.2) states that it only applies to “practice sessions”. Confusingly, the qualifying session is officially referred to as “qualifying practice”. So as it stands in every session apart from the race you need to get back to the pits under your own power & give that 1L fuel sample.
Is the FIA’s decision’s wrong/biased/unjust?
This is the question and sentiment I’m finding the most on social media right now. In a word: No.
Whilst you could argue it is harsh to exclude him to qualifying hence take away that spectacular pole position (McLaren’s 150th pole position) from him, it is completely under the rules. In fact, it’s worth stating that the FIA stewards had the power to disqualify him from the race all together but have chosen not to.
It’s the duty of the stewards and FIA to police and implement the technical regulations that have been set in place. By penalising hamilton they are simply adhering to the guidelines and doing their job.
In terms of accountability, this was a mistake from McLaren and mistakes happen. Lewis Hamilton himself was in no way responsible for this and whilst it is a massive shame for him to undergo the penalty for the team’s mistake but that is the way it is in F1. You drive for, celebrate victories and rue penalties with the team.
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