MARCH 22, 2008
Why the McLarens have been sent back five places
Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton will start the Malaysian Grand Prix from eighth and ninth on the grid, rather than third and fourth, following a decision by the FIA Stewards to penalise the two McLarens for impeding the progress of Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber. The two were given five place drops on the grid. Heidfeld reckoned that he lost a couple of tenths because he came across the two McLaren drivers heading slowly round the track, saving fuel, after they had finished their fast laps. He had to thread the needle between them, but he seemed to do so without any obvious delay.
The ruling means that Jarno Trulli moves up to third on the grid in his Toyota with Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld fourth and fifth, Mark Webber sixth and Fernando Alonso seventh. The biggest advantage, however, probably goes to Ferrari as Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen will now be chased by a number of slower cars, rather than the McLarens. It will be interesting to see how the race develops, but the signs are that the Woking cars probably have more fuel on board than do the Ferraris, so the effect of the penalty will be lessened, unless the McLarens get stuck behind slower cars.
There are many arguments about whether the impeding rule is a sensible one, as the punishments rarely fits the crime. There are very few occasions when there is any suggestion of deliberate baulking - it makes no sense to do such things when stewards dole out such penalties.