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MAY 30, 2007

FIA clears McLaren

The FIA has cleared McLaren of any problems with team orders following the Monaco Grand Prix. The federation concluded that what McLaren did was entirely reasonable as the team was keen to gain the maximum points and could justify why Lewis Hamilton pitted when he did at the second pit stops.

Hamilton's strategy was designed to allow him to have the flexibility to have either a one-stop or a two-stop strategy. The one-stop would have occurred if there was a Safety Car. Alonso, on the other hand, decided to go for the riskier strategy of going for a pure two-stop race. He thus had five laps less fuel in the car than Hamilton. This makes Hamilton's qualifying effort all the more remarkable, particularly given that he made a mistake when coming up to pass Mark Webber, yet made back most of the time before the end of the lap. In other words Hamilton was appreciably quicker than Alonso, despite the fuel.

The decision to go for a compromise strategy makes sense because in four of the past five Monaco Grands Prix there has been a Safety Car.

As things turned out there was no Safety Car and that meant that there was a risk when Hamilton was coming to his second stop that a Safety Car would result in him being dropped back down the order. In an effort to avoid this problem the team concluded that it was best to call him in, thus assuring his second place, with or without the Safety Car.

Had the car in front of Hamilton not been his team-mate, McLaren might have decided to risk a Safety Car and let Hamilton run for as long as his fuel load allowed but there was no obligation to overtake their own car. Indeed it would have been foolish to do so.

It is standard procedure for a team to tell its drivers to slow down when they have a substantial lead. This is in order to minimise the risk of technical or other problems. It is also standard practice and entirely reasonable to ask the drivers not to put each other at risk.

As a result of these facts, the FIA has ruled that McLaren did nothing which could be described as interfering with the race result.