JUNE 27, 2010

Ferrari bitter about Hamilton's second place

Fernando Alonso and Ferrari are bitter about the stewarding of the European Grand Prix, in which Alonso was ultimately classified eighth, and feel it is entirely wrong that Lewis Hamilton, who illegally overtook the Safety Car, was still able to finish second after serving a Drive Through penalty. The FIA, however, claims it acted entirely correctly and followed procedure.

Ferrari feels it took too long for Hamilton's penalty to be announced, allowing him to suffer no consequence when serving it, and that 5s post-race penalties for cars which had sped during the deployment of the Safety Car were too lenient and had little impact on the final classification.

Early on, as soon as the Safety Car was deployed for Mark Webber's huge cart-wheeling accident, and Hamilton passed it, Alonso was on the radio to his team. "Get Charlie (Whiting, the FIA Race Director) onto the Hamilton case “ it's the only thing you have to do all race," he said.

Post-race, Alonso stormed: "The race was ruined by the Safety Car and everything that followed on from that. I am disappointed most of all for the thousands of spectators who were here today and saw how the situation was handled. I am very bitter about what happened today. I was in third place, a metre behind Hamilton at the moment the Safety Car came out on track and at the chequered flag, he was second and I was ninth, even though we had made the same choice of strategy.

"The penalty he was given came when it could no longer have any real influence on his finishing position. From then on, my race was compromised."

Sporting director Stefano Domenicali added: "We are very angry because we didn't get the points that we should have done from this race considering the performance. We did a step forward, not enough maybe to catch Red Bull, but in the right direction and we saw on the first lap of the race the situation was progressing in the right direction.

"We were extremely unlucky because if you look at the only cars that were on the main straight when the Safety Car was deployed, it was Vettel, Hamilton, Fernando and Felipe. Sebastian was able to be in front of the Safety Car, Hamilton was basically not respecting the yellow light of the Safety Car and we ended up with our two cars behind the Safety Car. And then we had a complete lap with our two cars behind it and in the meantime all the others are coming in and taking advantage of the fact that we are not able to pass it."

Ironically, as Domenicali explained that he understood the importance of the FIA having to make sure the decision to penalise Hamilton was correct, England's second goal that never was in their World Cup match with Germany appeared on the TV in the Ferrari motorhome and he wryly gesticulated at it by way of example!

He added: "When the situation is that you take a decision and know that there is an impact on the classification, and in the end, because of the delay, it has not happened, this is something that deviates from the principal of the decision and today this affected Ferrari very, very heavily. Next time it will affect someone else but today is the time, I think, to make sure this kind of situation does not happen again.

"For sure, everyone thinks about how to use the sporting decision because at the moment you know that there is an investigation, you say 'push' because maybe they will get a 20s penalty. Then they get five seconds. That is something that from my view is not good."

There was no problem with the timing of the Safety Car deployment or the fact that it did not pick up race leader Vettel “ it can be called for at any time -- and in that respect, Ferrari was merely unfortunate. Race director Whiting had actually called for the Safety Car as soon as Webber was airborne and before his car had actually come to a stop. Anticipating a serious situation, he wanted the medical car to get to the scene of the accident without having to worry about race cars going past it, which is why, with Vettel and Hamilton already gone, the Safety Car did not wave the rest of the field past until it was through Turn 13.

The delay in penalising Hamilton was because Whiting and the stewards wanted to be absolutely sure that a penalty was justified. Hamilton at first seemed to slow down when he saw the Safety Car out of the corner of his eye, then realised that the Safety Car line was further up the road and carried on. Whether he got there before the Safety Car or not, was a close call.

Proving it was no simple matter. Race control has the use of a GPS system but there was no back-up timing loop at that point and so they had to find footage of the incident. That was initially from the wrong angle and was inconclusive and so they had to locate aerial footage. There was also the question of exactly where the timing transponders were on Hamilton's car and the Safety Car respectively which, if you are talking about less than a car's length, is significant. That all needed to be checked and speeds/distances ratified.

There was also criticism that by the time it became clear to race control that a penalty for Hamilton was appropriate it should also have been clear to them that a mere Drive Through would have no impact on his finishing position and that perhaps a Stop-Go penalty would have been more appropriate.

Against that though, the governing body follows precedent instead of making subjective decisions and leaving itself open to accusations of inconsistency. Ironically, the most recent precedent was the Drive Through penalty given to Webber on the occasion of his first F1 win at Nurburgring last year, which he was able to serve without losing his lead.

The FIA also pointed out that the speeding penalties for cars during their pit stop laps under the Safety Car were relatively lenient because many of them were doing 180mph plus within a couple of hundred metres of the Safety Car line when the car was deployed and could do little about it. They may have broken the letter of the law but not its spirit. The conclusion has to be that on this occasion Hamilton was fortunate and Ferrari the opposite.