Hamilton penalty: The trial (Poll)

Lewis Hamilton will be in Paris tomorrow to appeal against his Belgian GP penalty

Lewis Hamilton will be in Paris tomorrow to appeal against his Belgian GP penalty

Lewis Hamilton’s penalty in the Belgian Grand Prix has provoked unprecedented levels of debate and discussion on F1 Fanatic – nearly 900 comments spread across four articles.

Tomorrow the World Motor Sports Council meets to pass judgement on McLaren’s appeal against the penalty. Will they change the stewards’ verdict? Will the penalty be decided on a technicality? Here’s a look at what to expect from the trial – plus a vote on what the outcome should be.

An unusual appeal

It’s very rare to see an appeal about a stewards’ verdict on a racing matter to be the subject of an appeal. The majority of recent hearings have concerned technical infringements and other matters, such as ‘spygate’.

McLaren’s track record

However appeals brought by or concerning McLaren are much more common. And their track record is… not good:

May 30th, 2007: FIA investigate McLaren for allegedly using team orders to keep Lewis Hamilton behind Fernando Alonso in the Monaco Grand Prix. McLaren found not guilty.

July 26th, 2007: FIA investigate McLaren after Ferrari accuses them of illegally using their intellectual property. FIA does not punish McLaren, but…

September 13th, 2007: Ferrari appeal against McLaren’s spygate case victory. McLaren fined $100m and have their constructors’ championship points confiscated, for bringing the sport into disrepute.

November 16th, 2007: McLaren appeal against Williams and BMW for using fuel of an illegal temperature during the Brazilian Grand Prix. FIA decides the appeal is inadmissible.

December 12th, 2007: McLaren appeal against Renault for using confidential McLaren information. Renault found guilty but no penalty imposed.

The rules

There were similar recriminations after Klien was passed by Alonso at Suzuka in 2005

There were similar recriminations after Klien was passed by Alonso at Suzuka in 2005

As has been discussed at length elsewhere, there is no written rule that states ‘a driver who overtakes a rival by cutting a corner must let their rival past and not overtake them at the following corner.” If there was, this matter would be a lot simpler!

Hamilton was originally punished under Appendix L to the International Sporting Code (Chapter IV, Article 2.g) which reads:

The race track alone shall be used by the drivers during the race.

See the Sporting Regulations and International Sporting Code for more.

But of course, not every driver who goes off the track gets a 25-second penalty. Therefore, we have to look at past precedent to understand what a driver is expected to do if they go off the track.

Precedent

I don’t know of any past instances where a driver has passed another by cutting a chicane, given the place back, re-taken the place at the next corner, and subsequently been given a 25 second penalty.

The closest example to this I can think of was when Fernando Alonso passed Christian Klien by cutting the chicane at Suzuka in 2005. Alonso gave the place back, but then passed Klien at the next corner. He was initially instructed to give the place back, but the stewards then changed their minds and decided he didn’t have to (although by the time they got around to telling Renault, Alonso had already conded the place back to Klien).

This example is discussed in detail here and based on that it seems McLaren were expecting race control to tell them if they needed to give the place back to Raikkonen.

Since the Spa incident the FIA has issued a ‘clarification’ stating:

Drivers [have been] informed that in the event of a driver cutting a chicane and gaining a position, he not only [has] to give that place back but should also wait for another corner before he [can] attempt to retake it.

A crucial point of the hearing will be whether this instruction has been communicated to the drivers before. There does not appear to be any precedent which indicates it has (though as ever if you know of one please post details in the comments). Mosley seems to think there is (emphasis added):

The primary mistake in my view was the team’s. The team should have decided on precedent, and from everything they know, what advice to give [Hamilton]. I’m not going to express an opinion but the correct procedure was for the team to decide what to tell their driver.

Will the appeal be decided on a ‘technicality’?

Jarno Trulli got off on a technicality in 2001

Jarno Trulli got off on a technicality in 2001

Many appeals to the FIA end up being dismissed on technicalities. Most recently, the FIA threw out McLaren’s appeal against BMW and Williams on a technicality after waiting 25 days to hear the case despite the drivers’ title depending on the result of it.

In 2001 Jordan won its appeal against Jarno Trulli’s disqualification from the United States Grand Prix by showing that one of the stewards’ signatures was missing from the official text of the original decision.

A frivolous appeal?

The FIA can throw out appeals it considers “frivolous”. Max Mosley’s reaction to the appeal suggests this outcome is not out of the question:

My immediate reaction was this is going to waste a great deal of everybody’s time. Which is true, it’s what always happens. A tiny incident and it takes up hours of your time.

Writing in the Autosport Journal (sub. req.), Tony Dodgins argued why the FIA might throw the appeal out as ‘frivolous':

An appeal court might conclude that in light of the Alonso precedent, McLaren’s appeal is actually frivolous.

However, Dodgins’ description of the ‘Alonso precedent’ appears to overlook the fact the stewards eventually told Alonso he didn’t need to give the place back. (Details here).

On one of the last occasions I can recall a penalty like this being a subject of an appeal, the FIA increased the penalty to the driver concerned. Eddie Irvine was originally given a one-race ban for his part in a crash in the 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix, but after his appeal the ban was extended to three races, because the FIA deemed the appeal ‘frivolous’.

Admissibility

Just as with the Williams/BMW fuel protest last year, there are questions over whether McLaren can appeal against the penalty. Hamilton’s 25-second penalty was served instead of a drive-through penalty because the infringement occurred so late in the race. Drive-though penalties during races cannot be appealed.

I’ve had a look at the regulations and I can’t find a part that says why McLaren’s appeal would be inadmissible. (See the links to the regulations above if you want to have a look).

The role of Charlie Whiting

McLaren has pointed out that it twice asked race director Charlie Whiting whether Hamilton had done enough to cede the place back to Raikkonen, and Whiting twice affirmed they had. Mosley had the following to say about that:

I think there were two mistakes made there. One is that McLaren should not have asked Charlie. The second is that he should not have answered. [...] Charlie is in one of the most high-pressured situations and in that situation the teams should not answer him and he should not answer them because he is not in a position to give even the beginnings of a considered opinion. So there were two mistakes made. [...] What I think Charlie said was: ‘I think it was OK’. At least that’s what I’ve been told. I’m not there and that will be for the court to decide. It’s all going to the court of appeal and it’s all open to the press.

The role of Whiting in the matter is a debatable point. Clearly in 2005 race control were involved in instructing Alonso whether to give the position back to Klien or not, which is presumably why McLaren wanted to clear the move with Whiting.

The Mosley factor

Mosley has been scathing of the coverage the incident has received in Britain. His relationship with his home nation’s press has already been tarnished this year after revelations about his participation in sadomasochistic sex orgies. Will this colour his view on whether Hamilton should get a penalty?

There is debate over what role Mosley plays in taking decisions to begin with. At Spa the stewards that decided to penalise Hamilton were Nicholas Deschaux, Surinder Thatthi and Yves Bacquelaine. Their positions are filled by different people at each race weekend.

However the only steward that asked Hamilton any questions during the deliberations was Alan Donnelly, the FIA’s representative who attends every race meeting. Questions are being asked about how close the communication was between Donnelly and Mosley, and Donnelly’s suitability for such a role given his past work for another team.

If noting else, the appeal might at least serve as a starting point for a debate on whether F1’s racing rules should be written down properly, instead of leaving them to unclear and often contradictory ‘precedents’ and poorly-communicated ‘clarifications’. Drivers and fans alike deserve better.

The poll

What SHOULD be the outcome of Hamilton's appeal

  • Hamilton should receive a lighter penalty (14%)
  • Hamilton should receive a harsher penalty (7%)
  • Hamilton should receive no penalty (56%)
  • The FIA should throw out the appeal (23%)

Total Voters: 693

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The hearing starts at 10am tomorrow (Monday).

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100 comments on Hamilton penalty: The trial (Poll)

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  1. Journeyer said on 21st September 2008, 11:38

    First! The comments on this thread will make for some VERY interesting reading, tomorrow.

    I think Hamilton SHOULD get a lighter penalty (which would allow him to get his win back), but his appeal WILL probably get thrown out. That’s my guess.

  2. Alianora La Canta said on 21st September 2008, 11:54

    I believe Hamilton should get no penalty at all, given that:

    a) the whole thing started when he was brake-tested by Raikkonen, or at least when Raikkonen braked extremely early for no good reason I could see (I didn’t realise this until ITV showed a complete view of the incident in the Monza build-up). In other words, Hamilton was reacting to Raikkonen breaking the regulations. Due to the delay in spotting this, Kimi cannot be punished for his actions, but if he’d taken the corner in a standard defensive manner, Hamilton would have had the option of not breaking the regulation.

    b) The alternative to cutting the chicane was to crash into Raikkonen, which is itself against the regulations and also more harmful to Raikkonen’s performance.

    c) There is nothing in the regulations about gaining an advantage or returning it; all it says is that drivers must stay on the track. Therefore that cannot be used in the FIA’s defence. Especially since it is clear from the fall-out that there never was a consensus about what “getting an advantage” or “returning the advantage” meant.

    d) Most of the grid left the track at least once during the race without the slightest attempt to return the advantage. Some of these did not even occur during the wet final few laps (when the stewards could legitimately say they were too busy discussing the Raikkonen/Hamilton incident). None of them were investigated, let alone punished. None of them could be punished now, but consistency of regulatory application means that neither can Hamilton.

    As a result, the FIA haven’t got a leg to stand on when it comes to punishing Hamilton. Nonetheless, I expect that the penalty will either remain the same or be increased. It does not behoove the FIA to look as if its stewards can ever make a mistake these days because one admission of fault would open the floodgates to the many other questionable decisions they’ve made. In fact, it could irreparably damage the authority of the FIA. If it cannot get a simple thing like the winner right, what is the point of having it?

  3. S Hughes said on 21st September 2008, 12:03

    If Mosley wanted McLaren to use a precedent, then the one you quoted, Alonso and Klien, would be the perfect one, which shows that Lewis did everything he needed to give back the advantage. It seems there was NO clear cut rule as to how long a driver had to wait before overtaking after giving back the advantage, and this “rule” was “clarified” at the race after Spa, indicating that it wasn’t common knowledge and that the FIA appear to make the rules up as they go along. Coupled with the fact that race control gave Dennis clear advice, the only just thing to do would be to restore Lewis’ win that he had ON THE TRACK fair and square in what was one of the most exciting races in F1 history. It isn’t just British newspapers who are behind Lewis; I’ve read articles in American, Australian, and South African newspapers who are equally perplexed by this penalty and think it is madness. I have read comments from Ferrari fans AND Alonso fans (believe it or not) who think the penalty is wrong. The only people who could possibly support the penalty are a. diehard Hamilton-haters (and as we know there are plenty of those around); b. people who know nothing about F1; or c. Max Mosley and the FIA who are notoriously anti-McLaren and I suspect racist too.

    As for whether the penalty will be reversed, I think there is more chance of the moon being made of cheese, because despite F1, being a marvellous sport in many ways, it is blatantly corrupt and unfair and dodgy.

  4. Alianora La Canta said on 21st September 2008, 12:05

    As for the rules, they should have been written down clearly to start with. Every other sport I know manages it (and modifies them every so often at need, communicating rule changes to competitors equally clearly). The FIA’s inability to do that for motorsport as a whole is a serious indictment on the legitimacy of its governance.

  5. Pete Walker said on 21st September 2008, 12:43

    As far as I’m concerned, Hamilton’s case should be strongly considered since the clarification of the rule (ie, don’t repass at the next corner) was only made after the incident (and is an unwritten rule at that). It seems unfair to punish somebody for a rule that was made after the event. Hamilton’s actions might have pushed the limits of the regulations, but since those regulations did not clearly define what is and isn’t acceptable, you couldn’t argue that he broke a rule.

    Furthermore, whether or not Charlie Whiting made a mistake in giving his opinion to the McLaren team that the move was acceptable, he did communicate that opinion. As the race director, of course McLaren will respect his views and take them as guidance. If Charlie is not entitled to be part of the stewarding process, that should have been made explicitly clear. Before the Belgian Grand Prix, I don’t believe it was.

    And lets not forget that Raikkonen basically forced him off-track.

    I don’t see McLaren winning the appeal though. My hope now is that if Massa wins the championship, he wins it by more than six points so that this whole debacle turns out not to be the deciding factor in this year’s title race.

  6. @Alianora La Canta go back on your meds eh?

    kimi didn’t brake test him, kimi had no temp in his tyres or brakes, every corner he was braking early – he had no choice and that’s a reason why hamilton was able to catch up to him.

    @S Hughes not everyone is against the penalty, i’ve read many articles that support it. just because your a diehard hamilton fan doesnt mean your know everything about f1, or that the decision was right.

    end of the day, hamilton cut the corner and didnt wait 1 corner before attacking again, when he clearly had more speed and could have waited 1 corner to do it.

    too hot headed and too immature to wait.

    on the other hand, massa drove a clean error free race and was gifted a win because hamilton was too hot headed and kimi binned it.

    i hope the penalty sticks and the appeal is thrown out.

    the stewards made the decision with full knowledge they would cop heaps of flack in the media, but they believed it was the right decision, so it was made.

    they know more about the rules, what teams and drivers know, and have more footage to make an educated decision what to do then both of you do.

    lets not debate all of this again, just wait until it’s over and move on.the next race is on in singapore and that’s what’s going to be interesting.

  7. Where ever no written rules exists then appeal exist

  8. @Pete Walker did you see hamilton force someone he wasn’t racing – timo glock off the track in monza for no real reason? he was clearly faster than glock but he pushed him off the track – onto the grass and could have cost glock his race if he binned it.

    kimi and hamilton were fighting for a win, hamilton was just being a prick (unsportsman like driver)

    hamilton is no saint.

    http://en.f1-live.com/f1/en/headlines/news/detail/080915141257.shtml
    “”I do not know what he was thinking. I was right next to him but he left me no room. Sometimes he drives as though he is completely alone on the track,””

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kErhrBFtaog

    if you watch that video – and if you remember the race weekend, that long corner was the point of lots of good fair overtaking, some drivers found extra pace on the outside, some on the inside, both respecting and racing to the next corner and fighting under braking, hamilton was the only one being abusive on track.

  9. @abbood – well there’s a rule that says driver through (25 second) penalties cannot be appealed.

  10. Jonesracing82 said on 21st September 2008, 13:07

    another incident which hasnt come up as yet =
    on lap 2 at spa, when hamo spun at la source, kimi went wide in order to avoid an accident – sound familiar – he then drafted hamo through eau rouge and overtook at les combes!
    isnt that a similar offence, in that eau rouge these days is more or less a str8 as there’s no ‘braking’ or ‘lifting’ before it…….
    another point that came to my mind, after hamo passed at la source, half way around the track kimi DID get back in front, even tho he wasnt ‘let’ past, he ‘STILL GOT AHEAD’. kimi then spun, undoing this action but thats not hamo’s fault!
    if the FIA want the sport to seen as fair y not judge the fact of the incident on ‘HOW THE RULE WAS WRITTEN AT THE TIME OF THE FACT!

  11. Jonesracing82 said on 21st September 2008, 13:08

    and thne change it afterwards, that way, they cant be accused of making it all up to suit their preferances!

  12. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st September 2008, 13:20

    Guys please remember insulting comments are not allowed and will be deleted, which has happened with this post. Please stick to the topic without insulting each other:

    F1Fanatic Comment Policy
    Rules on commenting (forum post)

  13. Todd: Apart from the fact that your point has nothing to do with the appeal, you are also getting the facts wrong. Hamilton was fighting Glock for position – the video is taken from lap 15 when Hamilton was fighting his way up through the field. It shows that Hamilton was clearly ahead before the first chicane, but Glock sticks his nose inside the Mclaren for the corner, thereby forcing Hamilton to take the outside line. As the driver in the lead, Hamilton would have been within his rights to move to the inside and cause a collision but he allows Glock room.

    In the straight following the chicane, Hamilton is once more ahead but Glock starts to move up alongside; starts, please notice – at no time was he alongside. And this is where you need to read Keith’s post on the unwritten rules of F1. Unwritten rule 3 states: A defending driver can push his rival off the track. Hamilton did not even go that far; he merely closed the door, presenting Glock with the option of backing off or going off the track. It was tough but fair – and no more than Raikkonen had done to him in the second section of the Bus Stop chicane at Spa.

  14. Anonymouse said on 21st September 2008, 14:26

    I’ve had a thought about the Glock incident at Monza in relation to Spa.

    A LOT of people suggested that the “Advantage” gained by Hamilton, was that by cutting the Chicane, he was a lot closer to Kimi than he would have been if he had taken the Chicane correctly.

    Well, Glock took the Chicane at Monza correctly and was right up Hamiltons backside 100m later. Which says to me that Hamilton COULD have been that close to Kimi if he had taken the Chicane correctly. Which makes their “what if” argument theory if nothing else.

  15. Don’t forget that Hamilton was ahead of kimi going into the corner(s), and kimi pushed him off… can’t be punished imo. But I’m affraid things won’t change.

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