Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Barcelona, 2012

McLaren’s mistake costs Hamilton too dearly

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Barcelona, 2012Cast your mind back ten races ago to qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix.

In the dying minutes of the session, Lewis Hamilton sat in his garage, unable to return to the track as McLaren had not been able to get enough fuel in his car in time. It was a costly mistake which left him fourth on the grid instead of in contention for the front row.

In qualifying for this weekend’s race in Spain, McLaren not only repeated that mistake – but compounded it with another one. Having failed to put enough fuel in his car in time, McLaren then sent Hamilton onto the track.

It’s not clear whether the team member who failed to fill the car up properly alerted them before the car was released. But they certainly found out in time to tell Hamilton to stop the car while it still had enough fuel in it for the FIA to take the mandatory post-session sample.

In doing this McLaren failed to satisfy another part of the rule book: article 6.6.2 of the technical regulations, which states:

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.

For avoidance of doubt, “a practice session” includes the qualifying session. Note also that drivers may stop their car immediately after the race to ensure they have enough fuel in – as Sebastian Vettel did in Bahrain three weeks ago – but cannot do so in qualifying.

McLaren have no excuse for not being familiar with this rule – the second paragraph was inserted in the June 23rd 2010 update to the technical regulations, just over a week after Hamilton had been reprimanded for stopping on his way back to the pits after taking pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix.

Again, this was because he did not have enough fuel in the car – a mistake McLaren have now made at least once every season in the last three years.

When Hamilton came to a stop at Campsa, McLaren initially blamed an unspecified technical problem. But the radio message to him at the time – saying he was on pole position “for now” – was a clear sign they were concerned about their compliance with the rules and had worked out what the likely penalty would be.

A disproportionate punishment

Hamilton’s all-too-frequent encounters with the stewards were documented here last year. On this occasion he was not the one to blame.

According to the stewards, McLaren sporting director Sam Michael “stated that the car stopped on the circuit for reasons of force majeure”. They ruled that: “As the amount of fuel put into the car is under the complete control of the competitor the stewards cannot accept this as a case of force majeure.”

The stewards therefore found McLaren in breach of the technical regulations. The standard penalty for this is to be sent to the back of the grid, as happened to Sebastien Buemi at the Nurburgring last year.

McLaren made a mistake, their attempt to explain it away as “force majeure” was flimsy, and the stewards applied the rules as they are framed. But put in perspective it’s hard to view this penalty as anything other than completely disproportionate to the offence.

Hamilton was given the same penalty Michael Schumacher received at Monaco in 2006, when he deliberately parked his car on the track to prevent other drivers from beating his pole position time.

A calculated act of cheating such as that clearly deserved a harsh penalty to deter repeat offenders. Unlike that offence, McLaren’s error today was a careless oversight, as the stewards’ report makes clear.

The rules should allow for a distinction between a driver consciously deciding to break the rules in an unsporting way, and someone neglecting to put enough fuel in a car – the two infractions are a completely different order of magnitude.

There is no reason to expect that Hamilton’s car did not conform with the rules when he set his earlier lap times. The option to delete his final time, which was set after the botched refuelling attempt, would have been a proportional punishment for McLaren’s mistake.

Hamilton’s penalty has already provoked a strong reaction from readers. The root cause is two phenomenon we have become used to seeing: yet another blunder by McLaren in the pits, and a disproportionate response from the stewards.


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Image ?? McLaren/Hoch Zwei

163 comments on “McLaren’s mistake costs Hamilton too dearly”

  1. yep they knew the rules because they happened to be the ones that had done it all before.
    i cant stand it when people blame the driver when he had nothing to do with the amount of fuel put in.
    shame as it has just blown my score clean out the window, bugger.
    well we might get to see another winner this race, go Maldonado.
    that cagey old fox Alonso has a spring in his step now.

  2. Now I know that yesterday I wrote that I wouldnt even really mind a penalty for Hamilton giving Maldonado pole, but this …

    Why not just take away Hamiltons’ laptime that was affected, leaving him with the time set at the start of Q3. Or giving a few places grid penalty. Instead he starts at the back with hardly any fresh tyres left.

    What a mess up by McLaren and another unfathomably unjust application of the rules. F1 badly needs stewarding that not only look at the rules and the pictures/footage and telemetry but also applies reason, like a judge would.

    Now I would really fancy a pole to flag victory from Maldonado though, and Hamilon making it on the podium anyhow!

  3. FIA is one big old joke.

  4. I do not understand one thing (kindly explain me).

    When Lewis stopped on his in-lap in Canada 2010, the technical regulations were made:

    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.

    So then why similar rules were not written for races as well when we have seen many such incidents in races as well? (probably because Hamilton was not one of them?).

    For my short memory, it was

    Felipe Massa – Spain 2009
    Mark Webber – Australia 2011
    Fernando Alonso – Germany 2011
    Jenson Button – Japan 2011
    Sebastian Vettel, Felipe Massa and others – Bahrain 2012

    Is this a coincidence that Lewis Hamilton is always at the receiving end and rules are only made after he infringes one?

    1. I think it is accepted that to judge the fuel over race distance is considerably more challenging than over a qualifying stint. Many factors can come into play during a race which may increase or decrease fuel consumption. If you get it very wrong you are basically not going to finish the race, or have to slow to an uncompetitive pace.

      Therefore I think it is unlikely that a rule like this for races would be enforced.

      It is interesting to consider though… What happens to a driver if they finish the race and stop immediately, and only have 1/2 litre of fuel on board?

      1. Thanks for that, that’s a good point

        1. perhaps some clever engineer will come up with a design of a fuel cell that will at all times never be empty completely eg always have a reserve of lets say 2 to four litres in the fuel cell regardless of all activities during a typical race weekend..only emptied during transportation to next races for fire safety protection.

  5. I keep seeing that Mclaren and Hamilton did this or that.
    This was purely Mclaren, they had only one car to attend to, how can you excuse this kind of error.
    Mclaren also goes unpunished while the driver who played no part is the one to get punished.

    In my opinion, the only reason Hamilton is singled out for the harshest of punishment for the very minor infractions, is simply because he is black.
    This is thier way of aying he isn’t needed in the sport.

    Regarding Withmarsh, Latham and Micheal, lets see what creative self distructive actions they can contort.
    Perhaps next race we will see Mclaren practise fuelling the car at every opportunity before the race only for the FIA to discover aviation fuel in Lewis’ car or a V12 engine.

    I await Withmarsh’s long rambling speech about the fact that Mclaren is made up highly focused and dedicated individuals who make the sacrifice to see the team make a wonderful leap in performance.

    1. I DISAGREE with your assertions about Hamiltons problems being due to “driving an F1car while black”
      even though the convergence and frequency of harsh penalties leaves a bad taste in the mouth …the shear number of responses on this issue is good enough..in retrospect if FIA was a government it would have been voted out many times before.

    2. Hamilton is singled out for the harshest of punishment for the very minor infractions

      Complete rubbish, as this article last year proved:

      Five years, over 35 incidents: Has Hamilton been treated fairly?

      because he is black.

      That’s a disgraceful claim to make with no good reason. You don’t even specify who you think is culpable of this alleged racism, which is downright cowardly.

    3. Your racism allegations are extremely strong and, I believe, completely unfounded. To my knowledge, the only racism problems the public are aware of regarding Hamilton are from a small group of people in Barcelona in 2008.
      Your comments smack of reverse discrimination; i.e. it is you that is pointing out that there must be more to this story because of Hamilton’s ethnicity.
      You should go away and have a long hard think about this.

      1. I arrived at that conclusion after eliminating every other possibility why a single driver generates so much comments repeatedly. Hamilton is a novelty in F1 purely because he is back. That is why all his actions are in the spotlight.
        If you want to bury your head in the sad feel free, but I will stand by my opinion if it is only your opinion you use as a conter argument.

        1. You are presuming that the FIA behaves as you do: that when dealing with Lewis, foremost in their considerations is his ethnicity.
          I challenge that you don’t see an F1 driver, you see a black F1 driver. This is something you should have at least gotten over after his first season in the sport.

    4. I can’t believe you just said that. Seriously? That’s disgusting.

      The only time I’ve ever heard anything to do with Hamilton’s race was when he brought it up himself.

  6. Do you really believe that McLaren were unable to put enough fuel in the car due to major force problems?

    Wake up, guys! They’re Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and they are capable of everything. Countless episodes in the last six seasons and they still cheat whenever they want. I am glad they were fairly punished this time.

  7. Another great article, Keith, thanks. Here’s my take:
    Let’s face it, McLaren did deserve a penalty. There were three mistakes they made, each of which would have prevented this from happening:
    1) Refueling properly in the first place – seemingly easier said than done in McLaren’s case.
    2) Once the mechanic realised he had drained fuel out instead of adding more fuel, the team should have taken the time to ensure he had the correct level of fuel before he was released from the garage for his final run.
    3) Once they had realised Hamilton had been realised with insufficient fuel to complete the three laps, the team should have told Hamilton to abort his fast lap and come into the pits immediately. He would then have started sixth (according to the BBC).
    The fact that McLaren did not take action on points 2 and 3 is an example of their slowness to respond to certain events, and perhaps shows that noone on the pitwall has a fine enough knowledge of the regulations. Certainly they do not have good enough contingency plans for such events. They simply couldn’t not be penalised, or the stewards would set a precedent for everyone to underfuel without penalty in the future.

    However, on the flip side, Hamilton had no obligation to go out again. He had already completed a run and returned to the pits under his own power, presumably with at least 1kg of fuel remaining, though it appears that noone ever checks this. To my interpretation (though there may be a wider view which is not conveyed by the single article, and I am no lawyer), article 6.6.2 does not state what penalty should be applied, nor does it convey the message that the car has, in essence, failed scrutineering if it fails to return to the pits under these circumstances. The penalty applied seems unnecessarily harsh, and Keith has covered this aspect better than I ever will. To casual fans, this penalty, amongst many others, seems illogical and unfair, and I think it’s a shame that F1 continues to push fans away with such decisions.

    It’s a good thing Bernie believes that “all publicity is good publicity”, else he’d have had some sleepless nights recently!

    1. I agree! I wonder though if this should not be the kind of penalty to the team rather than the driver. It should have been something like dq from Q3 and reprimend/fine to the team. I think the team share more responsability in this than the driver, be he is the only one one the receiving end.

      1. It would be good for the fans, of course, if the penalty was only applied to the team and not Lewis. However, I think it’s only fair that the penalty is applied to everyone on that side of the garage, as F1 is very much a team sport. Otherwise you would be able to argue the other way, that any time Lewis has crashed, the team should be able to keep the constructors points they would have gained had he continued racing until the finish line, and think about how many arguments that would cause!

      2. I am an “old girl” and an avid fan of Formula 1 but the penalty dished out to Lewis is an absolute miscarriage of Justice. Of course this is all to the benefit of Ferrari and Alonso what a surprise and of course if it had been Vettel there would have been no punishment. He will gain an advantage from this as well. Lewis actually did nothing wrong and the penalty is far too severe. Ther are many fans who will be no longer watching this if certain drivers are always favoured. Trish

  8. F1 is governed, watched and reported on by predominately white men, as long everyone looks the other way, as faceless steward hide behind their interpretations of rules, then this will continue . I’ve been watching the espn 30-30 series, that has highlighted issues of race in sport, and there are always people who regret that they let it happen and didn’t speak out . There is a big elephant in the room and attempting to justify whats happening by interpretations of rules is allowing this to continue. F1 today is aligned to bunch of spanish F1 fans that dressed up as “Hamiltion family”, I hope its proud. Sadly I think its not bothered. Oh shoot, did I play the race card, I suppose I’m not allowed to do that am I.

    1. Don’t make any reference to race, some people will tell you to go and think abut your life.

  9. its time F1 televised those stewards making those very decisions that impact on the sport so that we can see the rationale behind each penalty.
    perhaps that we can all then ..then what? jeez am just too upset.

  10. guys
    which was the worst mistake,
    1)under fuelling itself?
    2)failling to drive back to pits?
    3) or ensuring that there was enough fuel for sampling in car as per needless rules?

    1. Settle down spidey.. The team messed up, the damage is done.
      First time slap on the wrist, second time back of the grid!

  11. I am starting to wonder about the management inside McLaren. Sam Michael was recruited for operations after the position being vacant for some time. What changed in the team? There are way too many mistakes for a team like McLaren. Things are getting worse all over the place. The drivers should feel gutted!!
    Not sure it is Whitmarsh fault, he was there before, but please Ron Dennis come back and have a word with the team!

  12. Although in this instance the fault lies completely with Mclaren and the stewards hands are tied regarding the rules and application of penalties, as a Hamilton fan, I must say that last year especially but also say at Spa in 2008 I really have wondered if there isn’t some great global conspiracy to hobble Lewis, especially in the incidents with Massa whom I personally think still resents Hamilton for 2008 and in general seems to have a defend or crash mentality when racing anyone particularly Hamilton.

    I don’t believe it is racism behind this as Lewis being young, black and dare I say it handsome / cool (how old do I sound?) is probably the best thing to happen to F1 inc. and Mclaren in particular since colour TV. The problem I believe is the post Senna / Schumacher backlash of F1 being determined to prevent a driver becoming bigger than the sport due to their talent and success, coupled with anachronistic stewarding procedures and also resentment from some fellow drivers towards Lewis’ ability willingness to pull off overtakes and performances that many drivers literally don’t have the talent to achieve.

    The good thing is I think perhaps due to Didier Coton’s influence, Lewis seems to be building a wiser more considered response to some of the setbacks that he is encountering, I think this race will be a true test of his new found composure, good luck to him.

    1. while i partly agree with some of your points here..
      i think the problem with Hamilton is somewhat compounded by the seemingly inevitable fact that most of the grid drivers are either resentful of Hamilton or they behave as if they are under orders to stop Hamilton at costs.
      good example is you will often here on team radio..messages coming from pit wall telling drivers where Hamilton is positioned on track etc..like the coded message to massa by smedly which resulted in massa moving heaven and earth to stop Hamilton overtaking him.. .recently cant remember which year but maybe 2009 or 2010..
      and even when he makes a move..a collision results in him being judged the aggressor.
      so it becomes a catch 22 situation forcing this talented man to make daring moves just to achieve a reasonable result.

  13. I agree completely with the ruling, they broke the rules and thus have to suffer the penalty!
    The only query I have is, they were saying that an extra liter or two a lap costs a few tenths of a second, if Hamilton had had the extra fuel on board to be able to get back to the pits with the 1 liter required, would he have still beaten Maldonado’s time or not? It would have been very very close I think! I know it doesn’t really matter because Pastor is on pole now and Lewis is at the back! But still, makes you wonder doesn’t it? Or just me? :)

    1. He would have easily still beaten Maldonado’s time.

      1. I don’t think it would have been easily!

        1. It depends what you consider easy to be.
          He would have still been a 10th or so faster than Maldonado.
          Which in F1 terms is easy….

      2. No. In fact Maldonado put his lap time against the wind in Q3 unlike Q2, so he could have easily crept into the 1:21’s…

  14. I think another issue this brings up is the way that penalties adversely affect the race for us the spectators, and for the drivers themselves.

    I agree with the general consensus that this is an unreasonably harsh use of the rules from Hamilton’s perspective; despite also agreeing that the team did deserve to be punished.

    Putting Hamilton in 10th, or rolling back his last time would have been solved the problem and kept the race order much closer to where it should be to keep the race on track, not to mention the championship.

    Similarly we’ve had gearbox penalties applied this year where it seems the driver is the only one penalised. Giving a driver a 5 place grid penalty because his gearbox needs replacing is akin to spanking a child for the parents’ misdemeanours. Surely it would be smarter in these cases to allow the driver to do his job, and have the team be penalised in the constructors championship.

    Obviously, if a driver does something wrong then by all means punish them.
    But if the team is at fault, why ruin all the drivers hard work?

  15. 100% agree with the article. If anyone fails to complete an inlap in future due to fuel then they must be put to the back if not it would be a disgrace.

    I had a feeling the stewards would jump on Hamilton last weekend for overtaking last time out off track. Many times in football a ref refuses a clear penalty only to give a soft one later after feeling he got the 1st one wrong.

    I am shocked they did not just disqualify his lap on that run. As a Ferrari fan I am happy of course but can appreciate the punishment is ott.

  16. 5 grid places, lets keep this in proportion

  17. I’m just comparing this to the Ferrari Team Orders in Hockenhiem 2010.

    Ferrari deliberately broke the rules to give an unfair advantage to Alonso, and Alonso kept the win and received no penalty. and the rules were then changed to make it legal.

    McLaren made a mistake with the refuelling rig and Hamliton was then a couple of litres short of making it back (and by all accounts it wouldn’t have changed the position where he qualified) he was been excluded from qualifying and has effectively been docked 23 places for the race.

    To in informed fan (and I’m sure many uninformed fans) this seems completely disproportionate.

    1. They are two completely different issues, for one, the Ferrari issue was in a race and this one is in a qualifying. So hard to compare really.
      McLaren knew the rules, hell them stopping in Canada 2010 made F1 bring in the rule in the first place.

      1. Yes they are different issues.

        My comparison was that Alonso gained one place by Ferrari breaking the rules while Hamilton lost 23 places for McLaren breaking the rules. I was highlighting the disparage between the two punishments.

        May I add Ferrari knew the rules, they did the same thing (deliberately) in Austria 2002, which brought the rule into being. At the end of the day all the teams should know the rules so that is a null point

  18. comparing this to Schumacher deliberately stopping on track and obstructing other competitors, is criminal. Lewis was asked to stop by his team after everyone had set a time. Schumacher blocked the track so no one could set a time.
    There can be no way to relate the two in coming out wirh a penalty.

    1. I know they are two very different incidents, but the comparison Keith made was based on the fact they carried the same penalty, and therefore are seen as having the same severity.

  19. Gaston (@golarrazabal)
    13th May 2012, 11:03

    Initially, I thought that the penalty was too harsh, but after giving it some thought, I actually think it’s fair. Here’s my two cents:

    1) As @adrianmorse mentioned, McLaren must have quickly realized that they had sent out an underfueled car. However, they still allowed Hamilton to do a flying lap and then instructed him to stop, knowing in advance that this resulted in a breach of the rules. And then, Sam Michael’s claims that the car stopped due to a ‘force majeure’, while not outright cheating, are definitely misleading.

    2) Had the infringement not been punished severely, I believe it would have opened an exploitable loophole in the rules. Let’s imagine, for example, than instead of being sent to the back of the grid, Hamilton would have been sent back only to P10. This sets a precedent. Now, say that in the future, you are in P7 towards the end of Q3. You send out an underfueled car, improve your position, and then stop the car in such a way that it doesn’t look like deliberate cheating. You claim this ‘force majeure’ thing. If the stewards believe you, you keep your unfairly improved position. If they don’t buy it, you are only demoted to P10, which isn’t bad at all considering you were originally at P7. In Hamilton’s case, the penalty seems too harsh because it was an [apparently] honest mistake, but where do you draw the line between an honest mistake and outright cheating?

    I feel that, in a way, this punishment was handed out as to show other teams that no fooling around with the fuel rule will be tolerated. Unfortunate for McLaren? Yes. But rules are rules, and if we know something about F1 it’s that teams are always looking for ways to exploit them for their own benefit.

    1. Do you feel the penalty would have been less harsh if Mclaren had come out straight away and said what happened. MW going straight to the stewards before being asked?

      As it is the impression is it took hours for them to admit this when they would have known straight away. This may have angered the stewards into throwing the book at them.

  20. i think it was a definite penalty situation, but he should have been dropped to the back of the top 10, not the back of the grid.
    i dont think hamilton should leave mclaren for this mistake, and his fans are starting to hate his team, but dont forget how many points he has cost the team in the past because of his errors, errors that led to him losing a world championship in 2010, and arguably not playing a team game lost them the 2007 world drivers championship.
    its funny he knew he was going to get penalised (see the mclaren crew man whisper in his ear after setting pole), so he put on a extra charmful talk in post qualifying press conference, even congratulating in an over the top manner Alonso.

    1. By not playing a team game, you mean being subserviant to Alonso despite being in the lead? I would ask you to compare how many points he has earned them proportional to how many he has cost them (e.g. Turkey 2010, China 2011 where they lost him positions in the pits and he came back to win the race).

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