Thursday, 2 April 2009

Hamilton's disqualification, Vettel's 10-place grid penalty and Trulli's up-and-down ride with the race stewards

Well as I have said previously, that there were a few incidents on the track towards the end of the race at Albert Park in Melbourne. One of the most defining incidents was the Robert Kubica-Sebastian Vettel collision. After the race, the race stewards decided that the accident was avoidable on Vettel's part, and so handed him a 10-place grid penalty for Malaysia. So this means that whatever position he achieves on Saturday in Sepang, Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull-Renault will be starting Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix 10 places behind on the grid. Personally, I think this is a bit too harsh on Vettel because the collision can be blamed on both the drivers. This is because when Kubica made the overtaking move, Vettel was already committed to braking just before going into the turn. At this stage, Kubica really squeezed him from the outside and anyone watching the race would have realised that a driver who is committed to his braking line cannot possibly change the line without potentially spinning off the track. May be Vettel could have tried to straight line the chicane a little bit, thus avoiding the collision but then possibly conceding his position to Kubica, which Vettel was not eager to do. And perhaps Kubica could have approached the apex of the turn slightly wider and then try to pass Vettel coming out of the turn. So in my opinion both drivers are equally to be blamed here, and it is probably just their inexperience than anything else as it deprived Kubica off a potential win, and it deprived Vettel off an almost guaranteed podium finish. So it is a bit unfair that Vettel is the only one having to take a hit.

Just after this incident on the track at Albert Park, the safety car was called in as the Vettel-Kubica collision had left some debris on the track. This was just about three laps before the chequered flag (i.e. the end of the race). Now under safety car conditions, no cars are allowed to overtake and even lapped cars can only unlap themselves if given permission to do so by race control. What happened in this case was that Jarno Trulli in his Toyota who was in third position ahead of Lewis Hamilton's McLaren, made a mistake and slid off the track. As Trulli took time to recover and get back on the track, Hamilton quite understandably had no choice but to go past. But to follow the rules of the safety car, Hamilton had to let Trulli regain his position in third, and was also ordered to do so from the McLaren pit over the radio. Because so much was happening around the track at the time, what everyone only noticed was Trulli overtaking Hamilton under safety car conditions. What no one appeared to know at the time was that Trulli was merely regaining his position as he was wrongly overtaken by Hamilton before. The reason Trulli was penalised by the race stewards at the end of the race by being handed a 25-second time penalty was because this overtaking move done by Trulli have not been permitted by race control. So they viewed it as an an illegal overtaking maneouvre.

Following some new evidence that surfaced over the week, mainly McLaren's radio communications, the race stewards called Lewis Hamilton and McLaren to another hearing in Sepang earlier today. In this hearing, the stewards came to a conclusion that Hamilton and his McLaren team had deliberately misled the stewards in the earlier hearing that took place just after the race, by not telling them about Hamilton's team orders to let Trulli go past. By not telling the race stewards about this team order, McLaren made it look like that Trulli wrongly overtook Hamilton, whereas the truth was that it was Hamilton who had earlier wrongly passed Trulli and should have conceded his position at the earliest opportunity. Following this hearing, Jarno Trulli and Toyota was reinstated to third position, which is where Trulli finished the race, and Lewis Hamilton and McLaren were stripped off any points they have gained in Australia.

Obviously Hamilton's English supporters are quite outraged about this and are going on about how the FIA is biased against McLaren and how this is too harsh on Hamilton. Personally I think that both Hamilton and McLaren deserved this, not because I am a Ferrari fan and hate McLaren, but because it was wrong what they did and this kind of incident spoils the spirit of the sport. And if you look back in the past, you will see that it is not the first time McLaren has done this. Remember the spying scandal in 2007, where they paid a Ferrari engineer to gain technical insight into the Ferrari cars? I mean Ferrari is not exactly a clean slate either, but there is a difference between controversial race strategies and outright cheating. But I really hope that the race results for all the remaining races in the season are determined by true and fair on-track performances rather than by the race stewards.

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