• Spaniard rages after British driver overtakes safety car
• McLaren finish second and third behind Sebastian Vettel
The European grand prix, traditionally siesta time for Formula One, proved as eventful as any in this compelling season and reopened the wounds in the relationship between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton that had scarcely healed.
Hamilton extended his lead in the world championship by finishing second to Sebastian Vettel – his third runners-up place in this race in the three years of its existence – with his team-mate, Jenson Button, third.
Going for his third win on the spin, it was not the hat-trick for which Hamilton had been fighting. However, with the McLaren cutting swaths out of Vettel’s lead in the closing stages, the race was robbed of what might have been an epic high-speed wrestle for the chequered flag because of a drive-through penalty against Hamilton for overtaking the safety car following Mark Webber’s spectacular crash early in the race.
According to Alonso, though, Hamilton, who doubled his lead in the title race to six points, got off lightly. The Spaniard, whose upgraded Ferrari was much favoured in the build-up to this race, disappointed his supporters by trailing in ninth – later changed to eighth after nine cars were handed five?second penalties for a breach of the rules. Afterwards he was furious with the British driver.
“It’s a shame, not for us because this is racing, but for all the fans who came here to watch a manipulated race. It is the first time I have seen someone overtake the safety car,” Alonso said, and repeated it for emphasis. “All the kids that were in the stands know that you cannot pass [the safety car].”
The fierce competition between Hamilton and Alonso when the two drivers were at McLaren in 2007 is well remembered. Hamilton was then a rookie driver but his precocious brilliance drove Alonso from the Woking factory.
In the Ferrari motorhome after the race Alonso said: “I do not know what the penalty should be. I only know that when the safety car came out I was one metre behind Hamilton. I finished ninth, he finished second. I respected the rule, he didn’t.
“I feel sorry for the public who have come here to watch this race – 70,000 fans came here to see the spectacle of Formula One and they have seen a race decided by the decisions.
“The attitude of the public is understandable – they were disgusted by what they were seeing and the injustices that were happening. There was a bottle on the track which is reaction that is not normal and it should not have happened.” The bottle was removed by a steward who showed a turn of speed that was one of the most impressive of the day.
Alonso was not only disappointed by the delay in Hamilton’s move but by the implementation of the penalty. “I think 20 laps to see the replay is very long,” he said. According to the FIA it was actually seven minutes but there is no doubt Ferrari were hurt by it. Hamilton also benefited from the shortness of the pitlane he had to drive through as his penalty. He was still able to retain second place to Vettel.
The incident was described as “a scandal” on the official Ferrari website while Stefano Domenicali, the team principal, said: “We are very angry because we didn’t get the points that we should have got from this race. Hamilton was not respecting the line for the safety car. And then we had two cars behind the safety car. And then we had a delay from the decision which affected Ferrari very heavily.”
Replays of the incident did show that Hamilton was in the wrong. After the race, though, the Englishman sounded uncertain of his guilt. “I don’t really know,” he said, doubtfully. “As I was coming around Turn 1 I saw the safety car line. I saw the safety car was alongside me and I thought I had passed it so I continued and that was it.”
The race got off to a fiery start when Hamilton clashed with Vettel on the first corner and damaged his front wing. Hamilton had started third on the grid but he was on the cleaner side of the track and he immediately slid past Webber before his gentle collision with Vettel.
With Felipe Massa back in 11th this was a desperately disappointing day for Ferrari. It was even worse for Mercedes, with Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher 10th and 15th respectively. “Today’s race was a disappointing outcome to our weekend in Valencia,” the Mercedes team principal, Ross Brawn, said afterwards. But with Vettel taking the flag this was not a bad day for Germany in Spain, as elsewhere.