• McLaren driver excluded from F1 qualifying over fuel rule
• Hamilton stopped car on track rather than returning to pits
Lewis Hamilton has been demoted from pole position to the back of the grid for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix for having too little fuel at the end of qualifying. It is the latest incident in a catalogue of pit?lane gaffes for McLaren this season.
The decision means the Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado will start on pole, the first for Williams since Nico Hülkenberg in the rain of Brazil in 2010, with Fernando Alonso alongside for Ferrari. A McLaren spokesman said: “We accept the stewards did not agree with our interpretation of force majeure. Our aim is now to maximise the points we can score tomorrow.”
Hamilton had completed his triumphant lap and was midway round his slow-down lap when his McLaren team ordered him to stop because of a “technical problem”.
FIA rules state a car must return to the pits after qualifying and then have a litre of fuel remaining for a sample to be taken. Whitmarsh claimed 1.3 litres was ultimately extracted, but clearly the additional 0.3 litres – over and above the required one litre – would not have been enough to see Hamilton return to parc fermé. There was substantial doubt that Hamilton would have had that much fuel left after completing his slow-down lap. An F1 car will use about two litres of fuel every lap.
Asked if he was confident that Hamilton’s pole would stand, Whitmarsh said: “I don’t know. I hope so. Lewis did a fantastic job throughout that session, and we’ve all seen how difficult it is at the moment to be consistent. It was a massive margin [half a second] by the situation within Formula One at the moment. He undoubtedly deserves to be there.”
But two hours later the FIA announced they had punished Hamilton severely. The sport’s ruling body said: “A team member had put an insufficient quantity of fuel into the car thereby resulting in the car having to be stopped on the circuit in order to be able to provide the required amount of sampling purposes. 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 determine that this is a breach of Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One technical regulations and the competitor is accordingly excluded from the results of the qualifying session. The competitor is however allowed to start the race from the back of the grid.”
Hamilton was unavailable for comment but before his demotion he was asked how he would respond if penalised. “I would do everything I could to move up and forwards,” he said. “Definitely the guys at the front have a much easier job because they have clearer air.
“Of course I’ll give it my all, and we’ll give it our all, and I hope with our improved pit stops as well we can make steps forward.”
Hamilton’s team-mate Jenson Button also struggled, managing to secure only 11th – now upgraded to 10th – after failing to find the right setup to resolve understeer. McLaren’s performance here was merely the latest in a series of misfortunes to plague the team.
In Bahrain three weeks ago, the Woking-based team lost their lead in both championships after Hamilton was hit by two slow wheel changes and another indifferent one. He finished eighth. Button had gearbox issues and retired towards the end. Button won the opening race of the season in Melbourne but Hamilton had a software problem with his clutch and there was another issue with his release from the pits after a tyre change.
In Malaysia, Hamilton had problems with his rear left and front right wheels and there an additional difficulty in removing taping from one of his tyres. Then in China, Hamilton was moved back five places on the grid, from second to seventh, after having his gearbox replaced, and in the race Button suffered badly from a slow wheel change.
In contrast it was an excellent day for Williams, despite Bruno Senna spinning off and qualifying 18th. Maldonado’s pole is the team’s 127th, but only the second since 2005 for a marque with nine constructors’ and seven drivers’ titles.