Lewis Hamilton endured a sorry tale of woe at the Sepang circuit that began at the first corner and ended about an hour after the race.
Come the conclusion, the McLaren star was handed a retrospective drive-through penalty for making “more than one change of direction to defend a position”.
The punishment of the additional 20 seconds, meted out for his bid to prevent old rival Fernando Alonso from passing in his Ferrari on lap 43, dropped Hamilton from seventh to eighth.
Alonso’s bungled bid to pass a lap later when he ran into the back of Hamilton also incurred an additional 20-second penalty.
Yet it made no difference as Alonso held onto his sixth place, the final straw for Hamilton of a day he described as “absolutely shocking”.
“It all started when I got stuck behind (Nick) Heidfeld at the first corner,” said Hamilton.
“I had Jenson (Button) on my inside, Heidfeld on the outside, so I was really squashed at turn one.
“We then had a very poor strategy, I had four pit stops, I kept coming in before everybody else as the tyres didn’t last.
“Then when Fernando hit me the floor (of the car) was damaged at the rear so I probably lost some downforce. I couldn’t do the time on the tyres.
“We were looking good at one stage and then it went downhill. After that it was a disaster.
“This is one of those days you have to take on the chin, and so I now go to China aiming to win. I’m only looking forwards.”
Despite their past history, Alonso insisted Hamilton did not lift off the throttle at any time in order to test the Spaniard, citing the fact it was just “a race incident”.
Even McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh felt both drivers were treated “harshly”, adding that Hamilton’s penalty was “surprising and disappointing”.
Assessing the accident that forced Alonso to pit for a new front wing, Hamilton added: “Fernando just hit me. I don’t know how.
“He got a bit too close I think and when he pulled out he hit me with his front wing and broke my rear floor a bit.
“He got a 20-second penalty, but it didn’t really do anything for him. It doesn’t exactly work out as a penalty.
“As for me, I only lost one spot, and it’s not really made me feel any worse than how the weekend has gone anyway.”
Ahead of the duo Sebastian Vettel romped to the 12th victory of his career, his fifth in the last six races taking the end of last year into account, and his fourth in a row.
Vettel finished 3.2secs ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button, who lies second in the standings, already 24 points adrift of the reigning world champion.
Nick Heidfeld scored his first podium since Malaysia two years ago to give Renault a second successive top-three finish this season.
Mark Webber, who was without KERS all race after a fault was detected at the start, was fourth ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.
Paul di Resta again collected another point for Force India by coming home 10th just behind Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher.
But it was a desperately disappointing afternoon for Lewis Hamilton. On Saturday he knew he was just one slightly better-negotiated corner away from taking poll position here. But he was pipped by a tenth of a second by Vettel and yesterday he limped home seventh, and was eventually demoted to eighth after a collision with Fernando Alonso incurred a twenty second penalty. Not only did Hamilton finish behind the German but also his team-mate Jenson Button, who was second, Nick Heidfeld, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi.
A delighted Vettel, who has now won five out of six races dating back to last season, once again had troubles with Kers. In Australia the Red Bulls had not used the system at all and yesterday, halfway through the race, Vettel was told by his team not to use it any more.
But as he crossed the line he screamed: “Fantastic job guys. It’s a pleasure every week to be with you. Thank you – yes!”
Later he said: “It was another great day. I thought I had a great start but then I saw Lewis very close and then I saw something black in my mirror and I knew it was one of the Renaults. But I could not be happier than I am today.”
It was another good race for Renault, who as in Australia won a podium position. This time it was Heidfeld and not Vitaly Petrov who took third.
It was also another good day at the office for the F1 rookie Paul di Resta, who came 10th again, gaining a second point, and finished ahead of team-mate Adrian Sutil. While, after an awful start, Webber made a good recovery to finish fourth.
But apart from the delight on Vettel’s face the most lasting image was the crushed expression on Hamilton’s. He suffered tyre problems all afternoon after making an early stop. There were three more stops too and Alonso, one of a number of drivers to put him under pressure, actually ran into the back of him.
Hamilton said afterwards: “This is racing, I guess. I started second and did everything I could to keep up and I don’t really have too much to say. At the start I got stuck behind Heidfeld, I had Jenson on my inside and Heidfeld on my outside so was squashed into turn one.
“It was difficult to defend without hitting them. Through the race, my tyres went off, we boxed too early, that made us box earlier again, all the time we were boxing early. My tyres were done at the end. It was just one of those days.”
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