Bad timing behind Ferrari's woe

There was nothing shady about how FIA dealt with Lewis Hamilton during the European Grand Prix much to Ferrari's ire.

The Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa sit behind the safety car in Valencia, an event that ruined their race.
Powered by automated translation

Dangerous precedents, misrepresentation, damaged credibility. The European Grand Prix in Valencia last weekend sparked some emotive language - mostly from Ferrari, who maintained that their cars were unduly penalised after being obliged to follow the safety car for a lap following Mark Webber's spectacular accident.

To compound the team's ire, Lewis Hamilton broke the rules by overtaking the safety car in his McLaren - but the resultant drive-through penalty did not compromise the Englishman's second-place finish. In a statement on Ferrari's website earlier this week, Luca di Montezemolo, the Ferrari chairman, said: "The result of the race was misrepresentative and Ferrari paid too high a price for respecting the rules. Meanwhile, those who didn't follow the rules were penalised in a way that was less severe than the damage suffered by those who did respect them. That is a very serious and unacceptable situation that creates dangerous precedents, throwing a shadow over the credibility of Formula One."

Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari driver, who initially appeared to be on course for a podium finish, described the race as "manipulated" when he spoke to Spanish TV immediately afterwards. He has since apologised for those remarks. The problem arose at the end of the ninth lap, moments after Webber's accident at 305kph in his Red Bull-Renault had triggered the safety car's deployment. With the race neutralised, it was the perfect time for drivers to head for the pits to make their mandatory tyre change with minimal time loss.

It was too late, though, for the first four drivers - leader Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso and Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa - to react in time. As Hamilton passed the pit exit, he saw the safety car emerging alongside, hesitated momentarily and then accelerated, believing he was ahead, and entitled to carry on. The situation was clearer for the Ferrari drivers, who tucked in behind the safety car and continued at a reduced pace, which dropped them both down the order by the time they had made their stops. Protocol dictates that the race leader should be first in line behind the safety car - and others are usually signalled to pass until the correct order is achieved.

That did not happen in this instance. FIA race director Charlie Whiting wanted the track to be as clear as possible, so that the medical car - not required, although that was not known at the time - could get to the accident scene without being compromised by passing F1 cars. So tight was the margin of Hamilton's indiscretion that it took 14 laps to unravel the video evidence and GPS data and establish that, yes, he had transgressed. By that time, Vettel and Hamilton had pulled well clear of the Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi - elevated to third because he had taken a tactical gamble and had not stopped for tyres.

Hamilton was thus able to serve his penalty without losing second place. Manipulation? Not at all. It was simply peculiar circumstance.