McLaren and Lewis Hamilton have failed to win their appeal against the penalty that stripped them of victory in the rain-soaked Belgian Grand Prix.
The FIA’s Court of Appeal ruled today that the punishment, which had dropped Hamilton from first to third and handed victory to title rival Felipe Massa, could not be appealed on technical grounds.
That decision rendered irrelevant all the arguments over whether Hamilton had or had not surrendered the advantage he’d gained by cutting a chicane while locked in battle with Kimi Raikkonen on the wet track at Spa.
Hamilton responded philosophically: “People will probably expect me to be depressed about today’s result, but that isn’t me. All I want to do now is put this matter behind me and get on with what we drivers do best: racing each other.
“We’re racers, we’re naturally competitive, and we love to overtake. Overtaking is difficult, and it feels great when you manage to pull off a great passing manoeuvre. If it pleases the spectators and TV viewers, it’s better still. So I’m disappointed, yes, but not depressed.”
Hamilton had argued that he’d been forced to cut the corner in order to avoid an accident with Raikkonen, and had immediately surrendered the place he’d gained. McLaren also checked with race director Charlie Whiting whether their driver had done enough to avoid punishment.
But two hours after the race was over stewards ruled that, by immediately re-overtaking the Finn, he failed to properly hand back the advantage. The usual penalty for that would be a drive-through – but as the race was over a time penalty was imposed instead.
Drive-through penalties cannot usually be appealed, but McLaren pinned their hopes on an appeal last season by Toro Rosso after their driver Vitantonio Liuzzi was given a post-race time penalty at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Although this appeal failed, McLaren believed the fact it was discussed by the Court of Appeal gave them the green light for theirs to also receive a hearing.
The court did not agree. An FIA statement released after the hearing said: “Article 152 of the International Sporting Code states that drive-through penalties are ‘not susceptible to appeal’. The competitor Vodafone McLaren Mercedes appealed the stewards’ decision before the International Court of Appeal in a hearing in Paris on September 22nd. Having heard the explanations of the parties the Court has concluded that the appeal is inadmissible.”
Most controversially, the Toro Rosso precedent was treated not as a precedent at all – but a mistake.
During the run-up to the appeal date, McLaren had been told by the FIA that the chief steward at the time, Tony Scott-Andrews, had accepted there had been an error in the penalty imposed on Liuzzi, which should have been a non-appealable drive-through.
The team checked with Scott-Andrews, who denied he had ever said such a thing – and gave written evidence to Hamilton’s hearing calling the FIA’s claim “grossly inaccurate and misleading”.
McLaren’s lawyer Mark Phillips told the appeal judges they should “reflect when you come to consider your judgement the way in which certain members of the FIA conducted themselves. I won’t say any more.”
But it did the team no good, as the court stuck firmly to the line that, whatever might or might not have happened in the past, Hamilton had been hit with a penalty that counted as a drive-through and could therefore not be appealed.
The result is that, as Formula One goes into the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix this weekend, Hamilton has a lead of a single point over Massa – and the sport as a whole has yet another question mark hanging over it about the fairness and transparency of its administration.