Lewis Hamilton beat the rain, the challenging Spa circuit and Kimi Raikkonen to take the flag first at the Belgian Grand Prix – but the one battle he couldn’t win was against the race stewards who stripped him of his victory.
The controversial decision can only fuel accusations that the FIA has a tacit policy of favouring Ferrari, following as it does the European Grand Prix where Felipe Massa went unpunished during the race for a pitlane near-accident that has attracted instant penalties in comparable GP2 incidents.
Almost two hours after the race had finished the stewards announced they were penalising the McLaren driver 25 seconds for cutting the bus stop chicane while racing in the wet with Raikkonen.
The penalty dropped him to third place behind Felipe Massa and Nick Heidfeld. Raikkonen crashed out of the race in a separate incident.
The McLaren team subsequently announced it intends to appeal against the decision.
Hamilton’s punishment was the result of an incident when both he and Raikkonen were struggling to control their cars on a wet track while using dry-weather tyres. The Finn seemed to force Hamilton wide and the Englishman used a safety road to regain the track, cutting the chicane.
In doing so he overtook Raikkonen, in breach of the rules, but immediately gave the place back. Soon after, he was able to use his greater momentum to re-pass the Finn.
Although both drivers continued to struggle to control their cars in the wet, Hamilton was able to hang on to his and went on to finish first while Raikkonen could not and crashed into a barrier.
After the race McLaren boss Ron Dennis revealed that he had immediately checked with race director Charlie Whiting that Hamilton had fulfilled his obligations by allowing Raikkonen back into the lead – and been told that, in all likelihood, he had.
The team maintains its telemetry data shows that Hamilton gained no speed advantage from cutting the chicane but was, instead, going six kilometres an hour slower than Raikkonen.
Despite this, stewards announced after the race that they would investigate both drivers for the incident.
After warming up by penalising Timo Glock 25 seconds for overtaking under a yellow flag, dropping him from eighth to ninth and promoting Mark Webber into the points, they announced a similar penalty for Hamilton.
Writing on his F1 Fanatic blog, commentator Keith Collantine called the decision “asinine” and said: “This is an absolute travesty of a decision which mocks the notion that the FIA stewards are fair arbiters of the sport.
“Whether the stewards have done this to keep the championship close or keep their friends at Ferrari happy, this is an utterly lamentable decision… It is quite clear Ferrari can rely on the FIA to give them a favourable hearing at appeals.”
Earlier, the McLaren driver had started the race on pole but lost the lead to Raikkonen on lap two after spinning. The Finn stayed out in front until rain hit the circuit in the final laps.
Hamilton had stayed doggedly on his tail throughout the race and was well-placed to fight for the lead as all the cars struggled for grip on dry tyres in the wet conditions.
The lead changed hands between the two drivers as they fought to control their cars, occasionally spinning or bouncing off each other and struggling to avoid lapped traffic as it, too, floundered.
The incident for which Hamilton was ultimately punished seemed just one part of an equal struggle between two drivers unwilling to allow concern for the conditions to overrule their racing instincts.
Further back, Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso had pitted for intermediate tyres and were reaping the benefits, cutting their way past the struggling Toro Rossos of Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Bourdais – each of which had held third place following Raikkonen’s retirement – and Robert Kubica.
Heikki Kovalainen finally expired by the side of the circuit on the final lap, having spent the entire race battling back into the points following first a dreadful start, then later a drive through penalty for tapping Mark Webber while trying to overtake, sending the Australian into a spin.
Revised race order and championship standings
- Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
- Nick Heidfeld (BMW)
- Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
- Fernando Alonso (Renault)
- Sebastian Vettel (BMW)
- Robert Kubica (BMW)
- Sebastien Bourdais (Toro Rosso)
- Mark Webber (Red Bull)
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 76
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 74
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 58
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 57
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 49
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 43
- Ferrari: 131
- McLaren: 119
- BMW Sauber: 117
- Toyota: 41
- Renault: 36
- Red Bull: 25