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Hamilton can learn from Spa injustice

Formula One
by Andrew Benson (U1647787) 08 September 2008
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It is unlikely Lewis Hamilton will ever get over the feeling of injustice at having his Belgian Grand Prix victory taken away but, in hindsight, he may eventually come to feel that he could have played this one differently.

Undoubtedly, in terms of natural justice, Hamilton has been wronged.

He drove brilliantly in the extremely difficult conditions at the end of the race at F1’s most demanding circuit and deserved to win.

However, race stewards deprived him of victory by handing him a 25-second penalty for taking an advantage by cutting a chicane, demoting him to third place behind title rival Felipe Massa of Ferrari and BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld.

It is easy to see, though, how Hamilton could have avoided getting himself into this situation by being just a little bit more savvy.

McLaren knew their driver had created a potential problem for himself when he cut the Spa-Francorchamps circuit’s Bus Stop chicane at the end of lap 42.

The team immediately got on the radio to tell him to let Raikkonen back past as they entered the pit straight.

In the circumstances, the smart thing for Hamilton to do would have been to follow the Ferrari through the subsequent La Source hairpin and use his speed advantage in the slippery conditions to pass Raikkonen at the end of the long straight up the hill to the Les Combes chicane.

Hamilton, though, is a born racer. That’s what makes him so exciting to watch. And the temptation to pass Raikkonen as soon as possible was too strong.

He thought he had done the right thing in letting the Finn re-take the lead on the pit straight – and as a consequence thought it was OK to pass him into La Source.

So good is Hamilton that it is sometimes easy to forget that he is in only his second season in F1, and sometimes his inexperience shows. And perhaps that is what happened here.

In passing Raikkonen where he did, he left the stewards room for doubt, room to make the decision to take away a win that was rightfully his.

It was harsh in the extreme to deprive Hamilton of a victory he deserved, one that he would probably have taken anyway, on so debatable a decision.

But faced with having to police a rule that says it is forbidden for drivers to gain an advantage by cutting a chicane, one can imagine their thought processes.

Yes, they would have thought, Hamilton let Raikkonen sneak ahead again, but did he really surrender any advantage he had gained?

They would have weighed up whether Hamilton was able to pass Raikkonen at La Source because he was faster, or because he had been able to slipstream the Ferrari after letting it past him. (Even Hamilton admitted that he had “waited until he came by and then got back in his slipstream”).

Would he even have been in a position to pass Raikkonen at the hairpin, they would have thought, if he had slowed down enough to stay on the track through the chicane?

If not, is that not the very definition of gaining an advantage by cutting a chicane?

And once one thing has happened, it is difficult to separate out what follows.

How much of the frantic action on the subsequent lap – the wheel-banging, the spins suffered by both Hamilton and Raikkonen, the Finn’s final crash – was a direct result of what had happened at the start of it?

At McLaren, there is something close to paranoia about the sport’s governing body, the FIA. And it is easy to see why.

Over the years, they – and other teams who have been in title fights with Ferrari - have been on the wrong end of many decisions by F1 officials.

Sunday’s race in Spa marked a year since the team were fined $100m and thrown out of the constructors’ championship for their role in a spy scandal in which their chief designer was found to be in possession of confidential Ferrari technical information.

And the forthcoming race in Italy will be the second anniversary of a far more controversial stewards’ decision than the one imposed on Hamilton on Sunday.

At Monza in 2006, Renault’s Fernando Alonso, fighting for the title with Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, was demoted five places on the grid on the stewards’ extremely dubious conclusion that he had held up Massa, then Schumacher’s team-mate, in qualifying.

These decisions – and many more – are hard-wired into the brains of McLaren personnel. Their default position is to assume the worst. And while Hamilton has not been in F1 for most of those decisions, with the exception of the spy scandal, he must know about them.

As he himself put it after the race, “I don’t think we did anything wrong, but we know what they’re like, so…”

It is hard to blame Hamilton for what he did. He is as intuitive a racer as they come, and to take that out of him would remove part of what makes him great.

Be that as it may, though, it is also hard not to think that, in future, he might deal with circumstances similar to those at Spa on Sunday in a slightly different way.

For the simple fact is this – Hamilton, although he has made some high-profile mistakes, has been by far the best driver in F1 this year.

His drives to victory in the wet at Monaco and Silverstone were of the highest calibre, and he demonstrated those qualities again in the chaotic final laps in Belgium on Sunday.

As a result, it would be a travesty if anyone else won the drivers’ title – especially if it turns out that the destiny of the crown was decided in an office in Belgium rather than out on the track.

Latest 10 comments

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posted Sep 16, 2008

So the FIA are not impartial, Mr Benson? Reading your article brings pots and kettles to mind. Get my drift?

Hamilton reminds me of Michael Schumacher - not in terms of his ability (not yet, at any rate) but in terms of his sometimes questionable on track behaviour allied to an unhealthy dose of off-track arrogance. It's not an attractive combination.

I wonder just how many of the people
in the UK who shout so loudly in support of Hamilton (in terms of his penalty at Spa and his moves on Glock and Webber at Spa)would be even remotely supportive of Michael Schumacher had he done the same thing? Not too many, I'd venture to guess. To such people (and to you, Mr. Benson), I'd say: please engage your brains as well your emotions before opening your mouths or tapping your computer keyboard.

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comment by VAMOS (U8288837)

posted Sep 16, 2008


well put.

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posted Sep 16, 2008

kaiser i think you have to look at the other side- ie how many didnt mind schuy doing it at the time, but are knocking lh for it know!

i think you have to realise its a certain type of person

not a hamilton fan!

what lh is doing is giving us great races

yes hamilton has made the sport more exiting with him there than not!

and that is also what schuy did !

and you sound very one sided in your own arrogance!

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posted Sep 16, 2008


Sounds like you are a "real" fan of F1, welcome to the fold, please ignore the silly people on 606, they eventually go away, due to "low attention span"

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comment by IaninOz (U7773287)

posted Sep 18, 2008

Go Lewis mate - They don't like it up em.......Ha Ha!! :)

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posted Sep 22, 2008

I don't mind who wins the title or the race for that matter. BUT I think what I would like is for the administration of F1 to be invisible. What I mean by that is I would like to see the situation where the car that crosses the line first wins the race.

For me Spa's unsatisfactory outcome came hard on the heels of a far more unsatisfactory decision at Valencia. Massa - through no fault of his own - was released dangerously close to Sutil. Race investigation - Ferrari get on the blower to Race Control and suddenly it's let's deal with it after the race. For a sport that is trying to take safety seriously I thought that was deplorable.

As stated previously I don't care who wins but F1 is damaging itself because to those who watch on a sunday afternoon there always appears to be hidden machinations behind the scenes.

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posted Sep 24, 2008

Once again Ferrari has buldozed honest drivers from an opposing team into the ground!!
Why oh why does Ferrari have so much influence and pulling power in F1A ?
What should Hamilton have done crashed and killed himself and his opponent?
What about the other 8 drivers that did the same in the first lap in Belgie?
Have they all been punished?
Ofcourse not because they were not arguing against Ferrari.
F1A makes me sick the way they penalise the Brit drivers.

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posted Sep 24, 2008

"What should Hamilton have done crashed and killed himself and his opponent?"

Is that how he drives?
He's a menace to himself and others. I don't know how McLaren get away with him as a driver. Surely the FIA must stop someone who is a mortal accident every time he overtakes

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comment by Red_5 (U1579027)

posted Sep 24, 2008


Funny you say that you became a fan back in the Senna/Mansell days, as that also was when I started watching it, always recall waking up half the way through the night to watch the australian gp knowing mansell only needed 4 point to win and then disaster...that famous puncture!

And your totally right we need this type of racing (edge of the seat stuff) for the good of F1 and not quash drivers that have this natural aggresive style

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posted Sep 24, 2008

well now we have it.....the ridiculous truth about f1 rules is that a steward can make an allegation, wich carries an automatic penalty and the driver or team are unable appeal it successfdully becasue.....there is no right of appeal

i wonder what would happen to a driver who parked his private car in a stewards reserved space

i expect every rule in or out of the book would be used to have him penalisd on track......without the possibility of an appeal

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