Lewis Hamilton put in another fighting drive from 20th on the grid to finish 6th in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
But he said afterwards that the McLaren team need to stop making life difficult for themselves and drew some criticism from Renault for the way he resisted the challenge of Vitaly Petrov.
The incident happened at the start of lap eight. Hamilton had passed Petrov into the final corner at the end of lap five, but the Russian had caught him out by staying in his slipstream down the pit straight and getting a tow and he then re-passed Hamilton into turn one on lap six.
McLaren’s F duct rear wing helped Hamilton on the straight to reach 300km/h, whereas Petrov’s fastest through the speed trap had been 291km/h. Earlier in the weekend’s practice sessions the Renault had been the second fastest car through the trap, so they may have added a little more wing for qualifying and the race, perhaps with the prospect of rain.
Renault team principal Eric Boullier was unhappy that Hamilton was not punished for what he saw as a clear case of weaving,
“It is very clear in the regulations that you can have one change of direction, so when you do three in a row something is wrong, ” said Boullier.
“He got a warning for dangerous driving, but I am not sure it is enough. It is definitely clearly written in the regulations that you can not do any more than one direction change, and it is something you should not be doing.”
At first sight it appeared that Hamilton was weaving, but what made the incident unusual was that Petrov was not diving around trying to pass the McLaren on the straight, he was trying to stay in his slipstream to get a tow. However he was pretty close to the back of the McLaren and after Hamilton moved to the inside for Turn 1, Petrov went around the outside and tried to pass him, so you could argue that he was trying to pass him all along and was being blocked. Does this make what Hamilton did weaving or just shaking off a tow?
It is interesting that the stewards, one of whom was Johnny Herbert, thought he was weaving and warned him at the time, but let him off without penalty. This sends out the signal that they felt what he did was dangerous, but not dangerous enough to require sanction. Perhaps Herbert’s influence encouraged tolerance.
With F1 walking a fine line with the potential lack of excitement due to the rule changes, it seems that the message from the stewards at the moment is that they want to encourage overtaking. It would have been interesting to see how this story might have taken off differently had it been a front running Ferrari or Mercedes driver Hamilton was trying to shake off.
No doubt the incident will be on the agenda for the drivers’ briefing in Shanghai as drivers seek clarification of what is and is not acceptable.
Hamilton was coming through the field after a disastrous qualifying session in which the McLaren and Ferrari teams relied too heavily on radar information and not enough on human intuition and left their cars in the garage rather than get a banker lap in at the start of qualifying. It presented an open goal to rivals Red Bull and Mercedes, who took full advantage by filling the podium places.
“We can’t afford to have races like that,” Hamilton said afterwards. “I don’t know how many more of those kinds of races I can do. It’s not easy at all. The weekend has shown we have the pace. I think if it had been dry in qualifying we could have made the first two rows. I think the two last races I have pulled out something good. They are probably the two strongest races I have had for a long, long time. Perhaps ever.”
Meanwhile the stewards also let race winner Sebastian Vettel off without penalty for passing Jarno Trulli under yellow flags at Turn 4 late in the race,
“Having viewed video and telemetry evidence and heard evidence from the Driver (Vettel) and Team Representative, find that the Driver did breach Article 126.96.36.199 b) of Appendix H of the International Sporting Code, ” the Stewards said in a statement.
“However, the Stewards, having noted that the Driver made a very large reduction in speed through the yellow flag area and that he understood that Car 18 was slowing with an obvious problem, DECIDE in accordance with Article 16.2 a) of the Formula One Sporting Regulations to impose no penalty. ”