Lewis Hamilton has been excluded from qualifying by the FIA race stewards in Barcelona. It means that he will have to start tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix from the back of the grid.
Hamilton had 1.3 litres of fuel in the car on his cool down lap when the McLaren team told him to switch off the engine. The rules say that a car must have 0.5 litres for a sample, plus enough to get the car back to the pits, which is around 2.5 litres on this track.
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh had said that he felt the team would escape penalty but he was wrong. The stewards will have been mindful of the fact that the rules were revised following a similar incident involving Hamilton in Montreal two seasons ago. Having taken pole he stopped on track with not enough fuel to get back to the pits. McLaren claimed that there were mitigating circumstances due to a technical issue on fuelling in the garage before his final run which left him short of fuel.
Hamilton said late last night, “This is such a disappointment. Today’s qualifying session was one of the best I’ve ever driven – the whole car was just rolling so smoothly – it felt fantastic. The team had done a fantastic job to bring the updates here this weekend – so I want to say a huge thank-you to all the men and women at the MTC for working day and night to get all the new components here this weekend.
“But, on my slowing-down lap, my engineers told me to stop on the track, and I didn’t know why. Later, to hear that I’d been excluded from qualifying, was of course extremely disappointing.
“But, now, looking ahead to tomorrow, I think it’s clear that it’s going to be an incredibly tough race for us. Even so, as always, I’ll never give up and I’ll give it everything I’ve got. It would mean so much to me to get a good result here in Spain: it’s such a pleasure to come here and the support I get is amazing.
“As I always say, and as I always do, whatever grid position I start a Grand Prix from, I’ll always race my heart out.”
How did it happen? My BBC colleague Gary Anderson saw the refuelling and said this, “The fuel rig guy put the rig on, but he had the handle set to drain fuel. He discovered his mistake and switched it to put fuel in the car. But as a result he didn’t put as much fuel in it as he should have. He (Hamilton) went across the start-finish line 20 seconds before the chequered flag but if they had sat in the garage for three or four more seconds to get more fuel in, they still would have had time to cross the line and complete another flying lap. Sometimes I don’t think McLaren think on their feet.”
After the problems with botched pit stops lately this will deal another blow to McLaren’s confidence in the fine details of its operations.
The dramatic move means that Pastor Maldonado starts the race from pole position in the Williams, the team’s first pole since 2010 and the first ever for a Venezuelan driver. The news broke as Williams were celebrating team founder Sir Frank Williams’ 70th birthday in the team’s motorhome, prompting a double celebration.
Spain’s Fernando Alonso starts alongside him on the front row of the grid, with the Lotus duo of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen looking set for a very strong result on row two. The Lotus’ long run pace was very strong in Friday practice, while Sauber’s Sergio Perez looks competitive starting 5th on the grid with the Sauber again working well on long runs on both tyre compounds.