Le Grand Retour
Paul Ricard 2018
French Grand Prix
Hamilton hammered by stewards for fuel issue in qualifying
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 May 2012   |  7:08 pm GMT  |  538 comments

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.

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We can see there’s been a bit of a backlash of this penalty being excessive and the rules needing changing as the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Rulings are supposed to be fair.

When will a journalist/media start challenging the F1 Authorities and ask difficult questions about Stewarding standards and why Hamilton seems to attract the harsher penalties? Is he being discriminated against in any form?

When will a journalist now campaign and press he FIA to amend the rule going forward for the benefit of F1? Would the FIA look upon a said journalist unfavourably, because it’s akin to the FIA admitting guilt?

Why does it feel like from where some public stand that Hamilton is treated like a circus monkey and is in F1 purely for entertainment pruposes (but should not be winning) as the authorities pick up his car and place it at the back like some matchbox toy for the pleasure of others?

Why is it new clarifications and rule changes occur from Hamilton incidents e.g. such as not completing a slow down lap in Canada 2010, but the same FIA reaction is not forthcoming say when Vettel parked his car on the pit straight in Bahrain?

Why is it that the Spanish steward Radovan Novak is still a steward when he (wrongly) publicly blamed McLaren for sexgate – but was still allowed to judge the Hamilton incident? Shouldn’t a good journo be querying via the media whether he’s suitable to be a judge considering his clear dislike and biasism against McLaren?

I understand these are all difficult questions, but smart journo’s do ask these in other sectors for the benfit of the public e.g. against government on policies etc, but why don’t the journalists have enough cojones to question the FIA/Stewards on behalf of public concerns/voice also?

Is it true that the FIA/FOM manage the journo paddock passes with an iron fist hence difficult questions never get asked regarding Hamilton for fear of losing their licence?

When will a journalist support Hamilton’s cause w.r.t steward decisions and perceived bias?

Radovan Novak would be a good place to start.


Novak is Czech…

F1 journos do ask the questions, don’t worry


James, thanks for taking the time to respond.

Yes I knew Novak was a Czech, I probably wasn’t clear enough in meaning he was a Steward at the Spanish GP rather than of Spanish nationality.

It’s good to hear that Journo’s do ask these difficult questions. I guess then it would be beneficial to the public/fans that these mini-interviews are published in the media for better visibility and also holds the said individuals to more accountability of their actions if they too know it will be published.

As an example I haven’t seen any publication query Novak’s role to Hamilton’s penalty and his outspoken criticism of McLaren.

The link is only being discusssed by fans in discussion forums.


I think the penalty system needs some serious consideration.

If a driver runs into another car when it was avoidable the yes, punish the driver. If a driver completes an incredible quali lap some 0.5 secs quicker than the 2nd place driver only to find out his ‘team’ had not put enough fuel then punish the team and not the driver.

I, as a Lewis fan and a McLaren am getting a bit tired of these costly mistakes.!


What on earth is going on at Maclaren? All teams are under pressure but there are some serious errors being made in this team. This brings the senior management into the spotlight and not before time, I can’t see sponsors willing to continue to support a team that continually makes avoidable errors. The Mclaren mark deserves better than this an so do their supporters.


James, why do you think they’re making so many mistakes this year, and to a slightly lesser extent last year? It seems that whoever has a dominant car is doomed to making human error.

I think this is an almost-carbon-copy of what we saw in 2010 with Red Bull consistently squandering points.

As you said in another piece – McLaren clearly have the fastest car (it might not be the quickest at a given day at a given circuit, but over the average, it’s still quickest – it’s always been on the front row, even if not on pole) but aren’t leading the championship. Much like Red Bull in 2010. Would love to get your opinions on this.


It’s called pressure and it’s always been there at the top of F1.


Article 6.6.2 says cars only need to have returned under their own power in practice sessions so it does not apply to qualifying or race.

If it is being interpreted to apply during qualification then ANYONE who doesn’t return under their own power should be sent to the back of the grid – even if you spin off.

The way it is currently being interpreted means you could under fuel your car to get a weight advantage on your flying lap then put it in the gravel straight afterwards so you cannot make it back to the pits under your own power but have the required fuel for testing if needed.

For those who say rules are rules, there is still a lot of interpretation going on as far as I can see.

Perhaps it was a mistake of McLaren to draw attention to the situation by stopping – the stewards had to respond. Lesson: if you find yourself in the wrong, feign ignorance to the very end.

Rules and punishment that promote honesty and fair play would be my preference. This can only be achieved with clear and consistent decisions.

Jeevan balan Manoj

Totally deserved it. Otherwise how will McLaren stop making such horribly stupid mistakes


Martin Brundle said that he spoke to Charlie Whiting earlier & was told that in qualifying a technical infringement = disqualification.

Its apparently clearly written in the regulations & this is why Lewis got the penalty he did, Stewards had no discretion to give any other penalty.


It seems they are saying on other sites that 4 Mclaren staff have either left or been sacked since a big argument last night. This guy seems to be part of it-dont know how valid this all is



mmm forget above, it seems others are now saying this is a few no-marks pretending to be someone they are not, although it spurred enough interest for Kravitz to ask Whitmarsh about it on SkyF1


I don’t often post, but I have to agree with the majority here and say the penalty was too harsh. Clearly rules were broken, and reasons are just excuses dressed up. However the penalty does not fit the offence. I feel exclusion of the fastest time or even from Q3, ie start 11th but 24 places is too much.

I just hope that none of the main protaganists are able to take advantage of a win. I wouldn’t like to see a World Championship skewed by this Steward led result. Maldanado for a Williams win!!


I’ve had it with Mclaren and their f-ups this season (and we are only on the 5th race weekend). Really something has to give….these Whitmarsh conspiracies are starting to sound like the truth.

That said, couldn’t the team take a knock via the constructors points and leave the driver to win however many he would have won from pole?


This has certainly wound up a lot of response, and it is clearly very unfortunate that Lewis again has to ‘take it on the chin’, but then again, the team wins together and they lose together. In Motor Sport Generally a Fuel Infringement is treated very seriously, there is no doubt teams have used many devious methods to gain any advantage.

What I can’t understand is why the fuel man on Lewis’ car was under pressure to add fuel at the last moment? Lewis had a good long spell in the pits after his first run, there was always the chance he would go again, so why not put the fuel in as soon as poss?

Just as Ferrari have to have a good look at their whole operation, so McLaren have to have a long hard look at their Pit Procedures, as well as their wheel nuts!


lost for words, disgusting decision!


Obviously the team knew that they had made a mistake with the fuel and tried to cover it up by pretending they had a technical problem. They should have had a code word for Hamilton to engineer a gentle spin off into a gravel trap so that he could have been lifted back to parc ferme and therefore have enough fuel in the car to be tested and not have broken any rules!

Garry J. Berry

James, two simple questions :

1. Is the required sample 0.5l or 1.0l?

2. Within the FIA rules, is disqualification from qualifying mandatory and the only penalty possible if a car does not return with the required sample or did the stewards have a range of penalties available at their discretion?

There seems to be some confusion amongst fans on these two issues.


1 litre, updated that point

Apparently so, but I think they weren’t impressed with the argument of Force Majeur put forward by McLaren

Garry J. Berry

Thanks James



What do you think is Hamilton’s best strategy now ?

One plan would be to start from the back of the grid on what is probably his least worn set of options, try to muscle past the slower drivers, stop early to get some clear air, and then run as fast and long as he can on a set of primes (his pace on new primes will probably be faster than those running a longer first stint, so he could leapfrog several more drivers after the first round of pitstops).

The downside is that a short first stint will harm his pace later in the race by making him run longer in the other stints.

The other plan would be to start on primes, be patient, and only pass when he can without taking too much out of the tyres, and run as long as he possibly can on the first stint.

At that point, gaps will have opened out in the field, and if his first stop is timed right, he could get long runs in clear air when the fuel load is down, and he can push harder.

That would probably be the best tyre strategy.

Any thoughts ?


Well there appears to be a backlash against this penalty. Do the stewards ever take into account what is in formula ones best interests and protecting the ‘integrity’ of f1 by being the best motorsport show in the world.

Theres seems to be some inconsistency here, as rosberg and vettel both stopped at the end of the pit lane after Bahrain and escaped penalties.

Will the media start a backlash against the stewards? I sure hope the fans do.


If McLaren knew that the car was under fuelled, they would have known this (for a number of mintes!) before the last flying lap and Lewis could have aborted and come in – preserved his laptime and been legal – instead McLaren allowed Lewis to carry on to complete the lap with a car with an infringement that they already know the penalty for (for all the sensors on the car you’d think that McLaren would have a distance to empty gauge!!!!!) … Poor team decision making in my view …


Does anyone remember Alonso stopping on the slow down lap in Germany last year because of low fuel? Alonso didnt get a penalty.


James, can you clarify one thing, if possible?

I am looking at the regulations and I don’t understand something. It is said like this:

“6.6.2 Competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the Event.

Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.”

The article specifies PRACTICE, not qualy or race. Is the qualy considered as PRACTICE? If so, why?

Thanks in advance.


Sporting Regulations, Art. 33 QUALIFYING PRACTICE


Didn’t Vettel pull over at the end of the Bahrain GP before the end of the slowing down lap. Didn’t he park at the pit lane exit? Why wasn’t he excluded? Did he use all his fuel defending from Kimi and as a result couldn’t finish the race correctly? He therefore deserves the same penalty by the same logic.

Stewards inconsistent again.


On race day I feel a penalty should also apply when drivers pulls over straight after crossing the finish line at the end of race due to fuel shortages…


I do feel this is one mistake too many from Macca this season. If I were Lewis, I would be seriously looking at a move to Mercedes.

Also I don’t believe that staying with one team all your career is a viable option any more, especially if you want to be a multiple world champion.

Lastly I reckon Sam Michael has to be part of the problem, not sure why he is rated so highly.


I would not want to be the engineer who made that mistake !


Anyone who thinks that it’s a coincidence that this 24-spot penalty from the stewards at the Spanish GP also happens to put Alonso on the front row is fooling themselves.


It’s the rules.


Yes, but a penalty of losing only his hot lap or even all of his Q3 times would have done the same thing.


Seems a very harsh penalty. Why wouldn’t the stewards apply the rule to exclude him from Q3 only (where the infringement was detected), so he could still start 10th? Do the rules allow that discretion or mandate automatic exclusion from entire qualifying?

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