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It was meant to have been a historic day for McLaren as they recorded their 150th pole position in Formula One, only to have it stripped away for them. Lewis Hamilton drove what he described as one of the best qualifying sessions he had ever driven and finished comfortably on pole by a massive 0.578 seconds. However, instead of coming into the pits to give his fuel sample, Hamilton was told to park his car on the circuit due to what on radio was described as a 'technical problem'.
With radio transcripts obviously available to the FIA, it is quite clear that McLaren didn't want to state that the car just did not have enough fuel on board to return to the pits and provide the one-litre sample it is supposed to. Instead with 1.3 litres of fuel left, with the car on track, McLaren attempted to provide the sample from there.
The stewards though were not to be hoodwinked, and rejected McLaren's attempt to describe the situation as "Force Majure".
The FIA after listening to both Hamilton and his team, released the following statement: â€œThe stewards heard from the team representative Mr Sam Michael [Sporting Director], who stated that the car stopped on the circuit for reasons of force majeure. A team member had put an insufficient quantity of fuel into the car thereby resulting in the car having to be stopped on the circuit in order to be able to provide the required amount [of fuel] for sampling purposes.â€
The stewards rejected this argument stating that, â€œthe amount of fuel put into the car is under the complete control of the competitorâ€. They ruled that the team had breached article 6.6.2 and excluded Hamilton from the qualifying result.
It's interesting to note that the regulation was added as recently as a couple of seasons ago when Hamilton did the exact same thing at the Canadian Grand Prix and escaped with a measely fine. The other teams had complained that it effectively amounted to cheating the rules and the FIA wished to avoid an embarassing situation where all cars would attempt to run underweight and park themselves on the circuit in an attempt to steal a few extra hundredths of a second off their qualifying time.
McLaren argued that the gap of 0.578 seconds was too high for them to have benefitted from the tactic, and technically while correct, the stewards' decision is completely understandable to prevent a repeat scenario where it may become impossible to determine how much of a gap would have made a difference if others attempted to find loop holes in the rules.
Hamilton tried his best to remain optimistic as he looked ahead to Sunday's race, which he will now start from 24th place, â€œThis is such a disappointment. Todayâ€™s qualifying session was one of the best Iâ€™ve ever driven â€“ the whole car was just rolling so smoothly â€“ it felt fantastic. The team had done a fantastic job to bring the updates here this weekend â€“ 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.
â€œBut, on my slowing-down lap, my engineers told me to stop on the track, and I didnâ€™t know why. Later, to hear that Iâ€™d been excluded from qualifying, was of course extremely disappointing.
â€œBut, now, looking ahead to tomorrow, I think itâ€™s clear that itâ€™s going to be an incredibly tough race for us. Even so, as always, Iâ€™ll never give up and Iâ€™ll give it everything Iâ€™ve got. It would mean so much to me to get a good result here in Spain: itâ€™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, Iâ€™ll always race my heart out.â€
Hamilton's disqualification puts Williams driver Pastor Maldonado in pole for the very first time in his career, and promotes local favourite Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari to the front row of the grid.
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- 13/05/2012 19:11 - Spanish Grand Prix 2012: Maldonado wins maiden GP; Alonso, Kimi finish on podium