James Allen's verdict

Monday, 08 September 2008 13:11

Just when you thought Formula 1 would be basking in the glory of one of the most thrilling climaxes to a grand prix in recent memory, a cloud of controversy hangs over the sport once again after Lewis Hamilton was stripped of his Belgian Grand Prix victory.

In the first of two parts to his post-race Spa verdict, ITV Sport commentator James Allen analyses in detail the controversial moment when Hamilton crossed the Bus Stop chicane, and explains what happened on the run to La Source and how this influenced the stewards' judgement.

An extraordinary grand prix with one of the most exciting finishes ever has been given a different complexion by the stewards’ decision to penalise Lewis Hamilton for taking an advantage from cutting a chicane.

There is not doubt that this is a very big call by the stewards and a lot of unbiased observers among the media and the public will find it hard to understand.

It takes a lot to unpick the results of a grand prix, especially one which would otherwise probably be long remembered as a classic and a great advert for the sport.

The controversial call

I’ve watched the incident many times now and Hamilton cuts the chicane because he was pushed out wide – quite fairly – by Kimi Raikkonen; his trajectory makes it hard for him to follow the Ferrari around the corner and, faced with going on the grass, he chose instead to cut the chicane.

It’s a deliberate act on his part, amazing speed of thought, but he clearly chooses the least worst option.

He is therefore in front coming out of the chicane, but crucially he is on a line he would not have been on had he taken the chicane normally.

Although he clearly hands back the lead to Kimi as they cross the start/finish line and the timing sheets show you that Kimi clearly crossed the line first, he is on him immediately afterwards.

And this is the nub of the stewards’ argument.

Raikkonen’s car did get fully in front of Hamilton’s – his speed across the start/finish line was 212km/h, compared to 206km/h for Hamilton – but Lewis immediately regains the momentum.

Kimi then does a kind of double block on him before Lewis sticks his car up the inside into La Source.

The speed differential

Lewis was much faster than Kimi at that point of the race because the McLaren keeps heat in its tyres better in those conditions, as we saw in Silverstone, especially on the harder compound.

So Kimi was finished anyway. Lewis had him; he was always going to get him before the finish.

The stewards clearly felt that he didn’t give back enough of the advantage he gained from cutting the chicane.

Watching it over and over again you can see what they mean; it’s a very delicately balanced call.

But you have to take account of the performance difference which existed between the two cars at that point anyway.

On a normal dry track, Lewis’s gesture of easing off by 6km/h would have put Kimi well ahead by La Source.

It’s just that the Ferrari was not able to take much advantage of Hamilton’s gesture, so it seemed an insufficient gesture.

McLaren checked at the time with race director Charlie Whiting that they had done the right thing, and according to the team he told them they had.

But the stewards disagreed. They felt he should have dropped in behind Kimi and had a go at him later.

He was much faster and would have got him down the straight after Eau Rouge anyway.

But he’s a racer and he went for it as soon as he thought he’d negated his unfair advantage from cutting the chicane.

Lewis's racer's instinct

The frustration for neutrals in the paddock – including many members of other teams, who are outraged by this decision, no doubt like many members of the public – is that this is racing after all.

Hamilton was impetuous to get on with it, as Damon Hill was in Adelaide in 1994 when Michael Schumacher hit the wall.

These are racers who seize the moment, which is why we love them.

It is that killer instinct which raises them above the rest of us normal people and makes us tune in to watch them in our millions.

But the stewards wanted a clearer sign that Hamilton recognised he had gained an unfair advantage.

The fall-out

A 25-second penalty drops him from first to third and cuts his championship lead to just two points with five races to go.

Many people will find this decision hard to justify and will inevitably question it in the light of Valencia, where Felipe Massa and Ferrari were convicted of unsafe release from the pit stop (an offence which normally attracts a drive-through penalty) and yet were merely fined while Massa kept the 10 points.

These are big calls, like a referee in soccer giving or not giving a penalty, which changes the result of a match.

But a referee has to make a decision on the spot. Here the stewards took a few hours to review all the evidence. And there are some unfortunate perceptions of F1 being aired as a result.

I hope that the outcome of this championship is clear enough either way that it does not hinge on this decision.

Click here to read the rest of James's verdict

ITV Sport commentator James Allen
ITV Sport commentator James Allen
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