Lewis Hamilton has called for clarification of the safety car rules after a drive-thru penalty ruined his chance of victory in the European Grand Prix.
The British driver was on the tail on race leader Sebastian Vettel only to find himself punished by the stewards for being deemed to have overtaken the pace car after it had passed the second safety car line.
Despite this, the 25-year-old managed to maintain his second position, with team-mate Jenson Button in third.
Lewis Hamilton – 2nd: “Into Turn One, I was very close to Seb [Vettel], I went for the gap, I out-braked him and we went into the corner side-by-side. He gave me room, but we touched and the contact damaged my front wing.
“When the Safety Car came out, the team did a great job to change the nosebox and tyres. After that my pace was much better and I was able to push Seb, but it’s impossible to pass around here when the cars are so closely matched.
“Whenever a Safety Car comes out, it’s difficult to compute all the information. There are all these beeps in your ear, and lights flashing on your dashboard too. There’s got to be a certain time between the ‘Safety Car 1′ line and the Safety Car 2’ line, and between those two lines you can go fast. So it’s all a bit complicated.
“So I pushed past the last Safety Car line, and was obviously then trying to close the gap to Seb. But as I came out of the first corner, all of a sudden I saw the Safety Car coming out, so I backed off and went across the line as I did that, so I thought I was okay.
“When the team told me I had a drive-through penalty, I made time by pushing as hard as I could, and was able to increase the gap a bit to the guys behind. I took my penalty – it’s quite a long time to spend at 60km/h in the pitlane and I came out second. I don’t see how that’s unfair it’s racing, and those are the rules, and we all have to accept them.”
Jenson Button – (Finished 3rd and maintained position, despite being given a 5 second penalty): “The first lap was great I loved it! I was alongside Robert [Kubica] for 10 corners, then we both went around Mark [Webber] in Turn Eight, one on the inside and one on the outside! We continued fighting until Turn 10, but I couldn’t get around the outside of him there it was just too tight.
“I was very close to the pit entry when the Safety Car was triggered. I was warned by the team beforehand, who said, There might be a Safety Car, in this lap,’ so I dived into the pits. There was no room to lift off or hit the brakes, so to be honest I can’t really see why I was called to the stewards.
“Later in the race, when I was behind Kamui [Kobayashi], I knew he’d have to pit again. His pace was reasonable, so I knew he wasn’t going to pit early, but you just can’t overtake around here. I was running pretty low downforce today, which gave me good straightline speed, but I couldn’t get out of the corners quick enough to get really tucked in behind him on the straights. As soon as he went into the pits, though, I had three or four laps when I could push and have some fun with the car. I got the fastest lap at that point, which was nice; the car was feeling very good, and I just wish I’d had more laps to play with!”
Martin Whitmarsh – Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: “Speaking before the stewards have finished their deliberations, I suppose I have to say I’m reasonably pleased with this afternoon’s events. Short of a win, second and third is pretty good especially so when you bear in mind that we’d brought only a modest set of modifications here whereas some of the other top teams had introduced substantial upgrades.
“We’ve accepted Lewis’s penalty, but in truth we reckon it was a pretty marginal call. Okay, it didn’t deprive him of his second place on the road, but it did prevent him from being able to take the race to Seb, which had been our intention. And I think Lewis’s strong pace in the last few laps showed that, having saved his fuel and tyres early on in preparation for mounting an attack on Seb, he would probably have been in a position to have a fair old crack at it had he not been given a drive-through. So, yes, his penalty was frustrating for Lewis, frustrating for us, and ultimately I suppose you’d have to say it was frustrating for the spectators, at the track and in front of their TV screens, too. But, as I say, you have to accept these things and move on.
“Jenson drove a very solid race although it was of course irritating for him to be stuck behind Kamui for so long. Having said that, in the chaos that always ensues with an early Safety Car, our engineers called the situation really well, with the result that we were able to change the nosebox on Lewis’s car [following contact with Vettel’s car on lap one] and send our cars back out in second place and fourth place. Actually, of course, Jenson’s fourth place was in effect third place, because Kamui was always going to have to make a pitstop for new tyres at some stage in the race. So it was a shame for Jenson to be stuck behind Kamui for so long too but, again, racing can be frustrating and sometimes there’s simply nothing you can do about it.
“Assuming Jenson retains his third place in today’s race, he’ll remain in second place in the drivers’ world championship not far behind Lewis, whose name still tops the list. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes leads the constructors’ world championship too, which is particularly satisfying for all our employees who work so hard back at our HQ in Woking [Surrey, UK] as they prepare for our home grand prix, at Silverstone, the home of British motor sport, in two weeks’ time.”