Lewis Hamilton, backed up by Ron Dennis, insists that his drive through penalty for outbraking himself at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix was unfair.
Hamilton, who narrowly lost out in last year’s title fight as a result of taking unnecessary risks, vowed to adopt a strategic approach to the decisive remaining races of the season.
But as the lights went out for the Japanese Grand Prix in Fuji and he stormed down to the first corner, the racing instinct kicked in and it all seemed to fall away from the British ace.
“I didn t make a great start, but I slipstreamed Kimi and went up the inside,” explained Hamilton.
He threw his McLaren down the inside of the Ferrari, in what was as much a move of evasion as it was an overtake, before outbraking himself and running wide into the corner, bunching up the field in the process and dropping to sixth behind Massa.
The incident caught the attention of the stewards, and no sooner had Hamilton been punted into a spin by Massa at the chicane – for which the Brazilian received his own reprimand – he was in the docks himself for his own startline move. Race over.
Observers will note that Formula One has seen far more aggressive startline antics in its time, and for years Michael Schumacher escaped punishment for his notorious chopping manoeuvres which were arguably equally as dangerous.
Hamilton too is adamant that he did nothing more than outbraked himself.
“I braked a bit late but so did everybody,” he said. “A lot of cars went wide at Turn One and I just went a bit wider than everyone else. But you can t undo the penalty or change today s result.”
“As far as the championship is concerned, I guess things could have been worse; but there s no getting away from the fact that it was a disappointing weekend. However, Lewis is still five points clear in the drivers championship, with two races to go.”
Ferrari, perhaps not surprisingly, see differently. Kimi Raikkonen in particular was quick to express is concern with the manner in which Hamilton arrived at the first corner.
“Even if third place has put an end to a run of poor results, I am a bit disappointed because today we had the means to win. At the start, I got away well but then, at the first corner, the two McLarens arrived too fast at the braking point and prevented me from turning in, taking me off the track.”
“That lost me a lot of ground and I found myself in the middle of the pack. On top of that, the car was not quite right as I was hit by one of the McLarens: the steering was a bit light and there was other damage as well. I tried to do the best I could but I was not as quick as I’d hoped, especially in the second stint.”
Felipe Massa has also claimed innocence for his own actions. The Brazilian was also hit with a drive through penalty after coming back at Hamilton at the chicane and punting him into a spin. Massa maintains that the move was “harsh but fair” and was also quick to point out Hamilton’s over ambitious move on Raikkonen at the start.
“At the start, I got away well and had passed Alonso and Kovalainen,” he said. “Then Hamilton braked over the limit and I found myself sandwiched between one car on the inside and one on the outside and all I could do was brake and stay behind. I think the duel that followed with Hamilton was hard but fair and the drive-through really penalized my race.”
McLaren were under no allusions of just how costly the incident was, but do not believe that it will significantly alter the landscape of the world championship.
“A chaotic start and one lap later Felipe ruined Lewis s race when he first ran wide and then cut the chicane short and pushed Lewis into a spin,” recounted Mercedes-Benz vice president Norbert Haug.
“The next grand prix will be held already next weekend and neither Felipe nor Ferrari benefited too much from today s result. Despite Felipe s action, Lewis still leads the drivers championship.”