Charlie Whiting has defended the decision in Spain to move Lewis Hamilton from pole to the very rear of the grid after the Brit stopped on track at the end of the final qualifying session for the Spanish Grand Prix. Although McLaren was widely criticised for making a serious error, many people felt that the penalty given to Hamilton was overly severe.
“Quite frankly I did not expect the penalty that we received,” said McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh.
Indeed, given that McLaren’s fuel indiscretion occurred only in the decisive Q3, why not simply delete Hamilton’s Q3 laptimes, thereby putting the Briton mid-grid for the race?
“We had no room to move,” Whiting, the FIA’s race director, responded to Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport when told that Hamilton’s penalty seemed too severe. “If there is a violation, it applies to the whole session, not just part of it,” he insisted. “Qualifying begins with Q1.”
Whiting explained that if Hamilton had only lost his Q3 time, a precedent would have been set tempting teams to risk not being checked for the mandatory 1 litre fuel sample in post-qualifying scrutineering.
Auto Motor und Sport said only one or two fuel samples are actually checked after qualifying at grands prix. Competitors could, therefore, genuinely “run the risk” of using less fuel than is allowed in Q3, if the penalty for being caught is relatively light, Whiting argued.
He recalled last year’s German grand prix, when Sebastien Buemi was sent to the back of the grid because his fuel sample showed irregularities. As it was not possible to check if the illegal fuel had also been used in Q1 and Q2, the Toro Rosso driver had to be disqualified from qualifying, Whiting argued.