Authors: Rio Sports
For almost an hour at Silverstone on Saturday a moment of mastery in Formula One qualifying hung in the balance. Lewis Hamilton had put in a breathtaking single lap in front of his home crowd to claim pole but, while the crowd cheered and his rivals nursed their wounds and wondered what must be done to catch him in Sunday’s race , he remained under a stewards’ inquiry for blocking another driver.
It was an offence that could have resulted in a grid penalty, ruining what had been a minute and a half of pretty much perfection behind the wheel. He escaped sanction, a decision strongly criticised by the driver who believed he had been wronged, Romain Grosjean.
Hamilton had the balance and set-up of his Mercedes right where he wanted it when it mattered and he and the car were purring. His final hot lap in Q3 was half a second clear of the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in second and his F1 world championship rival Sebastian Vettel in third – a country mile on the flat, high-speed challenge of Silverstone. However, at the end of his first quick run in Q3, Grosjean in the Haas complained he was impeded by the British driver at Club corner and the stewards launched their investigation.
Yet Hamilton remained ebullient and, after a tense 60 minutes, the decision came down: no further action. Quite what the reaction among this partisan crowd might have been had he been stripped of pole is easy to imagine but the fact that he had not been punished left Grosjean fuming. “I don’t know how losing three and a half to four tenths of a second in one corner is not being impeded. I am very surprised,” said the French driver.
Hamilton had been unhappy the stewards had punished Vettel with only a 10-second stop-and-go penalty after the German had driven into him at Baku. One admitted afterwards that they had not wanted to impose a greater sanction because the two drivers are in a direct fight for the drivers’ title. The steward in Baku was Danny Sullivan, the American former F1 driver and winner of the Indianapolis 500, and he reprised the role at Silverstone. Although Grosjean believed Vettel’s punishment was proportionate, he insisted the failure to take action here was evidence the stewards had double standards based on the drivers involved in incidents.
“The rules are pretty clear. I know there is a world title fight going at the front. But we are in a position where we are fighting as hard as the boys in the front,” he said. “I was impeded today and, if it had been another driver, the sanction would have been something. It does feel sometimes that there are two types of decision.”
The FIA statement noted that: “The stewards examined video and telemetry evidence and concluded that, while Grosjean may potentially have been affected by the presence of Hamilton at turn 16, he was not impeded.” The wording was not helpful or explanatory, Grosjean believed, and he was unhappy neither he nor Hamilton had been consulted. “No, the stewards didn’t speak to me and, yes, that is a surprise,” he said. “I was not even there. Today I lost a position and there is nothing happening, it’s frustrating and it seems like there is a big inconsistency between the decisions.”
Hamilton, however, believed he had not compromised Grosjean’s lap. “I was starting my lap and I was trying to get the space,” he said. “As I was about to get on the gas, I looked in the mirrors and there was a car coming. If I was in the way, I apologise. I had no indication from the team but I don’t think he was that close when I had pulled away.”
Grosjean received a one-race ban in 2012 for causing a dangerous crash at the first corner at Spa and the Mercedes executive director, Toto Wolff, had little time for his complaints. “There are some that moan all the time and just continue moaning,” he said. “I don’t want to even comment if Romain Grosjean comes out and starts asking for penalties for other drivers. You’d rather look at his track record; he should be happy he is driving in Formula One.”
The decision coming so soon after Azerbaijan will once again focus attention on the stewards, their composition and whether greater consistency in decision-making would be achieved by employing a permanent driver representative for the season.
Hamilton will not dwell on this but rather on putting in a lap he will be able to look back on and enjoy. He trails Vettel by 20 points in the world championship and, if he narrows that gap with another win at his home race , he will have a weekend to savour.
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