Another race, another controversy. And yet again it involved both main title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa.
Incident no 1 – Race start – Hamilton (and Kovalainen) vs Kimi
I watched the video replay of the race start few times (at the moment you can see it here). Raikkonen had quite good start and it looked like he is ahead of both McLarens. Kovalainen was next to him, Hamilton behind. Hamilton however seemed to be quicker and squeezed between Kovalainen and Raikkonen. Watching it from the front it looked like these three are next to each other. Then just before turning into the first corner Hamilton moved in Raikkonen’s direction leaving Raikkonen with nowhere to go but straight. It is hard to say if Hamilton touched Raikkonen or not. Raikkonen says that both McLarens hit him, Hamilton (when commenting on the penalties imposed on himself and Massa) insisted that he did not hit anybody:
Kimi Raikkonen:” I got a pretty good start and got into the first place but then braking into the first corner I was trying to turn in and there was first one McLaren and then a second and I think they both hit me and I had nowhere to go. I needed to go straight.”
Heikki Kovalainen: “Kimi initially jumped Lewis and then I think Lewis was trying to fight back. They both went a bit deep and I also went a bit deep. I don’t know… I thought it was just a normal first corner.”
This is what the top 3 had to say about the penalty at the post race press conference:
To all drivers: the stewards decided to give Lewis Hamilton a drive-through penalty for what happened at the start. Do you consider that was fair?
Fernando Alonso: I agree. (no love lost here )
Kimi Raikkonen: I don’t know. I didn’t see the whole thing. I only saw him when he came up next to me. I’m not sure if he hit me or not but they make their decisions, so I have nothing against it.
Robert Kubica: I don’t know what happened in the first corner, so it’s difficult to judge.
I think under normal circumstances the stewards would judge this incident the way Heikki Kovalainen saw it – just a normal first corner. There was a move towards Kimi from Hamilton and yes Kimi could not turn into the corner as he had Hamilton’s car to his right. But was that an illegal move from Hamilton ? Hard to say, aggressive – definitelly, illegal – I am not that convinced. Stewards were and Hamilton received driver through penalty.
Incident no 2 – Lap 2, Turn 10 – Hamilton vs Massa
After the poor start and all the mess in the early stages of the race Lewis Hamilton found himself even behind Felipe Massa. He tried to recover the lost ground and get back ahead of his title rival. Hamilton managed to do just that. But then Massa attempted to get the position back, Hamilton however did not leave the door open, Massa took the gravel way and hit Hamilton. Massa survived and went on, Hamilton however spun and had to wait for the entire field to pass before rejoining the race. (video also here).
When I saw the incident first time and then again from the replay during the race I did not see much wrong from Massa. I was actually thinking it was Hamilton who pushed Massa out of the track. But after seeing few more replays it did look to me like Massa was all out of the track (all four wheels behind the white line) and perhaps should have given the position back to Hamilton (who was ahead at that moment anyway). We know how it played out. I may be going against the popular opinion here but I do think that this was 50:50 situation and none of the drivers should have been penalized. Stewards thought differently and penalized Massa with drive through. Here is how two drivers involved seen this and also the first corner incident:
Lewis Hamilton: “You can always look back and wish you’d done something (differently) – I made a mistake and I paid for it. That sort of thing happens, you’ve just got to keep your head up and keep going. “
Felipe Massa (on the race start incident): “On the start, he made a bad start and Kimi passed him. Then he tried to brake completely when everybody was in the corner. He pushed to a much wider line and [Heikki] Kovalainen was on a wider line as well, so it was a big casino over there. For me that was a little bit too optimistic especially if you are thinking about the championship.”
Felipe Massa (on the lap 2 Turn 10 incident): “He [Hamilton] braked very late and I braked very late, and then I was a little bit wide in the first part of the corner. Then he had my inside line and pushed me a little bit wide in the gravel, and then I went with the wheels on the gravel but the next corner was on the left. Then we just touched each other, so in my opinion it was a racing incident. But we had a drivethrough and we paid, and it is a bit difficult to speak after the race when we have already had the drivethrough.”
Did he crash into Hamilton deliberately:
“For sure not, I [Massa] had two wheels on the gravel. I could not stop the car and I was on the gravel because he [Hamilton] pushed me into the gravel.”
Were the penalties justified:
Felipe Massa: “For him yes, for me I am not sure.”
Lewis Hamilton: We both got the same penalty, but I didn’t hit anyone and he did. I guess that’s just the name of the game.
Not surprisingly Hamilton and Massa are not in agreement here. I think that both these 2 incidents were somewhere on the edge of legality, perhaps Hamilton’s offence more on the legal side while Massa’s leaned more towards the illegal. The stewards chose to act neutrally and penalized both. Right or wrong ? Frankly I have no idea, after the incidents in the recent races I have no idea any more what is and what is not OK when 2 cars get close on the race track …
Incident no 3 – Lap 50, pit lane exit through the Turn 1 – Bourdais vs Massa
If the 2 above incidents resulted in controversial rulings by stewards, this one is rather bizzare … I was surprised when the stewards announced this incident to be investigated after the race. I though well, they will look into it, realized nothing really happened and will not penalize Massa again. Well, they did not penalize Massa (as I expected), they penalized Bourdais with 25 seconds penalty…
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Massa vs Bourdais video
Sebastien Bourdais: “For me it’s very clear. Yes, I exit the pits, yes I’m supposed to be careful and I was. I stayed inside and I didn’t push him out, I didn’t overshoot the corner. I did everything I could not to run into him and he just squeezed and turned and behaved like I didn’t exist, like I wasn’t there. What am I supposed to do? I’ve been in this position many, many times and I never had any incidents. It’s just a little bit of respect, you give each other room and then everything goes right, but if you don’t for sure it’s going to be an incident.”
Now, as as I said, I am no longer sure what is and what is not OK when 2 cars meet on the track in F1, I can’t tell whether this penalty is justified or not. I however think, it is not. All it did it deprived Bourdais and Toro Rosso of hard earned points and reduced Massa’s gap to Hamilton to 5 points only…
Although I am not one of those who would no matter what feel that Hamilton is hard done by FIA (at the end, if he kept out of trouble as he said he would there would not be much for stewards to do about him) I feel that it really is about the time FIA did something. Not only about the stewards but about the rules. As long as the rules are as vague as they are the stewards will never get it right. There will always be someone who will feel hard done, there will always be accusation of pro-somebody bias …