Fernando Alonso and Ferrari have launched a scathing attack on the stewards at the European GP, with the Spaniard claiming that the race was ‘manipulated’ and that he was penalised for ‘respecting the rules’.
Alonso was running third when the safety car came out on lap nine to allow for Mark Webber’s wrecked Red Bull to be attended to in Valencia. But while second-placed McLaren adversary Lewis Hamilton overtook the safety car just after the second safety car line on his way back to the pit-lane for new tyres, the Spaniard adhered to the letter of the law and waited dutifully behind.
Although Hamilton was given a drive-through penalty for his indiscretion, that was nothing compared to the time lost by Alonso, with the Ferrari man slipping virtually to the back of the field as a result of the delay. He eventually finished ninth at the chequered flag – eighth following the rash of post-race punishments meted out – while Hamilton came home second.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, a furious Alonso radioed his team to demand that they raise Hamilton’s actions with the stewards. But it would be a further 12 laps before it was revealed that the Briton was under investigation, and four further still before his penalty was announced.
Crucially, by then Lewis had been able to pull away sufficiently from third-placed Kamui Kobayashi – the Sauber ace doing a superb job up in P3, but holding the field up nonetheless – that he could rejoin from his extra stop still in second position.
The 18 points tallied by Hamilton and just four by Alonso have left a 29-point gap between them in the title chase – and the Spaniard was quick to express his displeasure with the stewards, who included his former rival Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
“It seems it was very difficult to watch a replay – it takes many laps,” he sarcastically railed in an interview with a Spanish newspaper. “It’s a shame, not for us because this is racing, but for all the fans who came here to watch a manipulated race. Everything is against us – they allow everything, and the public has seen a race that is not quite real.
“We were running well, in third after a good start. Then the safety car came out, which wasn’t too good for us. But Hamilton overtook the safety car, something that I had never seen, overtaking the medical car with yellow flags. We were a metre off each other, and he finished second and I finished ninth.
“This race was to finish second, then with the safety car I would have finished where I finished in ninth, and Hamilton in eighth – but here, when you do the normal thing, which is respecting the rules, you finish ninth, and the one who doesn’t respect them finishes second.”
‘A scandal – that’s the opinion of so many fans and experts involved in the sport, who are all in agreement,’ read an outspoken statement on Ferrari’s website of the Valencia controversy. ’There is no other way to describe what happened during the European Grand Prix. The way the race and the incidents during it were managed raise doubts that could see F1 lose some credibility again, as it was seen around the world.’
Hamilton, however, remains unrepentant and insists that his punishment adequately fits the crime, given that he couldn’t actually recall passing the safety car on the track.
“I took my penalty,” he said. “It’s quite a long time to spend at 60km/h in the pit lane – and I came out second. I don’t see how that’s unfair – it’s racing, those are the rules and we all have to accept them.”