A host of different opinions hit the web waves in the minutes after separate twenty-second time penalties were applied to Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton in the hours following the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The penalties – applied at the time when the final standings are published, therefore rendering them ineligible for further appeal – saw Fernando Alonso retain his sixth-placed result, while Hamilton was demoted tom seventh to eighth.
The timing of the announcement – with the circuit rapidly devoid of significant figures in the sport with whom journalists could get more insight – was difficult, and fans were left to draw their own conclusions about the matter, and many were left questioning the rationale behind each decision.
Here’s what we do know…
On the panel of stewards for this weekend’s race was none other than Emanuele Pirro, the former Benetton and Scuderia Italia F1 racer from 1989-91 who later went on to forge a hugely successful touring car and sports car career, which included five Le Mans 24 Hours victories.
The stewards have the luxury – although not always the time – to make an informed decision with a far greater range of data not available to casual fans, including multiple camera angles, telemetry, and even satellite positioning data.
The race stewards deemed that Hamilton breached Article 20.2 of the 2011 Sporting Regulations and was found guilty of having “made more than one change of direction to defend a position” on lap 45 of the race.
In the lead up to the incident, it was quite clear that Hamilton was struggling for pace on his tyres, while Alonso – who was handicapped with a malfunctioning adjustable rear wing – was clearly quicker.
Alonso tried for a run at Hamilton at the start of lap 45, and Lewis appeared to alter his racing line more than once to keep Alonso behind. On the next lap, Alonso tried to pass Hamilton on the run into Turn 4, clipped the rear of the McLaren, and broke his own front wing. It was for this incident that Alonso was penalised.
While the Spaniard pitted to replace his front wing, Hamilton’s lap times matched those he had been running before the contact, which would indicate that the touch from Alonso hadn’t caused any damage at all.
Evidently, Whiting did not consider the collision at the time as serious enough to warrant an on-the-spot investigation, but that he clearly wanted to have a look at it afterwards. He obviously saw something to warrant, in his opinion, further investigation by the Stewards, but what exactly did he see?
Dare we suggest he felt that Alonso’s collision with Hamilton was deliberate, perhaps hoping to puncture Hamilton’s rear tyre? On the flip-side, the Stewards would have looked at the reverse scenario, that Hamilton didn’t back off in order for Alonso to run into the back of him. Clearly they didn’t find evidence to support the latter theory, and the penalty went to Alonso…
The dirty details of the Stewards’ hearing are very closely-guarded secrets, and it’s unlikely there will ever be an official discussion of these goings-on behind closed doors.
It can often be easy to blithely criticise the Stewards for their decisions, but there must have been sufficient evidence to support both penalties.
And certainly, any suggestion raised from Abu Dhabi that Pirro – who served as a Steward for the first time – has a bias towards Ferrari can clearly be rubbished here and now…