Mark Webber’s nightmare qualifying session at the Chinese Grand Prix has been dealt a further blow after the Australian was kicked to the back of the grid by the FIA Stewards.
His Red Bull Racing RB9 ground to a halt, out of fuel, during the second phase of yesterday’s qualifying session, leaving him consigned to a provisional fourteenth on the grid for today’s race.
However, the FIA Stewards have ruled that he now start from 22nd and last position for today’s 56-lap race, after post-qualifying inspections found that his car had just 150ml of fuel left in the tank, below the one-litre threshold stipulated as necessary for sampling under Article 6.6.2 of the sport’s technical regulations.
“Competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the Event,” the rule book reads.
“If a car has not been driven back to the pits under its own power, it will be required to supply the above mentioned sample plus the amount of fuel that would have been consumed to drive back to the pits. The additional amount of fuel will be determined by the FIA.”
Given Webber’s car failed on both counts of the clause in the rules, the Stewards had no option but to demote him to the rear of the 22-car field.
In the past, teams had attempted to argue force majeure reasoning in these circumstances, but as was evidenced at last year’s Spanish and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix – where similar penalties were handed out to Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel respectively – it was decided that the rules would be made clearer for the 2013 season.
The outcome will be a bitter blow for Webber after an emotion-charged Malaysian Grand Prix three weeks ago, where he was beaten to victory by teammate Vettel, who ignored the team’s instructions to remain behind race-leader Webber late in the race.
“It’s very disappointing," he admitted after his grid penalty. "Q1 went okay; I was comfortable with the car and we had a good plan for the rest of the session. In Q2 we lost fuel pressure so I had to turn the car off and couldn’t get it back to the pits.
“I had to stop on the circuit, so qualifying was over before it started really. We need a bit of luck now; it’s not the optimum starting position, but we still have to try to get something from there.”
While the outcome had many Webber fans claiming conspiracy theories abound, the team lay the blame with a fault in the fuel rig, which under-delivered the required amount of fuel to his car ahead of his run in Q2.
Webber will face an uphill task trying to claim a decent points’ finish from his lowly starting position, but can take some solace in having achieved a fine podium finish at this very circuit two years ago after a disastrous qualifying performance that left him just 18th on the grid.