Lewis Hamilton has been dramatically moved to the back of the grid for the Spanish Grand Prix after being excluded from today’s qualifying session.
McLaren have been found guilty of a fuel irregularity under the current FIA technical regulations as Hamilton stopped on track after seemingly claiming the team’s 150th pole in Formula One.
McLaren had cited force majeure and had hoped to remain on pole, but following a lengthy stewards’ hearing the 27-year-old and the team have been handed a severe penalty.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh insists a technical issue – which he refused to specify – forced their hand and it is not fuel related.
FIA rules state a car must return to the pits after qualifying, and then have a litre of fuel remaining for a sample to be taken.
Whitmarsh claims 1.3 litres was extracted, but the question is if the additional 0.3litres would have been adequate to see Hamilton make it back to the McLaren garage.
“There was enough fuel to take a fuel sample,” said Whitmarsh.
“But we stopped the car, we’re now talking to the stewards about that, but there was 1.3 litres of fuel taken out of the car.
“The regulations are you have to do that (in) lap unless there is a force majeure. That’s the discussion that will probably happen.
“If it’s considered to be force majeure then it’s okay.”
Asked if there was no force majeure whether Hamilton could have driven back to parc ferme and then had enough fuel for a sample, Whitmarsh replied “yes” on both occasions.
Questioned on whether there was radio evidence to support their claim, Whitmarsh added: “We told Lewis to stop.
“We knew there was a problem, and Lewis did everything right, everything the team asked of him.”
But Whitmarsh refused to divulge the nature of the problem, simply stating: “It was technical.
“It’s not for me to decide, but I would believe it to be force majeure.
“It was a technical problem that happened in the garage that did not impede the performance of the car in any way. We stopped the car when it had 1.3 litres of fuel left in the car.”
Whitmarsh crucially refused to rule out human error.
“I think Lewis did a fantastic job throughout that session,” said Whitmarsh.
“We’ve all seen how difficult it is at the moment to be consistent, switch everything on at the right time, but Lewis and his team, his engineers, did a great job.
“It was a massive margin by the situation within Formula One at the moment. He undoubtedly deserves to be there.”
For his part, Hamilton claims he felt nothing wrong before being told to stop.
Hamilton said: “The guys came across the radio and said we had to stop the car on the track because there was a technical problem.
“So I stopped, but I was so excited about my lap, I didn’t even think about it. I just stopped and waited for someone to hold the car so I could get out. I never really thought about it.”
The current situation stems back to the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix when McLaren were at the centre of controversy again.
On that occasion the team were reprimanded and fined $10,000 when Hamilton deliberately stopped on the in lap after qualifying to save fuel.
That resulted in FIA technical director Charlie Whiting issuing a directive to all teams that read: “Any team whose car stops on the slowing down lap after the race will be asked by the stewards to explain why this happened.
“If they are not satisfied the reasons were beyond the control of the driver or team, and feel this has been done deliberately to gain a competitive advantage, appropriate action will be taken.”