Having inherited third place at the expense of Jarno Trulli in the 2009 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix last weekend, reigning Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton could be set to lose it again as the FIA investigates whether he slowed deliberately to allow the Italian back past.
Trulli ascended the bottom step of the rostrum Down Under by dint of a superb charge up through the order from his pit-lane start following Toyota's qualifying demotion, but was subsequently handed a 25-second penalty by Albert Park stewards after it was revealed he had skated off-track under the late-race safety car period when he hit debris from the Sebastian Vettel/Robert Kubica accident.
That allowed Hamilton past into the final podium position, but Trulli reported that the McLaren-Mercedes then suddenly and unexpectedly pulled aside and slowed – leaving him no choice but to re-take the spot.
“The FIA really got it wrong in that decision,” the 34-year-old told Malaysian newspaper the New Straits Times
. “We have all the evidence, including Hamilton's admission, that I did not overtake him. He let me past.
“Under those circumstances, Hamilton had a problem and he slowed down, almost stopping, and he allowed me to pass. There was nothing else I could do but keep going, and in order to do that I had to pass him.”
Hamilton said post-race in Melbourne that he had backed off under radio instruction from his team, and the sport's governing body has now summoned the British star before Malaysian stewards in Sepang prior to this weekend's grand prix to give his version of what happened. Should the FIA decide that he did indeed slow deliberately after receiving orders from McLaren, he could lose the position and Trulli may be re-instated.
Yesterday, Toyota announced that it had withdrawn its appeal against the 25-second penalty, which dropped the Pescara native from third to twelfth.