Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn were left echoing Fernando Alonso's criticism of the safety car rule and stewards' inconsistencies and poor decisions in last weekend's European Grand Prix, after the record-breaking seven-time F1 World Champion took the chequered flag in the lowest position of his entire top flight career in Valencia.
Having left himself with a mountain to climb come race day around the Spanish city's harbourside streets from a lowly 15th on the starting grid, 'Schumi' was just under six seconds ahead of Kamui Kobayashi when the safety car appeared on lap nine to enable the debris from Mark Webber's frightening Red Bull Air Race demonstration to be cleared up – and behind Sauber's Japanese ace was a train of eleven more cars covered by less than 20 seconds.
Diving for the pits, with the red light on at the exit, the German legend subsequently found himself having to wait frustratedly at the end of the pit-lane after taking his stop to allow the field to filter past – and when he was finally permitted to rejoin the action, he was virtually plum last. Fifteenth spot at the close marked the worst classified finish out of his 258 grand prix starts – and the third time from nine races this season that the most successful driver in the sport's long history has crossed the line outside of the points.
“What a race,” the 41-year-old acknowledged afterwards. “We would like to have clarification about the safety car situation, as the red light on the exit from my first pit-stop destroyed a race which otherwise would have offered us very good possibilities.
“Our point-of-view is that as the safety car had passed the pits without having the cars lined up behind it, there should not have been a red light. There was a green light for a moment and then suddenly it went red again – we believe that this was not correct. Our strategy was right in that context, as we took the opportunity which could have given us a finish even close to the podium.”
Schumacher's sentiments were shared by Mercedes Grand Prix team principal Brawn, who contended that the Kerpen native – whose best lap was the second-quickest of the race and almost a full second faster than that of team-mate Nico Rosberg, who finished a similarly delayed tenth – had 'a golden opportunity' to leap up the order until the pit-lane light turned from 'go' to 'stop'.
“The race was a disappointing outcome to our weekend in Valencia,” rued the Englishman, after Mercedes had likewise been caught out by safety car ambiguity in Monaco last month. “The car was reasonable, but again we suffered from our qualifying performance which is an issue that we need to get on top of quickly. Nico got caught up at the start; therefore, we made an early pit-stop which was unfortunately compromised when the safety car came out and we lost any benefit. From there, Nico's race was about consolidating his position as we had some concerns over brake wear which he did an excellent job to manage.
“With Michael, we were looking to benefit strongly from the safety car. As the leaders had not been picked up, Michael was waved through and that gave us a golden opportunity to make his pit-stop, as our predictions were that the 'Option' tyre would hold up for the remainder of the race. However, when Michael came to exit the pits, the red light was showing which cost him a significant amount of time.
“In our view, the regulations are clear that the exit light should not go red until the line of cars has formed behind the safety car, and we would like the FIA to look into this. There was no line formed and over 18 seconds between [Lewis] Hamilton and Kobayashi when Michael came in. It was a good effort from Michael to try and recover from there, but ultimately a very frustrating afternoon.”