Martin Whitmarsh has admitted he feels 'a bit harshly treated' by the drive-through penalty administered to Jenson Button during Sunday's F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, accusing FIA race stewards of failing to inform the team of the appropriate course of action.
After finally finding his way past a super-defensive Felipe Massa – a man he described as 'the most difficult person to overtake' [see separate story – click here
] – Button was penalised for having cut the Turn Twelve chicane of the Albert Park Street Circuit, even though his rival's late-braking had to all intents and purposes left him with little choice.
The penalty – applied after Ferrari immediately pitted Massa, thereby denying Button the opportunity to simply hand the place back again on-track – arguably cost the McLaren-Mercedes star a chance of doing battle for the podium Down Under, and team principal Whitmarsh contends officials could have been more helpful in dispensing advice.
“I feel a bit harshly treated,” the Englishman told British media. “As the incident happened, we asked race control for their advice, what we should do. They explained they would come back to us and they didn't. The next thing we knew, it had gone to the stewards, Massa had stopped and we were unable to do anything about it. When they say, 'we'll get back to you', you expect, to be honest, that they'll get back to you.
“Jenson had the pace, and he would have been on the podium. That's frustrating, that's annoying, but these things happen in motor racing. I think we've got to take the positives out of it. Both drivers did a fantastic job. They've had a frustrating winter; the team's had a difficult winter.
“The team's done a great job to get here with an ad hoc
upgrade package that performed, the drivers have kept spirit in the team and commitment themselves, they've done a fantastic job here in all the practice sessions and showed good form, and they raced well. Sometimes these things work for you, sometimes they don't. We should have had two cars on the podium here, but two weeks ago I would have snatched your hand off for this result...”
“I don't know if Ferrari pitted Massa on purpose so I would get a drive-through,” Button mused. “Fair enough if they did – that's the way it is. Maybe it was done on purpose, maybe not. I just don't know why he was so slow – it screwed both of us.”
As to team-mate Lewis Hamilton's race, meanwhile, Whitmarsh reflected that he was unsure as to whether the damaged undertray on the Australian Grand Prix runner-up's MP4-26 was caused by his running off-track at Turn One or was in fact the
cause of it – but either way, claiming a podium finish and getting both cars to the chequered flag following all of the Woking-based outfit's pre-season woes was, he acknowledged, quite an achievement of its own.
“In fairness to him, I think it may have happened just before he went off,” the 52-year-old remarked. “I didn't see how aggressive Lewis had been on the kerbs, but you've got to say a car should be robust enough to have an excursion without damaging the floor.
“Whether an excursion was caused by it or created it, you have excursions – there are kerbs on grands prix. By the same token, both cars did a race distance, and that's actually the first time we've achieved a race distance with this car! I don't think we should be too hard on ourselves about it.”