Lewis Hamilton has been stripped of pole position and will have to start from the back of the grid for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix, after being found to have been too light on fuel at the end of today's qualifying session.

Williams F1 driver Pastor Maldonado will now start from pole position for tomorrow's race at the Circuit de Catalunya, with local hero Fernando Alonso starting alongside him in the Ferrari. Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen will make it an all-Lotus front row in Barcelona.

Hamilton set the fastest time of Q3 with a stunning flying lap of 1:21.707s in the closing minutes of Q3 to go half a second ahead of Maldonado, who had to settle for second place on the grid when the chequered flag came out. But on his in-lap, Hamilton was ordered to pull the McLaren over and park because of an initially undisclosed "technical issue" according to the team.

But it later emerged that the car only had around 1.3 litres of fuel remaining in its tank. With the in-lap alone requiring more fuel than that to make it back to pit road, there was no chance that there would be enough fuel left in the tank to satisfy post-session technical inspection, which required one litre of fuel to be left in the tank for sampling analysis.

McLaren said that an "operational error" relating to a fault with the fuel rig had caused the short-fuelling, and that Hamilton's margin over Maldonado was far greater than any possible advantage he had gained from running light on fuel.

"It was a massive margin," said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh of Hamilton's pole position time. "He undoubtedly deserves to be there," he added.

"There was enough fuel to take a fuel sample but we stopped the car and are now talking to the stewards about that," said Whitmarsh before the decision to exclude all of Hamilton's times from the afternoon qualifying session was announced.

The stewards disagreed and clearly took a dim view of the matter.

"The Stewards received a report from the Race Director which stated that during post-qualifying scrutineering a sample of fuel was required from car 4, however, the car failed to return to the pits under its own power as required under Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations," read the ruling from the FIA race officials.

"The Stewards heard from the team representative Mr Sam Michael who stated that the car stopped on the circuit for reasons of force majeure. A team member had put an insufficient quantity of fuel into the car thereby resulting in the car having to be stopped on the circuit in order to be able to provide the required amount for sampling purposes.

"As the amount of fuel put into the car is under complete control of the Competitor the Stewards cannot accept this as a case of force majeure.

"The Stewards determine that this is a breach of Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations and the Competitor is accordingly excluded from the results of the Qualifying Session.

"The Competitor is however allowed to start the race from the back of the grid," the statement concluded.

The decision will be a shattering blow to Hamilton, who was looking forward to starting the Spanish Grand Prix from pole position but who now faces a long afternoon ahead of him.

The scenario of a car being short-filled with fuel for a qualifying run first arose after the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix, at which time race director Charlie Whiting issued a directive saying that any car that came to a premature stop on its in-lap after during qualifying would be required to explain the reasons why to the satisfaction of the race stewards.

"If they are not satisfied that the reasons were beyond the control of the driver or team, and feel that this has been done deliberately to gain a competitive advantage, appropriate action will be taken," the directive concluded.

Hamilton had already left the Circuit de Catalunya before the ruling became known.

"We accept the stewards did not agree with our interpretation of force majeure," a McLaren spokesman said. "Our aim is now to maximise the points we can score tomorrow."

Johnny Herbert - who has served as a drivers representative with race stewards during previous Grand Prix events - told Sky Sports News that McLaren only had themselves to blame: "It's in the rules, it's black and white, it's another bad mistake from McLaren," he said.

Hamilton had an earlier encounter with the stewards in a row over an incident with Michael Schumacher in the morning Free Practice 3 session, during which Michael Schumacher's Mercedes appeared to return to the track right in front of the McLaren and impede a flying lap by Hamilton. However, the stewards declined to take any further action over that incident.

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