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.