Lewis Hamilton trotted out one of his most well-worn clichés as he reacted to the news that he had been stripped of pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix and, worse still, would be starting from the very back of the 24-car grid.
The Briton emerged on top of a topsy-turvy qualifying session, in which McLaren team-mate Jenson Button and Red Bull's Mark Webber failed to make the third phase and world champion Sebastian Vettel failed to set a time in the final session. That left Hamilton ahead of Williams' Pastor Maldonado and home favourite Fernando Alonso but, when the Briton was ordered to stop on his in-lap, the FIA stewards swung into action.
Suspicious of the undisclosed 'technical issue' Hamilton was notified of, the officials discovered that just 1.3 litres of fuel remained in the McLaren's tank, insufficient to complete the return to the pits, let alone provide the necessary sample for legality testing. The team later admitted that an 'operational error' with the fuel rig had left Hamilton under-fuelled for his final run, but the order to stop on track contravened Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations, which requires all cars to return to the pits under its their power, and carries the penalty of being excluded from the session.
Hamilton had left the Circuit de Catalunya when news of his demise broke, and responded with a mixture of frustration and defiance.
“This is such a disappointment," he sighed, "Today's qualifying session was one of the best I've ever driven – the whole car was just rolling so smoothly – it felt fantastic. [However], on my slowing-down lap, my engineers told me to stop on the track, and I didn't know why. Later, to hear that I'd been excluded from qualifying, was of course extremely disappointing.
“Looking ahead to tomorrow, I think it's clear that it's going to be an incredibly tough race for us. Even so, as always, I'll never give up and I'll give it everything I've got. It would mean so much to me to get a good result here in Spain: it's such a pleasure to come here and the support I get is amazing. As I always say, and as I always do, whatever grid position I start a grand prix from, I'll always race my heart out.”
With Button only being promoted to tenth place, Hamilton's exclusion leaves McLaren as an outsider for the podium, even if main rival Red Bull starts only seventh at best.
"You won't be surprised to hear me saying that today was a very disappointing day for all at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes," team principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted resignedly, "But if I may start by stressing the positives, both today and yesterday our car has shown itself to be both fast and stable at this most testing of circuits, and as a result Jenson was extremely quick yesterday and Lewis extremely quick today.
“[He] hooked it up beautifully in Q3 today, continuing his run of scintillating quali-laps so far this season. However, he was unable to finish his slow-down lap – and, since we accept that the stewards didn't agree with our interpretation of force majeure
, we didn't contest their decision to penalise him.
"By their own admission, Jenson and his engineers didn't quite manage to find the 'sweet spot' in terms of set-up and tyre optimisation, and the result was P11, so our aim is therefore now to maximise the points we can score tomorrow. You may rest assured that both Jenson and Lewis will approach the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix with their customary combative ambition.”
Hamilton's exclusion leaves Maldonado on pole from Alonso, with the Lotus cars of many people's pre-race favourites Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen on the second row. Points leader Vettel moves up to seventh spot, behind Sergio Perez and Nico Rosberg.