The 25-second penalty that robbed McLaren-Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton of victory in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps at the weekend has been slammed as 'perverted' and 'the worst judgement in the history of F1' – by a former Ferrari world champion.
Hamilton expertly won the race held around the challenging Ardennes circuit – widely acknowledged as the greatest test of a driver's true level of skill the world over – after getting the better of Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen in a thrilling late-race scrap on a track rendered ever-more treacherous by the onset of rain whilst both men were still out on slick tyres.
Though it was the Briton who ultimately prevailed – taking the lead shortly before Raikkonen spun into the wall barely two laps from the chequered flag – he was subsequently handed a retrospective 25-second 'drive-through' penalty. That came after FIA stewards deemed Hamilton had gained an advantage by cutting the Bus-Stop chicane as the duo battled wheel-to-wheel through the last corner, consequently dropping him down to third place in the final reckoning and gifting victory to chief title rival Felipe Massa.
The punishment has come in for heavy attack from all quarters, with Hamilton vigorously protesting his innocence and British newspaper the Daily Mail
exclaiming 'Just when you thought F1 couldn't get any more ridiculous' and suggesting the 23-year-old is the 'victim of a conspiracy against McLaren', with the governing body presiding over a 'polluted sport'.
'Instead of celebrating one of the greatest duels of recent times, revelling in true genius by Raikkonen and Hamilton and lauding a remarkable win, that same old stench emanated from Formula 1,' the report read.
“This is the worst judgment in the history of F1,” blasted triple F1 World Champion Niki Lauda, a man who clinched two of his three drivers' crowns with Ferrari, and the other with McLaren almost a decade later. “[It is] the most perverted judgment I have ever seen.
“It's absolutely unacceptable when three functionaries (the stewards) influence the championship like this.”
The announcement was just the latest in a long line of blows to the sport, whose credibility has already been seriously tarnished in the last twelve months by the infamous spy row of last summer – which gravely damaged relations between McLaren and the FIA, with the former being meted out a sporting record $100 million fine and disqualification from the constructors' world championship – and the Max Mosley sex scandal earlier this year.
After Hamilton had protested that the racing was becoming 'boring' due to the difficulty of overtaking [see separate story – click here
] – and in the wake of a processional European Grand Prix in Valencia just over a fortnight ago – the Stevenage-born ace's thrilling battle with Raikkonen had been a shot in the arm for F1. Just hours later it went and shot itself in the foot once again.
“I was ahead going into that corner, so I didn't gain an advantage from it,” Hamilton insisted of the incident that saw him edged off-track by Raikkonen as the pair ran side-by-side through the Bus-Stop. The McLaren driver immediately allowed the Ferrari past again along the start-finish straight, before diving up the inside of his adversary into La Source just moments later to grab back the lead.