Sebastian Vettel will start the 2012 F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the pit lane on Sunday, after his Red Bull car failed to return to the pits under its own power at the end of qualifying, and race officials were then unable to extract sufficient fuel from the car to comply with FIA regulation.
The full notice from the stewards reads:
The Stewards received a report from the Race Director that car 1 failed to return to the pits under its own power as required under Article 6.6.2 of the FIA F1 Technical Regulations.
The Stewards heard from the driver and team representatives and studied telemetry evidence that showed the reason why the car was stopped.
The Stewards accepted the explanation and considered the incident as being a case of force majeure.
However a report was received from the Technical Delegate that showed during post-qualifying scrutineering an insufficient quantity of fuel for sampling purposes.
The Stewards determine that this is a breach of Article 6.6.2 of the FIA F1 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.
Lewis Hamilton has previously fallen foul of the regulation, in Spain earlier this year, and had the same penalty applied. Under the regulations, race stewards can even decide to exclude a car from the race for the infringement.
The stewards took over four hours to investigate the issue, and held meetings with several of the people involved including Vettel and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Speaking to the media immediately after the end of qualifying, Vettel had indicated that he had not been told the reason why he had to pull over on his cool-down lap. “I don't why I was asked to stop," Vettel had said, adding: "I think probably some problem. It shouldn't be something major.”
Christian Horner initially indicated that the team had directed Vettel to stop at the urging of engine supplier Renault, which had led to early theories centring on another alternator issue for the team. Later it emerged that the problem detected had been low fuel pressure which could have damaged the engine if Vettel hadn't been ordered to stop immediately.
Just before the stewards' decision was published, Horner and other Red Bull team representatives retreated into the team garage and hospitality area and brought down the shutters without giving any immediate response to the ruling, although Horner later returned to give an interview to reporters including BBC Radio Five Live
He insisted that the car had not been under-fuelled, but that the problem was rather in extracting the fuel out of the fuel cell. Horner conceded that this amounted to a technical breach of the rules, and that therefore the stewards' decision was fair and the team would not be contesting the penalty. He said that Vettel had taken it "remarkably well considering" when told of the stewards' decision.
“One of the best ski jumpers of all times once said 'Every chance is an opportunity and as far as we are concerned there are still plenty of chances tomorrow,'" Vettel was quoted as saying in a subsequent team statement.
Horner did confirm that the team would now opt to start Vettel from the pit lane rather than from the back row of the grid, after the team decided to removed Vettel's car from parc ferme in order to analyse the fuel cell to see why it wouldn't disgorge the fuel. That could also allow the team to make set-up changes or even change the engine ahead of the start of the race if it has been damaged.
Vettel had qualified in third position on the grid for tomorrow's Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit, but will now have to work his way back up through the field from 24th place if he's to get any points from this weekend.
The stewards' decision is a huge boost to the hopes of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who is the only driver now realistically able to stop Vettel from clinching the 2012 world championship.
Alonso needs to cut Vettel's lead this weekend if he's to stay in with a chance of winning the title for himself. With Vettel's demotion to the back of the grid, Alonso will now start from sixth place and has a strong chance of claiming some solid points to put him back on an even footing with Vettel going into the penultimate Grand Prix of the season in Austin, Texas.
However Alonso will also need to stay out of trouble and ensure he finishes the race, or else Vettel may yet have the last laugh heading out of Abu Dhabi.
In a separate ruling from the race stewards, Sergio Perez was found to have impeded Bruno Senna during the first round of qualifying. However, the stewards merely applied a reprimand with no other penalty attached.
Perez had also earlier received a 2,600 euro fine for speeding in pit lane in Free Practice 3 on Saturday morning.